2016 Gift Guides: Donations + Supporting Causes and People You Love

by Grace Bonney


Every year when gift guide season rolls around, I feel a bit uneasy sliding into a sea of shopping posts. We’ve tried to slowly shift D*S away from buying new and toward DIY and vintage for a while now, but I know that gifts and products are a big part of this season and we have a few great posts lined up to help you find well-made, high-quality pieces to give to your friends, family and loved ones this year.

This year I wanted to start the holiday shopping season with a few ideas for anyone that is foregoing traditional, product-based gifts and would like to focus on experience gifts, donations, handmade ideas or giving back in ways that don’t involve a trip to the store. I’d love to hear any suggestions or favorite ideas you might have. I’m always looking for new ways to give meaningful moments, objects or donations to people and causes that matter to our community. I hope these ideas will come in handy! xo, grace

*Photo above and below by India Hobson and Swallows & Damsons


No-Buy and Experience Gifts: One of my favorite ways to celebrate loved ones over the holiday season is to spend time creating a special experience-based gift. Like a homemade spa day with DIY bath salts or offering to babysit so hardworking parents can get a day or night off to relax and rejuvenate. These options cost very little and focus more on using your time and skills to share something special with a loved one. Here are some ideas below:

Start a garden for someone

Family activity time

Inspiration surprise boxes

Custom art portraits

Specialized DIY coupons/box

Be someone’s goal partner

A day off

DIY home spa package

Box of appreciation 



Subscription Gifts: If you’d like to find a gift idea that keeps on going (whether it’s a product or just an experience that continues), these are some of my favorite ways to keep the good feelings going month after month:

15 of our favorite gift subscriptions (for anyone who wants a product-based idea)

Fair trade and charitable gift box subscriptions (for products with a good cause attached)

Public Radio/TV Subscriptions (a great way to give the gift of inspiration and ideas to loved ones)

Local Museum and State Parks: Whether it’s a state pass to their hometown parks or a pack of tickets to support their local museums, these are gifts that keep giving for the whole family.

Netflix: Movies, history specials and entertainment for kids, a Netflix subscription is a fun way to give someone a gift that continues for months.

Audible: If your loved ones are podcast fans, an Audible subscription is a nice idea.

Movie Tickets: If your loved one has a great local art house or small indie theater, tickets that will last them throughout the year are a great way to support a local business and creativity at the same time.



Handmade Gifts: If you’d like to make something (whether it’s a craft project or cookies), these are great ways to give something for the holidays that you can make with your own two hands.

DIY tech gifts: Leather phone case, Glitter phone case, travel tech organizer

Vintage postcard calendar journal

Vintage tin candles

Pinecone fire starters

Personalized wool blankets

Knot trivets

Homemade cutting boards

Personalized camping tool set

Wool camera wrap



Donating + Giving Back: Not everyone has the time or funds to donate to causes they care about, so donating on their behalf or finding a way to give back together is a great way to honor those in need this holiday season. Most of these groups offer recurring gift donations as an option, too. Here are some of my favorite causes and groups to support:

Food Pantries: Find your local pantry and make a date to volunteer with a loved one or donate together. You can even offer to come help your friend sort through their pantry to find things to donate and then combine them with some new items to donate and bring them in together. Make a day of it and stay to help prep food or serve, if you can.

The ACLU: This group does so much to fight for all of our civil liberties and giving a donation in a loved one’s name is a great way to honor equality and freedom.

Emily’s List and She Should Run: Know a strong woman in your life you’d like to honor? These groups both support women running for office at every level and could be a great way to show a woman you love that she inspires you.

It Gets Better: Show your LGBTQIA+ family and loved ones that you support their communities and their rights with a donation to groups like this one.

Kind: Groups like Kind provide pro-bono legal services to immigrant and refugee children facing deportation.

NAACP: Supporting civil and human rights for people of color is so important, and a donation to a group like the NAACP is a wonderful way to donate on someone’s behalf for the holiday season.



Suggested For You


  • While I understand your hesitancy to include gift buying lists, Design Sponge has been instrumental in my holiday gift giving, I really work hard to support small businesses and diverse businesses. You’ve mentioned before how you aren’t a DIY person and I am just a horrible gift maker! So I try and put my money where it makes a difference. Just wanted you to know being a reader here has shifted my mindset that way.

    Additionally, this season I am working to promote learning and education by buying people books (In the Company of Women, Shrill, and Bad Feminist, to name a few). I set a theme as “self care and feminism” but the election changed that. So my theme is also action. For every gift I give, I will be donating to an organization in that person’s name as well.

  • Another subscription idea: newspapers, especially local newspapers, are having a very difficult time surviving in this digital age, yet access to fair and accurate news coverage is more important than ever. How about gifting a newspaper subscription?

  • Love these suggestions! I also like to ask close friends and family members about their favorite local charities or schools that they support (if I don’t already know about them) and give to those causes in their names to make it extra meaningful for the recipients.

  • Another great subscription streaming service is Mubi – it’s handpicked foreign and art cinema. Stuff you won’t find on Netflix or elsewhere both recent releases and from the past. My husband just signed us up and I’m totally in love with it. Thinking it will be the perfect gift for cinefile friends and family! Just sharing because I don’t think many people know about it yet.

  • Inspired by Cup of Jo’s Bake Sale with her kiddos, my family and several others are organizing a Kids’ Art Sale with 100% of the money raised going to a local food kitchen. The kids (ages ~3-9) have been working on some amazing handmade creations – cards, ornaments, holiday decor… The process itself has been a wonderful community builder, with so many parents, friends, and kids coming together for laughs, glue, glitter, and paint. We’re setting up shop for three Sundays at a neighborhood bakery. It feels so good to work together and hopefully – in how ever small a way – make the world a kinder, more grateful place.

  • Thanks a lot for posting this grace i now got the idea for me and my girlfriends next date i want to make her feel special .!