My Christmas Manifesto PART TWO: The easiest ways to be ethical and charitable this year

You don’t have to be a wealthy philanthropist to give to charity this Christmas – here are some clever and easy ways to donate this festive season.

By Iona Bain

Christmas is just around the corner, and many young people could be panicking about how to get through this expensive time of year – there are the expected presents for family and friends, the costs of the party season, travel expenses for getting back home to family…the list goes on and on. And it can’t be easy for the silent majority who worry about the rent and bills, or those who find themselves without work at the moment.

So can we have a great Christmas without breaking the bank?

The answer is, of course, yes; it’s a matter of being thrifty and getting back to the true meaning of Christmas. Last week, I tried to give readers an idea of how to get through the holidays on a budget, mainly by shopping in the right places and using the internet wisely.

But my Christmas manifesto is also designed to unburden young people of material worries this Christmas, and make us understand that being ethical and giving to charity is so much more liberating than going on a shopping spree at John Lewis, however cute you find that kid in this year’s advert.

Understandably, you might think that the personal rewards of giving to charity are reserved for wealthy philanthropists. But this is not true.

The Occupy London protests were mainly managed by young people, and led me to believe that they are among the most idealist and conscientious in society. Research also regularly proves that young people give to charity all the time, mainly through courageous and daring fundraising ventures.

But you don’t need to sail in a wicker boat to Peru to show your generous side. Now, it has never been easier to give to charity, thanks to a plethora of clever websites, search engines, smartphone apps which allow us to donate as we buy, surf the internet and even snooze in bed!

For instance, if you switch your search engine to everyclick.com, the website will donate 50% of their advertising revenue to charity. Also check out Help from Home, which has an extensive list of ways you can help charities from home. It even includes a “pyjama rating” which lets you judge how easily the activities can be done.

Sticking to the pyjama theme, the laziest among you may be intrigued to hear you can even donate when you have a lie-in. The Let Give snooze app pledges a donation to charity every time you press the snooze button. While it’s only open for people to give to American charities at the moment, it is hoped that UK based charities will join the scheme soon.

And remember – a small amount can really go a long way, as demonstrated by the phenomenal success of the website Pennies.org, which generated one million donations worth £250,000 this year simply by allowing customers to round up their credit card bills when shopping online.

Along similar lines are shopping sites which donate commission from retailers to charity, such as Giving a bit or Give as you live. Retailers pay commission to these sites for directing people to their websites to make purchases. That commission can be donated to any charity of your choice and it’s completely free to use. Alternatively, if you’re shopping on eBay this Christmas, you can make a small donation to charity at the virtual checkout.

But more old-fashioned ways of donating are still more than acceptable. Charity shops have shaken off their fusty image and become serious destinations for Christmas shoppers. Oxfam Unwrapped tells me that 73% of all its sales happen between October and December, with customers spending on average £41.43.
The charity store also revealed that 68% of its shoppers are female, suggesting that perhaps the fairer sex is also the more generous. But maybe blokes are using those handy apps and search engines rather than shopping sprees to donate!

If you choose to donate cash, always make sure you tick the Gift Aid box. This means for every pound you donate, HMRC will also give an extra 25p. Gift Aid can even be claimed by charity shops on items sold, so if you are a UK taxpayer, you need to make sure the charity shop has your details so they can contact you to ensure you are still a taxpayer when the donated item is sold.

And don’t forget about local organisations that may need your help, if you have some time to spare. There are some useful websites where you can put in your postcode and find out about charities near you who need your help. Two good websites to visit include Time Bank and Do-it.

But what about ‘ethical banking’ this Christmas? Don’t scoff; as unlikely as it seems, there are some ways for you to use your savings to help others.

There is the Charity Bank Cash ISA, which I didn’t even know about until I started researching this blog. But it pays an impresisve fixed rate of 2.5% with 33 days notice and because this is tax-free, you can expect to get exactly this rate of return. This compares very favourably with similar, non-ethical deals on the market and it supports a huge range of local and national organisations if you’d like a wide choice of places to invest your money – check out the website for more details.

Triodos, the Dutch ethical bank which lends only to businesses with approved social and environmental goals, has recently upped the rate on its Online Saver Account to 2.5%, admittedly not a bad rate, but this includes a twelve month bonus rate of 1.5%. After a year, your interest will drop to 1%.

Triodos spares no details on where it invests your funds – current projects include a fair trade company making soap, the Cambridge Buddhist Centre and organic farms in Salisbury and the Cotswolds. The Co-operative Bank says its screening has withheld over £1bn of funding over the past 20 years from businesses in the traditional non-ethical sectors such as armaments, and that its ethical stance helped prompt a 73% increase in new current account applications in the first half of 2011. But to be honest, the Co-op’s regular savings account Smart Saver pays a paltry 0.25%, with only its one to three-year fixed rate bonds looking competitive.

Arguably the best option for compassionate savers is the Coventry Poppy Online Saver, offering one of the best rates on the market – 3.15% – but still contributing £10 for every £20,000 invested to the Royal British Legion. It provides “welfare, comradeship, representation and Remembrance for the Armed Forces community”, a mission well worth supporting.

And there is one more Christmas gift which I discovered that does makes you think about ‘what really matters’.

Instead of wringing your hands about bankers, become one yourself – make a loan to an entrepreneur in the developing world, as an ‘alternative’ gift.

Lendwithcare.org is an innovative scheme that enables people in the UK to lend small amounts to entrepreneurs running their own business in poor communities around the world.

Now the loans can be given as a gift voucher to a friend or relation, who can then choose which entrepreneur they would like to support. The entrepreneur uses the loan to help grow their business, and as their business develops, they pay the lender back, who can then choose to withdraw the money, or recycle it into another loan.

“It may be a farmer in Cambodia who is seeking a loan to buy seeds, or a shopkeeper in Togo looking for funds to buy new supplies- enabling them to trade their own way out of poverty,” says CARE International, which runs the scheme with the Cooperative Bank.

Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals at the Co-op, says: “The idea of giving gifts that benefit the developing world is now well established but the big advantage of this scheme is that the loan is eventually repaid so the recipient can still get the money.

“Around three quarters of the entrepreneurs receiving loans are women and so we think these loan vouchers will prove to be a popular gift for female relatives and friends.”

The gift vouchers are available in a range of designs which can be sent via email or downloaded and printed, and start from £15. They are available to purchase at the website, so get online and find out more about this truly worthwhile gift today.

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