Over the years, the business gifts I remember most are the charitable ones—a basket from a Midwestern gift company that donates all of its profits to charities, or a donation in my name to my favorite charity, the Make-a-Wish Foundation (the gift-giver even took the time to find out).

Corporate social responsibility around meetings hasn’t declined with the ailing economy—it’s here to stay, and your audience has come to expect it. At a Ritz-Carlton Insurance Advisory Council meeting we recently attended, about half of the 30 planners there said that they typically have a community service activity as part of their meetings. Giving back can apply to gifting as well.

So, as you make purchasing decisions this holiday season, why not channel your buying power toward charitable causes or green choices? You really can help change lives.

Some of my favorite seasonal ideas:

-Helping Hands Rewards—HHR serves as a conduit between socially conscious gift companies and meeting and incentive planners. Partners include companies like The Enterprising Kitchen, which hires low-income women to make its soaps and spa products, helping them to become self-sufficient. Holiday gift soaps start at $4.

-World of Good by ebay— If you don’t know about this site, you need to! World of Good is the largest Web marketplace for fair trade gifts, and was acquired earlier this year by the online auction giant. Holiday gifts abound, including a fair trade coffee, tea, and chocolate basket for $68.

-Think Local First—If you’re going to give clients or top performers a special gift, such as bookends or cufflinks, why not choose something made by a local artisan? For example, Frontier Outfitters in Houston, Texas, has pulled together a collection of one-of-a-kind gifts made by artists from local materials, such as horseshoe business card holders ($29.99) and cowhide coasters ($23.95 to $45.95). And they ship.

-Instead of decorating an office Christmas tree this year, make a donation to the Christmas Spirit Foundation. Its Trees for Troops program has delivered almost 67,000 trees in the past five years to military families in the U.S. and abroad since 2005.

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