There's no better way to get into the holiday spirit than by giving gifts that give back. Fortunately there's no shortage of great stuff to extend the cheer beyond the recipient.
As a champion of small businesses, my favorite site to shop is Etsy.com. Several creative sellers are fairly new here, having lost their jobs in the recession. Now handmade is paying off -- and I'm proud to support their success.
A few online shops to check out: www.soulyyours.etsy.com for beautiful silver jewelry; www.StephieMc.etsy.com for sensational personalized pieces that are sure to please; www.Earmark.etsy.com for foodie fun; www.crackeddesigns.etsy.com for a bit of whimsy including travel journals that allow the user to fantasize about visiting far-away places; www.NestaHome.etsy.com for seasonal stuff; and www.glowgirl16.etsy.com for reusable storage pieces for everyday.
Other options to consider:
Greyston Brownies. Not only are they delicious, but it's their motto that hits the spot: "We don't hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people." Proceeds go to job training programs -- and even Ben & Jerry's ice cream features their treats. www.greystonbakery.com
Chocomize Chocolate Bars. Customize a sweet treat for the holidays by selecting from more than 100 toppings and then select one of three charities to benefit from your purchase. www.chocomize.com
Joan Hornig Jewelry. Her motto is "Philanthropy is Beautiful" and that's something to celebrate. The "Working Together" necklace from the "Tools for Giving Collection" is a unique favorite in sterling. Best of all, 100 percent of the proceeds from every purchase are donated to the charity of the buyer's choice. www.joanhornig.com
Footzyrolls Ballet Slippers. Created by another small business, these are great for around the office or on a long flight. Every pair supports the United Way. www.footzyrolls.com
Object Mythology Gloves. Gloves can often be a "blah" gift, but fingerless, text-friendly "i-heart" gloves will warm hands and hearts, as they benefit One Is Greater Than None, providing medical care to uninsured Americans in rural areas. www.objectmythology.com
PBTeen Giving Pillows. My daughter wants the whole collection of these beautiful pillows with powerful messages -- all benefitting a variety of causes. www.pbteen.com
Project Linus Blanket. This is great for "Peanuts" fans or anyone on your list who could benefit from the security of a cozy blanket. Every purchase benefits Project Linus, which delivers handmade blankets to sick kids.
Penny Stones Game. A penny for your thoughts. This game gives the gift of conversation, and every stone is made in Ohio by people with disabilities. www.pennystones.com
Close to Home. Gifts that give back close to home are perhaps best of all. You might find that the causes nearest to your heart don't have a gift fundraising component. So you can make it happen by combining a gift with your own donation.
For example, give a hot holiday book and inscribe a note saying you've donated another book in their honor to your child's school library. Bake cookies and tell the recipient that another batch is going to a military family. (Go a step further and include a subscription to a cooking magazine such as Taste of Home>.) Make a snow globe with your own picture inside along with a note announcing a donation of toys in the recipient's honor to a children's shelter.