Charity Gift Catalogues.  So Much Choice…How to Pick the Best Christmas Charity Gift

Greg Thomson

December 16, 2014


In the past month I have received four charity gift catalogues in the mail, full of school supplies, bed nets, baby chicks and goats that can be purchased for people in need.  Each catalogue showcases dozens of gifts. To help me understand the impact of these different gifts, I looked through the websites of the major Canadian charities working in the international aid sector. Yet I came away with no way to know if buying a goat would be better than a cow or three soccer balls.

Charity Intelligence looks for demonstrated impact when choosing which charities we recommend, so to understand the demonstrated impact of international aid programs, we looked at studies compiled to help evaluate development projects. The best evidence we’ve found is the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab  (J-PAL) (www.povertyactionlab.org), and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) (www.poverty-action.org).

If you are looking through the gift catalogues, we recommend these Best Buy items found to be most effective in J-PAL and IPA impact research:

Deworming medication: If you want to help kids attend school, deworming medication has proven to be 20 to 700 times more cost effective than scholarships, uniforms and direct cash transfers in increasing school attendance in southern Africa.

Best Buy: UNICEF’s “anti-infection” tablets, $18 for 540, $0.03 per pill. The tablets  protect children from worms and potentially deadly intestinal infections. (UNICEF recently changed the name of this product to “anti-infection” from “de-worming pills”, perhaps to make it more attractive for holiday sales.)

Insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs): Trials found that ITNs are highly effective in reducing childhood mortality, saving 5.5 lives each year for every 1,000 children protected (an 18% reduction in mortality) at a cost of roughly $500 per life saved. When shopping for mosquito nets, buy ones that are “long-lasting, insecticide-treated”. These product modifications came out more than 5 years ago and are the best in stopping malaria. Sadly, the gift catalogues do not always provide donors with the product specifications – we’re assuming that the international aid charities have adopted these best practices.

Best Buy: Mosquito Nets: UNICEF insecticide-treated bed net, 2 bed nets for $9

Chlorine dispensers for safe water: Free access to chlorine dispensers at local water sources was found to significantly increase access to safe water and reduce diarrhea in children, saving lives and reducing early child mortality.

Some gift catalogues offer water purification tablets. The research states that these are frequently used improperly and only a third as effective as chlorine dispensers at the well.

Not available in gift catalogues in 2014.

Below is a listing of Canada’s 21 major international aid charities that publish gift catalogues. 11 of these catalogues sell bednets at various prices and 3 offer an item that includes deworming pills. While a number contain water provision and sanitation, none specifically notes the use of chlorine dispensers. Hopefully, as more donors ask more questions about these gifts and their effectiveness, the charities will provide more details.



Another popular option for donors is child sponsorship. When giving to a charity through child sponsorship, it is important to understand that many sponsorship programs do not target an individual child, rather they benefit his or her entire community. In fact, Charity Intelligence estimates that over 80% of child sponsorship dollars donated in Canada goes towards community-related programs rather than being directed to an individual child. With these charities, the sponsorship concept is more of a fundraising approach for a broader development initiative. However, if your interest is in finding a direct relationship, some charities do offer this.

Most child sponsorship programs offer the choice of which country you would like to sponsor a child in. In Ci's view, the ideal country for maximizing the potential impact of donor dollars would have low development (high need) and low corruption (higher chance that donated funds reach their intended purpose), what we have called the “low-low” countries. We examined countries from around the world and found 14 countries that fall in the chosen low-low target area, all located in sub-Saharan Africa.

Below we have listed the major child sponsorship charities and the low-low countries where they have sponsored children or communities.

 

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