News analysis: Who do you want to get your goat?

Georgina Lock

Sending presents from one of many ethical gift catalogues is becoming quite the rage.

A Kalashnikov might not be everyone's idea of a desirable Christmas gift, but more and more Britons are giving such quirky presents as part of a growing development in seasonal charity fundraising.

The Russian automatic rifle is one example of the roaring trade being done by a brainchild of the Charities Advisory Trust, the Good Gifts Catalogue.

The twist, of course, is that gifts sent through the catalogue do not have only one recipient - they have two.

In the case of the Kalashnikov, the first is a blacksmith in Sierra Leone who receives the gun to melt down and turn into farm tools; the second is your friend or relative, who gets a card with a cartoon on the theme of 'beating swords into ploughshares'.

Taking the public by storm

Your gift doesn't necessarily need to be a Kalashnikov, however. It might be a goat, some worms, immunisation packs or a vulture cage. The money you spend might not be providing anyone with an actual goat or immunisation pack - of which more later - but it's a fact that the ethical gift is taking the public by storm this year.

According to Whitewater Creative Services, a direct marketing agency, 30 per cent of UK shoppers would consider buying such a gift, and 40 per cent of these are between 25 and 34 - one of the age groups charities find most difficult to reach. This explains why so many charities have flocked to include alternative gifts as part of their latest fundraising strategies.

The origins of the idea lie mainly with overseas development charities such as World Vision, which has so far raised £5m by this means. This year, however, domestic charities have followed suit, with new catalogues from, among others, the RSPCA and - in response to members' demands - the RSPB, which is offering vulture cages that are used in conservation.

The new arrivals join the ranks of the more established gift lists, including Oxfam Unwrapped, which last year raised £3m from the sale of Christmas goats to provide 30,000 animals in 70 countries. Others include Christian Aid's expanded Present Aid and the Good Gifts Catalogue, which benefits a number of charities.

Hilary Blume, director of the Charities Advisory Trust, said: "Rather than saying 'this is a worthy cause, give to us', we're offering really fun presents."

But when people peruse a catalogue or go online to buy a goat, isn't it fair to expect that the money really is being spent on a goat? A close reading of the small print suggests this is not the case in some instances.

On the Farm-Africa website, alongside a link to its Farm Friends scheme, it says: "You buy a chicken, a goat or a sheep - helping a poor African farmer transform the way they live." Donors are entitled to believe that they pay the £30 and a goat is given to a poor African farmer.

But it's not that simple in real life. There is no guarantee that your £30 will buy one goat for one family, although it will go towards the charity's work. A number of clicks away from where you bought your animal, under a website button labelled 'contact', there is a disclaimer that says: "Money from Farm Friends will be used to support all of Farm-Africa's projects to ensure that help can be provided where it is needed most."

Rosie Rendall, direct marketing manager at Farm-Africa, says: "We try to be honest about it, and we state that over the phone. The gift is always spent on livestock."

Two of the oldest catalogues - one from World Vision and the Good Gifts Catalogue - try to ensure that the gifts bought do specifically go to the country concerned. Good Gifts works with various charities to ensure the gifts are delivered - the Kalashnikov, for example, or two mangrove seedlings that cost £15 to be planted by the World Land Trust and the International Tree Foundation in coastal areas damaged by the tsunami.

Bryan Miller, planning director at Whitewater, says a number of organisations have found that those who purchase alternative gifts are becoming more committed donors.

He says it has created a "huge opportunity" and that charities should explain honestly how the money is being used. But he adds: "I don't think the charities are trying to pull the wool over people's eyes."

According to Miller, much of the increased uptake is thought to come from "the fun of it as much as the worthiness". He points out that, wherever the money ends up, it always goes to the charities' beneficiaries.

So what will happen next year, and might the novelty wear off?

Miller says: "I hope it doesn't wear off, because it is an outstanding way for charities to connect with people who might not otherwise be interested in worthy giving.

"But UK consumers are fickle, so we'll just have to hope it's not the Rubik's Cube of fundraising."

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