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The Value of a Chicken – Alternative Gifts with Gayle Goossen of Barefoot Creative – 5 Question Interview

Gayle Goossen is a partner and Creative Director of Barefoot Creative Inc., a global, full-service fund-raising and communication agency. The agency helps many national non-profit organizations develop effective holiday giving programs that both reflect unique product lines and increase overall revenue. We chatted with Gayle to talk about the concept of "alternative gifts" and her upcoming presentation at the CMA National Convention.

OD: What is an "alternative gift" or "symbolic gift"?

“Alternative” or “symbolic” gift is a charitable gift towards a specific item – chickens and goats being quite popular – that a donor purchases as a gift. The recipient receives a card or small gift as a “symbol” of that gift.

World Vision Canada

OD: Who is pioneering symbolic gifting in the Canadian non-profit space?

The initial foray into symbolic gifts was through giving a memorial gift in the name of a loved one. From that, the idea of giving a gift/donation in the name of someone became an easy transition – especially for the “hard to buy” names on your list.

World Wildlife Fund is one of the most well known symbolic gift programs. The plush toy that a recipient receives has become a collector’s item for many gift givers. It’s especially popular to give to children, as WWF has a great educational program to support it.

World Vision has really staked their territory in the symbolic gift space over the past 10 years. Many Canadians have received a gift of a chicken or a goat! Nature Conservancy Canada has offered symbolic gifts of land for over 15 years, but it has not been on the public’s radar screen, as it is only offered to loyal donors.

Our research shows that the strongest early adopters are international development organizations, but social service and health oriented foundations are beginning to show up. The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health Foundation in Toronto launched a program with great success in 2009.

OD: How do you see companies like Tom's Shoes  – if you buy a pair of shoes, they give the same pair of shoes to a child in need) fitting into the alternative gift landscape?

Tom’s Shoes, Red and other like programs are corporate giving programs. They are hinged to a specific corporation, sometimes even to a product. The caveat is that the charitable organization needs to have a corporate partner. Or, in the case of Tom’s Shoes, the corporation is the charity as well.

I hope we continue to see this kind of creative corporate investment – it’s a great brand advantage.

OD: How do programs like or social networks like impact the non-profit alternative gift market? intersects with the symbolic gift space. It’s super easy to send an e-gift coupon to someone as a gift and the idea of micro-lending is fun. It also shows just how engaging a web site can be. 

We are working on – a similar web-based charity to but has the added advantage of partnerships with CIDA that match the gift (the new site will launch mid-May).

Microfinance is a perfect match for e-giving. lets the donor create a portfolio and track the number of loans they sponsor through their initial gift. Every time the client receiving the loan makes a payment the funds are returned to your account, allowing you to loan the money again. It’s amazing how powerful $100 is!

These are programs designed to engage donors in new ways and draw people back to the web site to check their account. So donors/shoppers return to or to receive updates – it really increases the loyalty of a donor – much more than symbolic giving.

We should be seeing more of these kinds of programs. Like DreamBank.

As technology and its use changes, we will see a lot of really amazing things – for instance, imagine being able to give a little girl in an orphanage in Rwanda a pair of shoes for her birthday, sending the money over the web or smart phone and then, on the day of her birthday, receiving a photo of the gift being opened!

OD: Are you seeing the use of "virtual gifts" (e.g. like users giving each other gifts on Facebook) in addition to "alternative gifts" by non-profits?

Facebook and other social media sites are very interesting to charities. It’s this amazing gathering of people who sort themselves around interests – what could be better for a marketer? While we’re not seeing “virtual gifts,” we are seeing advocacy networks and information being created.

For instance, Free Rice is a fun little web based program where you can upgrade your vocabulary and for every definition you get correct, you donate 10 grains of rice. Sponsored by a corporation, the rice is distributed by UN’s World Food Program.

Clearly, 10 grains of rice is miniscule, but when millions of people play every day, it adds up. It’s a great way to see how just one person, doing so little, when joined by many others, makes a big impact.  You can join the Facebook group… but beware, a lot of people are taking advantage of spamming the large group that has joined. That’s one of the challenges of social media.

We are also seeing charities work together with Facebook to make their relationship with donors easy. For instance, the Cancer Society has created a tool for Facebook that makes it easy for people who are doing Relay for Life. They can set up their own personalized portal right on Facebook, making raising sponsors for their run really simple. It maximizes the trend – Facebook is becoming the hub of user activity on the internet.

OD: Any sneak peeks (or videos) from your talk at the CMA that you can share with us?

Gayle Goossen will be presenting What is the Value of a Chicken? at the CMA National Convention at the end of this month.