Insert your own goat-related pun here.
December 23, 2008 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Should I buy a goat for Christmas?

I am not buying any Christmas gifts this year, instead donating to charity including the first one in this comment. This is the first time I have done this absolutely no-gifts across the board thing, because I have always felt that my mother's side just would not understand. So, in the past I would buy everyone a plant or chocolate or some other stupid thing that I would resent. (Huge family.) This year, I would like to hand each person a card indicating that I have made a donation in the spirit of the holidays. BUT - they are such numbskulls that they would not even know where Rwanda is, nor would they approve of my other, more political donations. A goat, I think, they would understand. I know that if I 'bought' a goat or whatever, it does not mean that some family *actually* gets a goat on Christmas day. The question is - should I care? Does the money still get earmarked for farming or something useful?
posted by typewriter to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Send a cow and Oxfam unwrapped are my "not-a-gift" organisations of choice. You get a card, with a picture of the thing you've bought. Oxfam lets you check a box saying that you don't mind if they use the cash for something else. The cards are nice, and show that you've actually put a bit of thought into it. For the larger oxfam gifts you get a fridge magnet too so they can show off to their friends that they're nice charitable types.

I got goats for my cousins two years ago, I got them all cocks last year (hilarity ensued - "What country's my cock in?" etc. etc.) This year I've got them fertilizer, and plan to write in the cards "This year, your present is quite literally shit".
posted by handee at 7:06 AM on December 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think your knowledge is wrong. If you 'bought' a goat, it means that a family actually gets a goat. Probably not on Christmas Day, mind, but a goat is gotten. From their FAQ:
Does a donkey really cost $120?

To explain the costs of all 22 of our items would take a while but, for example, when you purchase a donkey, you are giving so much more. You're providing vaccinations, transport, training in animal husbandry and market awareness as well as building resources that benefit entire communities. You are also supporting Oxfam's livelihoods programs, enabling women and men to have an ongoing source of income that will create greater self-sufficiency, self-esteem and also educational opportunities.
A few other indications are there that it really is a real goat.

(and for the record, you are doing a very good thing. Congrats on making the switch.)
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:11 AM on December 23, 2008

Best answer: From the website:
"You are potentially buying one of those animals and it will be purchased in the region where it is needed. Your donation will also provide vaccinations, health and market awareness training and much more. More importantly, the income your gift generates will create greater self-sufficiency, self-esteem and educational opportunities."

So, yeah, your donation will go to something useful. Even if all of it goes to overhead expenses (unlikely) those costs are essential to continuing to run the charity, especially in this economy. Believe me, no one is getting rich off their NGO management salaries.

And you can guiltlessly tell your family that there is *actually* a goat being purchased, to help get the concept through to them more easily. Fungibility of money aside, there are plenty of goats being distributed through this.

Heifer International is another option- this story really inspired me.
posted by charmcityblues at 7:11 AM on December 23, 2008

Best answer: Heifer International is also a well-known and reputable charity that allows you to directly donate goats, among other things. Since giving people animals is basically all they do, you can be reasonably sure that the vast majority of your money will go towards it.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:13 AM on December 23, 2008

Best answer: I second Heifer International....they are highly respected and vetted as a charity. It comes with great literature and info to pass along. I did this a few years ago as a gift, and the recipient was delighted that "they" had a flock of chicks providing protein and the means to make life a little easier in some village somewhere.
posted by availablelight at 7:21 AM on December 23, 2008

This question has been asked before. The poster wanted to give a charity gift, but wasn't sure the receiver would appreciate it. I believe the consensus was that if the gift-giving is about the person you're giving it to, and not yourself and the point you want to make, then you should give them a gift they'll understand and enjoy.

However, if you want to give a gift you like, and the actual recipient's thoughts on the matter are irrelevant, go nuts.
posted by Anonymous at 7:26 AM on December 23, 2008

There is a school of thought that giving a family a goat could also provide them with an extra mouth to feed - hard on both family and animal.

I side with Schroedinger. I sometimes get asked what I'd like as a present, as I don't see my family as much - I'd rather this than get something I didn't really have need for. However, if I gave my family a charity gift they might think it was a bit off - not because they're materialistic, or because they don't support charitable causes, but because charity can be personal and my mother, for one, would rather the money was given to a local charity than an overseas one. And also because it would seem a bit of a swizz.
posted by mippy at 7:59 AM on December 23, 2008

Response by poster: schroedinger - Oh, I know that most of this part of my family will not appreciate it by any means. They are unfortunately, quite selfish and utterly uninterested in anything that happens outside their very small world. They are are not uneducated but will resist the concept of the goat and of charity, I assure you. Other non-gift charitable donations in the past have been met with, "Why didn't you just throw the money away?" or "Why should they get money/help/assistance?" I am hoping a goat can at least begin some proper discussion. The Story of Beatrice is a good start, and something I might print out for some of the younger relatives.

