Even though the holidays are about giving gifts, not every one wants them.  I find this commonplace in my family. Right after Thanksgiving, we start asking each other “What do you want for Christmas?” Besides the kids, who list off an endless amount of toys, books, and games, we are all a little stumped. It seems every year we end up telling each other, “We don’t need anything.” So what do you do? You could just skip the gift giving, but the holidays would lose their tradition, their glimmer. Well there are other ways to show the people closest to you, you care about them without getting them another useless item.

The best way is to “pay it forward.” One of the great lessons of the holidays is selflessness and giving. So this year, instead of giving someone another tie, sweater, or coffee mug, consider gifting something that truly gives back. There are a number of easy ways to do this, such as donating in someone’s honor to their favorite charity or signing them up for volunteer hours at a local non-profit. We have put together some great suggestions on gifts that keep on giving.

Sponsor An Animal: If you have any animal rights activists, vegans, or just plain animal lovers, this may be the perfect gift. Farm Sanctuary rescues farm animals and they offer an animal adoption gift for the holidays. You can choose specific animals to sponsor including Dandypants the rooster or Noel the goat or you can choose a type of animal including cows, turkeys, and pigs. If endangered species are more your thing, you can also adopt one from the World Wildlife Fund. You can choose to sponsor a snow leopard, tiger, panda, or even lemur! In fact, they offer over 100 species to adopt during the holidays. Plus, their adoption kits include photos, info, and even a stuffed animal!

Plant A Tree: An obvious easy way to do this, is to purchase a native tree in your area and plant it together with your recipient. Although a great idea, with the business of the holidays and winter, it is unlikely you may follow through with the actual planting. Instead, you could donate to one of the many non-profits planting trees around the world. Check out Trees for Change,  American Forests,  Friends of Trees, or even Oxfam. All of these organizations offer tree gifting. Most sponsorships are around $25 and up and all include a nice card to present to your loved one stating how many trees and where they will be planted in their name.

Save the Rainforest: From forest degradation to animal endangerment and to population removal: the rainforest is in serious trouble. But if you are thinking of ways to simultaneously help the rainforest and give a gift this season, look no further than the Rainforest Action Network. Although, you can sponsor planting more trees, there are also other areas to focus on including helping endangered species and human rights campaigns in the Amazon. Plus, with gifts over $20, your loved on will become a member of the Rainforest Action Network and receive the quarterly newsletter, keeping them involved all year long.

Help A Family: Speaking of the wonderful organization that is Oxfam, they have great gifts that keep on giving! They offer some seriously unique and great ways to donate in your recipient’s name. Some of the more interesting ones are providing a school meal, planting a vegetable garden, provide mosquito nets in malaria stricken ares, and providing art supplies or books.  You can even find gifts under $20 if your budget is small and in case you’re procrastinating, they even have an instant print for your gift card!

Provide Disaster Relief: There have been some serious natural disaster ravaging people in the last few years including earthquakes in Haiti, floods in Pakistan and Thailand, and tornadoes in the US. Now is the time to help out! There are a number of ways to do this from donating to great causes such as Doctors Without Borders. But you can also give to specific needs such as the American Red Cross Holiday Catalog which includes donating vaccines or emergency shelters or just to give where money is most urgent at the time. Also, the site Changing the Present has a number of great ways to help including sending blankets, building shelters, and providing medical supplies.

Protect the Environment: We don’t need to say it again, but our environment is in serious trouble and it’s a perfect time to get your loved one a gift in their honor. One great idea is a National Parks Pass, the donation will go to preserving our national parks and will make a nice gift to use all year!  But if you want to go beyond the US, there are a number of ways to do so including the Nature Conservancy which provides donation gifts of seed planting and coral reef protection. Also check out the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Green Gifts. They probably have the most choices out of any that include fighting BP to help aid the Gulf Coast wetlands, providing safe drinking water, and reviving the oceans.

End Climate Change: Protecting the environment starts with changing our habits. So this year, give the gift of investment. You can purchase carbon offsets for your loved ones from a number of sites, we recommend Native Energy.  Also, you can directly invest in suing polluters, promote green communities, and build green energy through the Natural Resources Defense Council. Clean Air Cool Planet also provides a number of donation options for cutting climate change from funding green energy research to training teachers and even campaigning.

These are just the tip of the ice burg as there are many more causes with great gift ideas out there. It can be hard to choose one organization, but try to think of what your recipient would want. What are their interests? What would they feel honored about helping? A great place to starts is the Changing the Present website. You can browse by subject, non-profit, price, or do a search of your own. Just remember, the holidays are about giving and this year keep the giving going into 2012.