In search of the perfect Christmas gift for the person who has everything, an increasing number of gift givers are buying water buffaloes instead of Beanie Babies.

Christian aid agencies such as Heifer Project International, World Concern, and World Vision are offering catalogs with unusual, tax-deductible Christmas gifts—such as goats, rabbits, medical care, and school tuition that help poor children and families in developing countries.

Gift prices range from $10 to $5,000. For each gift, such as a $25 goat, a card is sent describing how the donation purchased in the donor's honor will help a family.

Catalogs reflect a new fundraising strategy for nonprofits, which have long relied on heart-wrenching letters featuring photographs of emaciated children.

Heifer Project International (HPI), which has produced an alternative gift catalog for a decade, is printing more than 1 million this year. "It's probably our most important direct-mail piece," says Tom Peterson, hpi's director of communications. Peterson declined to say how much catalog income hpi receives, but indicated it provides a "significant chunk" of the $11.6 million individual-giving figure listed in the agency's most recent annual report.

The organizations are also posting their catalogs on the Web for on-line purchasing (;;

For aid agencies that "sell" intangible needs such as the hunger and poverty of nameless faces living oceans away, alternative gifts personalize the need and allow agencies to meet their donors' need of finding meaningful Christmas gifts.

Agency leaders see the catalogs as much more than direct-mail appeals. World Concern president Paul Kennel says alternative gifts help parents ...

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