Alternative Giving Fairs are common around the country. The tangible gifts come from an organization called A Greater Gift. Attendees can purchase alternative gifts, which are donations to charity organizations in honor of family or friends, as well as unique gifts made by people of developing countries. Alternative gifts come from an organization which promotes various charities called Alternative Gifts International.
Attendees who donate money to an alternative gift cause receive a sheet about the charity that made them. Tangible gifts for sale include tapestries, jewelry, and mugs. 90% of the cost of these tangible gifts goes back to the people who made them.
Some of the causes I've seen at these fairs include “Bikes for Women and Girls” (Tanzania and Namibia). This cause gives bikes to women and girls so they can more easily do required household chores, leaving more time for them to pursue education. “Gorilla Protection” (Rwanda) raises money to hire patrol workers to prevent poaching of African gorillas, whose numbers have declined 70% in the last ten years. “Scholarships for Children Attending Comforti School” (Sierra Leone), “Teens with AIDS” (Uganda), and “Scholarships for Nomadic Children” (Kenya) are other charities I have supported in the past.
These fairs don't seem particularly difficult to design. Usually, they just require a few tables and perhaps some live music and food. The alternative gift fairs I attended were at my university, and generally clubs were invited to support charities that held similar missions to those of their clubs.
I've purchased alternative gifts for my family for the past few years. Typically, the paper sheets that you receive when you purchase something are quite personal. For example, a card may say that the $10 you spent will be used to purchase a chicken for a family in Uganda. The fairs that I went to also gave out nicely-constructed holiday cards with a picture from one of the charities on the front. Put the paper sheet inside the card, and you've pretty much finished your Christmas shopping for a relative or friend.
While I expected people to be put-off by not receiving a tangible gift, all of my relatives have really enjoyed this tradition. Have you ever purchased anything from an alternative gift fair?