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Charities Seek Useful Donations from Holiday Shoppers


Goats, chickens, even a toilet -- they may not seem like ideal presents for the end of the year holidays, but many charities think they are. Some aid agencies are making unusual gifts their selling point and they want to capitalize on the holiday spirit of giving to help people in the world's poorest countries. But there are questions and doubts over just how donors' contributions are being used, as VOA's Mandy Clark reports from London.

J.P. Alexander is a man on a mission. The holiday season is approaching and he is looking for the perfect gift. It may seem like a familiar struggle for many people this time of year, but Morgan says he wants his gifts to be symbolic of the season of giving.

He describes how the idea came about. "We thought we would try and do something that would sort of shift the focus on giving gifts, physical gifts, to giving gifts that make a social difference," he said.

He is exactly the type of conscientious consumer that charities, such as Oxfam Unwrapped, want to reach.

The relief agency Oxfam has come out with a quirky advertisement to push its campaign. It is the third year the charity has promoted giving unusual gifts for the holidays.

For around $50 you can donate 14 bags of seeds or a goat for nomadic farmers in Africa. $100 will provide honeybees, a hive and training for a beekeeper in Latin America.

Oxfam spokesman Stephen Harvey says the campaign has captured the public's imagination. "It is an innovative and fun Christmas gift that people over the past three years have been buying each other to replace toiletries, bubble baths, ties, boring gifts that they have been buying their friends and family for years," he says.

Putting donations in tangible terms for donors is an idea that the United Nations Refugee Agency is trying out. Its "Star Appeal" program has medical kits, blankets and tents for refugees.

While many charities support these ideas, there also is some criticism of this approach. Critics say all too often the donor is not actually buying the advertised item, such as a goat. They say, the money may instead go towards the charity's overall livestock program.

Megan Pacey works for the Institute of Fundraising, a charity watchdog that sets standards on how charities go about fundraising. She says many charities are misleading the public. "You've got to be very clear as to what your donation goes to buy, whether it is physically buying a goat, or whether it is going to supply and support the goat, or if it is more general than that," she says. "So, it is a real case of having to do what it says."

But, does it matter to consumers if their gift of a goat may actually go somewhere else?

J.P. Alexander says he does not really mind where the money goes as long as it is helping people in need. "For me personally, I think as long as it is going to the spirit of alleviating the famine and the hunger, that's okay for me," he adds.

Peter Kessler is a spokesman for the U.N. Refugee Agency. He says he believes the public understands. "When we get funds, we can use those where it's most needed and that message is reaching out to the general public," says Kessler. "They know we need to be flexible."

Charities point out that ultimately, the money is spent on helping others and, they say that is what the season of giving is all about.