The second type of "gifts that give back"—and a model I find more exciting—are from companies or nonprofits that have figured out how to use commerce to further the greater good. Whether it's empowering women artisans or providing needy kids with shoes, these are innovative and sustainable business models that have great potential.
Nest is a nonprofit that provides microcredit loans to women artists and designers in the developing world to help them create their own businesses. Nest then sells the clothing, accessories, and home furnishings on its Web site and plows the proceeds back into microcredit loans to other businesswomen.
The similar Aid to Artisans is an international nonprofit committed to promoting economic development by connecting artisans to new markets, and vice versa. They sell online and wholesale and work with importers.
EBay's do-good site, World of Good, sells products from thousands of "eco positive" and "people positive" retailers. You can even sort by products' "social impact profile" and see their "goodprint." This baby bib from Peru was made in a producer-owned cooperative, supports clean water and sanitation, creates employment for women and marginalized ethnic groups, and is made from 100 percent sustainably harvested materials. The signature line Original Good has its own site as well.
Global Exchange calls itself "your online source for socially conscious gifts." This international human rights organization started fair trade stores in order to market products made by artisans in more than 40 countries and raise consumer awareness about the importance of economic fairness, mutual respect, and understanding.