LONDON, Dec 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - For shoppers disillusioned by the relentless consumerism of Christmas who wish instead to buy a present that promises to change lives, charities offer plenty of gifts to choose from.
But when you buy a goat, a bag of cement, or even a pile of manure, does it mean that an animal will actually be delivered to a family in need, or a poverty-stricken farmer wake up on Christmas Day to a delivery for his crops?
The short answer is no, but charities say this for a good reason. Read the small print, and shoppers will see their donations are not earmarked for a particular gift, but go into a pool of funds which charities spend according to needs.
"All the money Oxfam makes from selling goats will be spent on projects that help people generate an income, put food on the table and learn to cope with the impact of climate change," said Lindsey Bassett, manager of Oxfam Unwrapped, which offers gift ideas it says can help transform impoverished lives.
"This flexibility ensures Oxfam gets the money to where it's needed most, as quickly as possible."
Gifts on the Oxfam website range from a goat costing 25 pounds ($37) to solar energy equipment costing 32 pounds ($48). A pile of manure can be bought for 9 pounds ($13).
Another charity that sells goats and other livestock is World Vision.
It says donations made through its gift catalogue helps it to recover funds sent to the field.
"Because most of the catalogue items are funded in advance, there is never a chance of raising money for something that we wouldn't actually need in the field," said Carrie Swanson, World Vision's gift catalogue director, in a statement.
If the charity raises more than it needs for a specific item, they use the extra funding to meet needs.
"Instead of a goat, the funds would purchase a cow," she said.
The reason why individual goats or bags of cement are not bought and delivered directly to those in need is due to the logistical complexity and cost of such an operation, according to John Gray, mass engagement director at WaterAid.
The charity, which promotes gifts ranging from a $15 bag of cement to its most popular present of a $55 hand pump, channels the money to projects that use that particular gift instead.
"If you buy a bag of cement for a toilet block then you can be certain that somewhere in the world we will be buying a bag of cement for toilet blocks," Gray said.
($1 = 0.6718 pounds) (Reporting by Magdalena Mis; Editing by Katie Nguyen and Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)