Holiday Gift Guide

The 6 surprising gifts you can buy this holiday season that 'do good' with your money

The right tech gadgets make travel easier and more efficient.
Marta Ortiz | iStock | Getty Images

The National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend an average $1,047 this holiday season. While that number stacks up higher than it was last year, you don't have to spend nearly that much to really "do good" this December.

Below, CNBC Make It took a look at some gift ideas whose impacts are much greater than their price tags.

USPS Operation Santa

Adopt a Letter; prices vary *Shipping fees vary by distance

Photo courtesy of USPS Operation Santa

Instead of your co-workers' White Elephant exchange this year, team up together to make someone else's holiday wish come true.

Believe it or not, each year thousands of letters are sent to Santa. The Postal Service actually began receiving letters to Santa Claus more than 100 years ago. In 1912, postal employees and citizens were allowed to respond to the letters, launching what has since become known as Operation Santa. USPS Operation Santa lets individuals and organizations adopt children's letters and send their wish list of gifts to their homes — instead of to the North Pole, as it were. The process takes four easy steps: Read through letters to pick the one(s) you want; Shop for the perfect gift from Santa; Wrap in a box using their shipping guidelines; and Ship it from a participating Post Office by Dec. 21.

Airline carbon offset programs

Offset your carbon emissions when you travel; prices vary depending on route

Robert Llewellyn | Photolibrary | Getty Images

Nobody is too small or too big to receive a gift, including Mother Earth. Most airlines have plans to decrease their carbon footprint, and, as you travel this holiday season, you can be a part of it, too.

The way it works is that airlines partner with environmental organizations, such as Carbonfund.org, ClimateCare and Myclimate, to offer specific carbon-reducing projects that customers' donations go to when they offset the emissions footprint from their flights. Customers usually use a "carbon calculator" to calculate the suggested offset based on their travel route, and a suggested donation is recommended. For example, The Points Guy found that a donation of $8.40 would help offset the carbon emissions from a round-trip flight between John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Los Angeles International Airport on JetBlue.

The carbon offsetting programs vary by airlines, but those that currently allow customers to make a donation for their travel include Alaska Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, United, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, EVA Air, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa and Qantas.

'Symbolic species adoptions'

Photo courtesy of World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Thanks to the World Wildlife Fund, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, you can protect wild animals while gifting somebody special with their own stuffed animal. One of the most popular on the WWF's website is the African elephant. The prices vary depending on the level of adoption, but at the lowest cost, the $25 African Elephant Adoption Kit gets you a photo, an adoption certificate and a species card. At the highest cost, the $250 Giant Plush African Elephant Adoption Kit gets you a 30" plush elephant, a framed certificate/photo and a species card. Your donation provides general support to WWF, where 84% of its spending is directed to global conservation efforts.

eBay's 'Charity Shop'

Anna Wintour Designed Air Jordans and Signed Box; current bid $153.50

Photo courtesy of eBay Charity Shop

eBay makes holiday gifting and giving fun if an auction is your speed. At eBay's Charity Shop, you can bid on once-in-a-lifetime experiences and memorabilia to score a best friend's holiday gift this year, and the proceeds go to charity. Some options on the higher end include scoring a pair of purple and yellow Converse shoes signed by Magic Johnson or Adidas Yeezys by Kim Kardashian West.

'Alexa, donate to Toys for Tots'

Donate to Toys for Tots in someone else's name; up to $20

Photo courtesy of Amazon

If you have an Amazon Alexa, it's an easy way to gift someone while also "doing good." Just by saying the phrase, "Alexa, donate to Toys for Tots," a toy will be donated to a child in need. You can buy the toy in someone else's name, too, to help them make a difference this season. And even better, Amazon toy-to-toy matches your donation and, of course, handles the shipping of the gift. The toys cost up to $20 and are from the Toys for Tots holiday Charity List. You can donate to Toys for Tots with Alexa any time through Dec. 31, 2019.

TisBest Charity Gift Cards

Charity Gift Card; $10 and up

Getty Images

The idea for TisBest came when its founder Erik Marks was in law school and struggling to give to his relatives during the holidays. TisBest Charity Gift works like any other gift card, except instead of buying more stuff, the recipient spends it to donate 100% of the card's value to charities of their choice. The Seattle-based foundation offers access to the 1.5 million charities that are registered in the U.S., and charity gift card recipients can spread their donation among up to three of them. Before gifting one, you can customize the card with your own photo or artwork, and the card is 100% biodegradable. So is the envelope it comes in, if you don't order as an ecard. Different gift card increments are available, and be aware that the website has a $1.49 transaction fee when you order.

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