Gifts That Do Good

Wrapping paper not required. 

It’s the giving season, which means it’s time to start thinking of those special people on your list. But before you consider buying items shiny and new, we have a suggestion—this year, give your loved ones a present that does good. By this we mean, give creative gifts that benefit causes they care about, or otherwise nurture their enthusiasm for time outside. A gift doesn’t have to be expensive to be great: You could donate to a meaningful cause, volunteer to pick up trash at a friend’s favorite local park or encourage your partner’s burgeoning running habit. These gifts feel as good to give as to receive and run no risk of being sent to a landfill.  

And because the hardest part of gift giving is thinking of one, we did some of the leg work for you. Read on for eight ideas of gifts that do good, give back or encourage time outside.  

A Gift for Good 

Illustration of a gift certificate for a charitable donation.

What do you give the person who seems to have everything? A gift for someone else, of course. Find out what issues are near and dear to this person’s heart, whether it’s improving access to green spaces, teaching people a new outdoor skill or introducing children to nature. Then, find an organization that supports this cause. Donating in someone’s name not only benefits a valuable effort but shows your friend you care about what matters to them.  

You can make a single donation in your friend’s honor or set up a monthly allocation. Either way, you’ll be giving a gift that brings a smile to more than just your giftee’s face.  

A Donation to the REI Cooperative Action Fund 

Take a peek at the growing group of nonprofit grantees in the REI Cooperative Action Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that the co-op established in 2021 to support organizations that are building the movement to grow more equitable, accessible and inclusive outdoor culture. Donations to the Fund enable grants to local and national nonprofits across the country, including groups like like Latinas en Bici, which helps Latina women and girls lead healthier and more fulfilling lives through cycling; and Friends of Anacostia Park, which an organization that aims to restore one of the largest parks in Washington, D.C., and create green jobs within the local community. You can make a one-time donation or set up a monthly contribution, and there’s an option to donate in someone else’s honor too.

A Donation to a Library (and a Library Card) 

Did you know that some libraries allow you to check out state and local forest passes? If you have a budding adventurer or ambitious hobbyist on your list, consider gifting them a library card (or set a date to grab it together). Then donate to the library in your giftee’s honor. After all, libraries can help fuel a variety of adventures and can serve as a jumping-off point to an activity. You’ll be giving the gift of knowledge to your favorite person while supporting an institution that offers myriad resources to others as well—including language lessons, children’s story time, free web browsing and more.  

A Donation to Your Pal’s Passions 

Is your giftee an animal lover? Consider giving to an animal welfare charity or humane society. Maybe they’re an avid theater- or museumgoer. These and other establishments often welcome donations to help fund their productions, programs and routine maintenance, among other things. If your bestie is a mental health advocate, consider exploring local groups that accept donations to improve local services or national organizations that work to improve education on mental illness. Not sure where to donate? Charity Navigator identifies and vets nonprofit organizations based on their level of transparency and financial health, so you can give with confidence. 

Gift of Giving Back 

A gift certificate for volunteering time.

If actions speak louder than words, then a gift of volunteering your time or taking daily actions that support important causes will outshine any greeting card. Show your friend or family member that they’ve inspired you to take better care of local parks or take steps to be less wasteful.

A Day of Volunteering  

Does your giftee enjoy hiking? Find a local organization (like a state-run trail association) and sign up for a day of maintaining walking paths: This volunteer work can include everything from clipping brush to helping build footbridges. Or give your time to clean up waterways with organizations like American Rivers. Other ideas: Serve as a course guide for a road runner with disabilities, help out on an urban farm or tend to a community garden. 

A New Habit 

This gift is perfect for sharing: Just grab your giftee and vow to make a change together. For instance, maybe you vow to cut down on single-use plastic. You can stash reusable dinnerware, straws and cups in your vehicles to make this easier in moments you dine out. Or you can slowly replace your personal products with plastic-free alternatives. Habits like these tend to start small—like foregoing a straw for your morning bevvy—but can have a bigger impact over time when you ditch the polymers in many other areas of your life as well. You and your giftee can bond over the challenge of adopting something new, while making the world a little better along the way. 

Let’s Get Outside 

Gift certificate for quality time outdoors.

Perhaps the easiest way to boost your physical and mental wellbeing is to combine quality time with outdoor play. Research shows that social connection can help people control blood sugar, improve their mental health and lessen their chances of developing certain illnesses. Spending time outdoors has a similar effect—it can reduce stress and promote heart health, among other things. This year, consider giving the gift of time spent outdoors, because a little outdoor time with your pal will provide a boost to you both.  

A Tree in Someone’s Honor 

Trees play an important role in urban areas—they remove nearly 7 million tons of toxins from the air annually and help cool cities, which is increasingly important as the climate warms. So really, planting a tree in honor of someone doubles as a gift for Mother Nature. There’s more than one way to gift a tree, too: You can buy a fledgling tree and plant it in either your yard or the giftee’s. You can even care for it together and watch it grow. Or you can plant one through a local organization, like a forestry commission. This option is often free. If you’re interested in planting more than one tree, reach out to an organization like the Arbor Day Foundation or the National Forest Foundation, which allow you to have multiple trees planted in someone’s honor.   

A Walk in the Park 

For the friend or partner whose love language is spending time together, gift them a walk in the park, a hike along their favorite trail, a picnic at the beach or some other version of outdoor hang time. What you’re really giving is the gift of creating a new memory together, the ability to connect without the interruption of technology and the de-stressing effects of spending time outside. Bonus points if you devote time to picking up trash at whatever local spot you choose. Like many on this list, this present needs no wrapping paper—and what could be better than gifting fresh air and time together? 

An REI Co-op Membership

A collection of illustrated REI gift cards
REI Co-op donates $5 from every membership to the Cooperative Action Fund.

For the pal who’s always adopting (or leveling up in) a new outdoor hobby, a gift card to buy an REI Co-op membership could earn you major friend points. This lifetime membership comes with myriad benefits, like 10% back on eligible purchases made at the co-op; a 1-year return policy; free standard shipping; and access to buy and trade in used gear through Re/Supply, among other things. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving. Membership costs $30, lasts a lifetime and is a cinch to give: Simply get them a gift card to cover the cost of signing up. In-store shoppers at REI can now purchase a Gift a Membership Gift Card Package, which includes an REI gift card for the membership fee and information about how your loved one can make the most out of their new benefits after they join the co-op. (Bonus: $5 from every purchase of a lifetime membership is donated to the REI Cooperative Action Fund.) 

Have other ideas you’d like to share? Drop ’em in the comments. 

If you’re planning to give a gift that doesn’t require wrapping paper, but would like to give something, click here to download a PDF of the coupon images in this post. Print them out, personalize them and slip them into a holiday card for your favorite person.

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