01/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

How To Give A Little But Get A Lot

It's that time of year again. But this holiday season feels different, doesn't it? Lots of people are shifting their gift giving practices so that they're giving less or in new ways. And thinking more about those who have little or nothing.

As someone who's delivered a lot of speeches, I can tell you that the thank-you gifts I most appreciate are those that allow me to make a contribution to a charity of my choosing. Last time around, I gave the honorarium to a literacy group, because I've been plagued with "frozen shoulder" this fall. As a writer, it was cruel and unusual to be deprived of the use of my writing hand - which, in my own small way, gave me new appreciation for those who struggle. Including people of all ages who don't know how to read and write.

Here are three creative ways to give a little and get a lot by helping others.

You can purchase the award-winning XO laptop for a child in your world and change the life of children all around the world.

The XO laptop was designed especially for children. It has a rugged plastic exterior, built-in wireless, a unique dual mode display that is readable under direct sunlight and software designed for children to encourage exploration, creativity, and collaboration.

For $399 you can give a laptop to a child in a developing country and receive one for a child in your life (and that child might just be you!). Alternatively, you can make a cash donation for $199, the cost of a laptop, to help One Laptop Per Child's (OLPC) mission to provide laptops to children. A third option is to participate in the Give100 or Give1000 program and make a difference to a whole school or community. Visit for more (XO is available through amazon, too).

The good people at Changing the Present have come up with a way for us to give presents with meaning. Their web site offers a fascinating collection of causes - everything from wheelchairs for landmine victims to ways to help pay for someone's eye surgery, protect one acre of rain forest, or sponsor an hour of cancer research. President Robert Tolmach told me, "Just imagine what we could do with just a fraction of the $250 bilion Americans spend each year on gifts."

And then there is Bring Light - a site that makes it easy for people to donate to a wide range of worthy causes. Its project focus (such as a program established to help people on fixed incomes be able to afford service dogs) helps philanthropists actually see how their dollars are being used. Plus, Bring Light is a social network, so donors with similar interests can create Giving Groups and collaborate on specific projects.

It was co-founded by Melissa Dyrdahl and Drew McManus, both alumni of Adobe Systems. Melissa and Drew are examples of what I call New Radicals - that is, they've found a way to leverage skills acquired in their careers and put them to work on the world's greatest challenges. For more about the New Radicals, please see archived posts.

There are many other examples of site where we can all give this season. Please share your favourite examples of alternative gifting sites and ideas - and the New Radicals who are making it happen! Post comments below, or email me directly at