5 Last-Minute Charitable Gifts

Colbert Nation
Colbert Nation / Colbert Nation

If you're still shopping for gifts, there are plenty of deals on whiz-bang gizmos online. But we've rounded up five excellent ways to give to charity this holiday season. Below, learn how to get a goat for a family in need, help a U.S. public school teacher, or educate a child overseas. Best of all—you can do it online, right now.

1. Get Your Goat - Heifer International

About the Charity: Heifer International gives livestock to impoverished families to help lift them out of poverty. The Heifer system also asks families to "Pass on the Gift," giving the first female offspring of their Heifer animal to another family. This multiplies the effect of that first gift, spreading it to more families (Heifer estimates that this system increases the impact of the original gift up to nine times). In some communities, Heifer has traced 22 generations of livestock passed along from a single gift.

It's important to note that Heifer doesn't just hand someone a goat and say, "Good luck!" Each gift is accompanied by a year of training on how to care for the livestock.

The Gifts: While there are lots of options, my favorite is a goat for $120. Also fun: honeybees for $30, a flock of ducks for $20, or a camel for $850. (If you can't swing the full price for that camel, you can pitch in to give a "share" of it.)

2. A Child's Education - Save the Children

About the Charity: Save the Children was founded way back in 1919, after the World War I blockade of Germany and Austria-Hungary left millions of children malnourished. Save the Children works in a wide variety of areas, focusing on children's rights, and working in 124 countries around the world. Save the Children helps kids affected by malnutrition, lack of education, natural disasters, and many other problems.

The Gifts: You can help educate an orphan for $30. Save the Children also offers a goat for $50, a girl's education for $0.20 a day, or a bicycle for aid workers ($100).

Save the Children also has useful features like the ability to specify that multiple gifts go to the same family (for instance, two $40 anti-mosquito bed nets for one family), and the ability to send a personalized message to the recipient of the gift(s).

3. A Local Teacher's Project - DonorsChoose.org

About the Charity: DonorsChoose is a crowdfunding site supporting teachers in U.S. public schools. Teachers post projects to the website, explaining what they need and why. Donors can choose what they like. According to DonorsChoose, “When a project reaches its funding goal, we ship the materials to the school. You'll get photos of the project taking place, a letter from the teacher, and insight into how every dollar was spent. Give over $50 and you'll also receive hand-written thank-yous from the students.”

Each project is vetted by the charity, and reports are assembled showing where the money goes. Check out the impact page for some amazing statistics; as of this writing:

Students helped: 10,605,488 Projects funded: 417,726 Teachers report: "94% of teachers said their funded projects increased their effectiveness in the classroom."

The Gifts: The whole point of the site is that you choose the project. You can search by category, by location, or even by a keyword. So please, just choose what you like. You can even give a gift card so your loved one can choose their own favorite project!

Fun Fact: Stephen Colbert is a Donors Choose board member. He frequently features Donors Choose on The Colbert Report, and spoke about his dedication to the project in 2009.

4. A Forest - Oxfam

About the Charity: Oxfam America works in 90 countries to combat poverty, hunger, and injustice. The organization was founded in 1970 as a response to suffering caused by the fight for independence in Bangladesh.

The Gifts: The Oxfam Unwrapped site offers tons of options, but perhaps the most impressive is the option to plant a whole forest for $500. That's 1,000 trees, folks. If that's too steep, a grove of "miracle trees" (moringa trees) is just $35. There are also many inexpensive, simple options, like 20 pounds of soap for $12. The site's gifts in action section has short videos showing how the gifts help people in the field.

5. Empowering Women and Girls - Catapult

About the Charity: Catapult is a crowdfunding site focused specifically on women and girls. The site breaks down what each project needs (the budget is listed right on the project page), and also encourages members to form teams to fundraise together. (Note: Beyoncé has a team!) If you're wondering why we need a site specifically focused on projects for women, read 6 Reasons Today is International Day of the Girl.

The Gifts: There are tons of options, and the point is that you can choose what suits you best. Some favorites of mine: open schools for brave girls in Pakistan; install 400 stoves in Maasai villages; and clean water to women and families in rural Kenya.