Yes, it's completely true that I have turned Christmas into some kind of agenda that is more for myself than them. But I could also argue the opposite, that I have been the recipient of their way of life, and pressured by their value-system for most of my life, which resulted in many a forgettable gift given and received. This act will make me more of a black sheep than I already am, no doubt. (Black sheep, get it?) Might as well get some decent discussion out of it!

I am a bit surprised to learn that there are actual goats, and the money doesn't just go into a big pot! Thanks for Heifer links. I would get a llama, but I think I need to start a conversation with a goat, that can take the conversation to Africa in general.
posted by typewriter at 8:24 AM on December 23, 2008

Best answer: I wish I could offer something insightful, but all I can really think of is this courtesy of Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington.
posted by Constant Reader at 8:35 AM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mod note: comment removed - if you can't answer without calling the OP names, don't bother
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:53 AM on December 23, 2008

Best answer: I worked in rural development in south-west China for a while and later reported on the sector for a specialist magazine. In both roles I came across the local Heifer Project subsidiaries and was always impressed with the quality of their work and staff. In the particular part of Sichuan we were in goats were sometimes not an appropriate livestock choice because their grazing patterns were very bad for the marginal slope land but HP adapted their successful model to other specific, appropriate programmes. Which is to say that while I can't speak for what your relatives would like, in terms of the "Does the money still get earmarked for farming or something useful? " my experience is, certainly.
posted by Abiezer at 10:35 AM on December 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

I love Heifer International’s mission. I think they’re fantastic, and I hope you donate to them. However, I’m concerned that your plan might not only alienate your family from you, but might also shut down a potentially positive conversation about what Heifer does. You know your gift sounds like a punishment, right? “You’re stuck in your tiny bubble, you don’t even know where Rwanda is, and you’re totally selfish, so all you get for Christmas is the knowledge that I bought a gift for a poor family overseas who can actually appreciate it!”

I’m responding because you said, in your follow-up “Might as well get some decent discussion out of it!” You won’t get decent discussion. You’ll end up with hurt (rightly or not) relatives who expected presents, because that’s the tradition, and instead got slapped with “you’re selfish, so I gave goats to foreign people.”

Why not humor them with small gifts and ask them to donate to Heifer on YOUR behalf? That, more than your proposed plan, would “get some decent discussion out of it.” You start a conversation about it: tell them you that the gift you’d really like is support for this great nonprofit, and here’s there website, and look! goats! and chickens and bees, and it’s really cool and here’s why, and let’s talk about it. THAT’s discussion.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:53 AM on December 23, 2008

The best way to open the eyes of your family (and to not have them resent you mightily) is to ask THEM to give YOU a goat (or other charitable causes) instead of the usual presents for Christmas next year.
posted by chowflap at 11:20 AM on December 23, 2008

Response by poster: Meg: I am making my relatives out to be more harsh than they are and also not harsh enough. They are not all of a piece to be sure. Some of them even know where Rwanda is! On the other hand, one aunt told me I shouldn't travel to Africa because I would get AIDS. I would love to have a reasonable discourse with them and talk to them about Heifer. This does not happen. This would not happen. They are intelligent, funny people and yet they are also petty, caustic, and cruel. I have humoured them with gifts in the past. Gifts whose dollar values were promptly declared and then ranked up against other gifts. Gifts that were wrapped up and given back to me. Gifts that were used and wrapped up and given back to me. Trust me, they don't deserve your defense. I have been gracious with them and their antics since I was a child. I intend to be gracious still with a nice card, and a picture of a goat. And they will ask, "Why would you spend money on this?" And I can tell them. And some might roll their eyes, and others might nod, and yes, one or two will even be offended. But maybe this one relative will ask her sister, or her friend, or her son the same question, "Why?" I hope so. But in fact, this is not much, my goat-thing, it is not bound to make barely a ripple in their world. Most of them will have forgotten it by the 26th. Most, but I am hoping not all of them.

Meg and Chowflap: Again, there is a bit too much credit given to my poor relatives. They aren't at all interested in what other people want.
posted by typewriter at 11:35 AM on December 23, 2008

Wow. Geez. OK. Nevermind. My most caustic and horrible relatives are also my most sensitive and insecure relatives, so I may be projecting a bit on this one in terms of relatives reacting to unmet expectations and feeling judged. Anyway, good luck with that mess!
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:49 AM on December 23, 2008

It sounds like you want to make a point to your family – which could be made a lot more effectively by going down chowflap's route and asking them to give money in your name (which would have the added bonus of not souring everyone to you or your charity. But I'm not sure a goat is the best way to spend your money either way.

As well as mippy's point about a goat being an extra mouth to feed, is there any real evidence that giving goats makes poor people that much richer? If families getting a goat don't have any already, should they be getting into the goat-keeping business? Is there a demand for more goat-keepers in that part of the world? I'd argue that this kind of charity neglects the actual needs of the poor in favour of a nice marketing strategy.

If you're interested in doing good with your money, I would think a more efficient way to do so would be something like supporting deworming programmes (here's a good argument for doing so) or putting the money into microloans (like at Kiva). Not as flashy as a goat, but probably a lot more life-changing for a lot more people.
posted by SamuelBowman at 2:20 PM on December 23, 2008

By the sounds of things, I'd rather give my money overseas than attempt to please your relatives!
posted by mippy at 6:55 AM on December 24, 2008

This year I decided to not buy gifts for my large extended family either, for similar reasons as typewriter (things just didn't go well in the past when I did, for various personality-related reasons). So instead, I loaned a bunch of money through Kiva and casually mentioned I'd done it in memory of a recently-deceased distant relative (I just mentioned it casually, rather than "No gifts, I did a donation instead", but more like "Oh yeah, my mom mentioned she died, I made a little charity donation in her name, how are her kids doing?"

And then, for the first time, I bought a goat through this org.

I made a brightly-coloured poster with a cute goat on it, in an art style I thought my two nieces (7 & 3) would like.

After the present-frenzy was over, I waited till the kids calmed down a bit, and quietly collected them for a cuddle. I didn't make a big deal about it but most people in the family overheard at least a part of the following exchange.

"I need help from you two, will you help me? There are some families in other countries who didn't get any presents this year because they don't have very much money. So I decided to buy one of those families a goat. It will be their pet, and it will give them milk to drink, and if there's extra milk they can sell it and make some money. That goat is going to be in a country called Bangladesh (we talked about where that is), and I think the family will like it. What do you think?" (They nodded sagely that yes, a goat would be a good pet.) "Ok, so I made a picture of our goat, do you think she's cute? Ok good. Now the only thing is, I really need you two to help me name it!"

They decided upon the name Goaty-Milky-Grassy-Face, and both got the giggles about that. Then I got them to write their names on the goat poster, and fill in a little nameplate I'd put on the poster: "Our goat is named Goaty-Milky-Grassy-Face. She lives in Bangladesh." And then they both drew suns and clouds and stuff around the goat, and the poster went home with them.

I thought it worked pretty well because I didn't frame it as "no toy for you", I framed it as "I need you two pet-experts to help me, and as my thank-you for helping, you can put up this cute poster in your playroom." So I think they thought it was something fun and extra, as opposed to "missing out on something". I worried that it would be weird that I didn't buy toys for them, but actually it kind of got lost in the fray, and I don't think anyone even noticed. I think the kids felt special that they got to "help me out" with my goat-naming dilemma. And I was happy that the money went to a good cause instead of to another little forgettable $15 plastic toy for the pile.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:59 PM on December 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Oh, and I was thinking I'd write a funny postcard "from" the goat later this year, saying that she's happy in Bangladesh, and thanking the kids for helping name her. Maybe bite off a corner or something before I mail it to the kids.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:07 AM on December 26, 2008

Response by poster: pseudo - With my particular group of relatives from this side, there aren't any more kids. So they really, really don't need anything that I can give them. I didn't do a card for each person as I thought I would, as I could see how that could seem in your face. (Thanks Meg_Murray for putting it more clearly in that light. It is true that my most caustic are also the most insecure. I am pretty sure I can't help them with that, but I don't have to exacerbate it.) I tried to do something a bit more low-key that I felt comfortable with. So, prior to the party I sent around an email saying I made some donations in lieu of gifts, and here were some links. I had to explain it too to some who aren't online that often, but then there were others to chime in and say, "Yah, didn't you see? It was in her email!" That worked great, as the ones who wanted to talk to me about it, did. The others carried on.

I like your idea with the kids, really simply framing it in terms of need and involving them. I always just get kids something they can use or make because I'd chicken out! But that is a good approach. I've yet to be tested by a 3 year old at Christmas!

All in all, I felt such a freedom this holiday season because I made this decision. I can be generous at other times of the year, when I am moved to do so, but with such an extended family, it has been all or nothing in the past. (To be clear, I expressed that I desired a no-present Christmas earlier this year and for the most part, people respected my wishes.) I'm happy with this step, and will do it again next year with more confidence.
posted by typewriter at 3:48 AM on December 26, 2008

Response by poster: By the way, the non-goat email contact and organization linked in my original post from a comment from another post, didn't result in anything. I tried the email listed, as well as one I found online, so perhaps it is defunct.
posted by typewriter at 5:56 AM on January 23, 2009

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