'Tis the season—and as every kids knows, the holiday spirit just doesn't kick in without new toys! But how to find the right ones for every boy and girl on your list? Here's help. Fast Company selflessly invested hours of grueling field research to find the perfect gadgets and gizmos for every personality type.
Your favorite outdoor-sports junkie has to face reality: Skiing is so over, and snowboarding is passé. Time to soar aboard the Airboard by Emo-Gear. It's like an inflatable boogie board that you ride down ski slopes instead of on waves. Ridges on the bottom help you steer. (Price: $269 for adult size, $149 for kids; www.airboard.com) For extra challenge, toss the Airboard in a pack with lightweight Elektra snowshoes (designed especially for women) by Atlas Snow-Shoe. Work up a sweat stomping up the mountain, then inflate your Airboard and feel the rush on the way down. (Price: $249; www.atlassnowshoe.com)
The Proud Parent
No self-respecting soccer mom or dad goes anywhere without a camcorder. What if Junior kicks the winning goal? Finding that crowning moment among the hours of footage of Junior not scoring goals, however, is a chore few want to face. Enter the MovieBox USB by Pinnacle Systems. It's a stylish little device-designed by F.A. Porsche, no less!-that plugs into both your camcorder and your computer using a USB connection and standard audio/video cables. Simple on-board Studio 8 video-editing software makes creating fun, watchable home movies as easy as dragging and dropping with your mouse. Adding music and special digital effects is a snap, too. (Price: $199; www.pinnaclesys.com)
Even culinary artistes sometimes aspire to a simple meal after work. Or maybe your sweetheart just can't make popcorn without burning it. Either way, impress the foodie in your life with the Beyond Microwave Oven by Salton Inc. It comes with a special scanning wand that reads UPC codes on food packages and automatically sets the proper cooking time and power level. (Price: $179; www.beyondconnectedhome.com)
Got a video-game junkie on your hands? Do the unending strains of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City make you think that police cars and ambulances have taken over the neighborhood? To thrill the gamer in your life, check out the Actius RD3D by Sharp. It's a 15-inch laptop with a whopping 60 GB hard drive and a three-dimensional XGA screen, so you're virtually in the game while you play it. No flimsy red-and-blue glasses required. (Price: $3,299; www.sharpsystems.com)
He had an iPod before you even knew what MP3s were. Her cell phone is so small, you wonder how she talks on it without getting hand cramps. For those ultracool, always-ahead-of-the-curve folks in your life, try Panasonic's D-Snap four-in-one camera. It's a digital camera (two-megapixel still shots, and a cool, rotating lens). It's a music player (up to 10 hours of MP3 or WMA files). It's a voice recorder and a video recorder (takes brief JPEG motion shots, and you can add sound, too). Comes in yummy orange, sky blue, and silver casings, and at just 4-inches tall and 13-mm thick, it goes anywhere they do. (Price: $299.95; www.panasonic.com/d-snap)
'Tis also the season for philanthropy. You've already written checks to the local food pantry or shopped for your church's toy drive. Now, think a bit bigger.
The Little Foundations That Can
What if small foundations could have all the resources of their bigger cousins? That's what entrepreneur Doug Mellinger wondered after the wear of setting up his own family foundation. Foundation Source (www.foundationsource.com), a sort of incubator for foundations, is his answer to that question. The for-profit company sells knowledge and tools through banks and brokers to help individuals play Andrew Carnegie.
"Foundations have been monolithic, centralized, paper-based institutions that aren't easily practicable by most people," says Mellinger. "We wanted to turn that upside down." Today, the company's portfolio includes some 80 foundations, each of which pays a $4,000 setup fee and $4,000 per year plus 0.3% of assets. In exchange, customers get access to a network of financial, legal, and philanthropic advisers, plus the growing community of sister foundations.
The minimum initial funding for such a foundation is $100,000, far less than the threshold for most private foundations. Mellinger is betting that by getting rid of administrative overhead, Foundation Source will help usher in a new boom in giving.
Fewer Hors D'Oeuvres—and More Money
Those cozy auctions put on by the local PTA are well-meaning models of inefficiency. Organizers have to hustle donations, publish a catalog, and plan an event. Then, only a fraction of attendees bid, while the rest literally eat up profits as they scarf down hors d'oeuvres.
Jon Carson of Cmarket (www.cmarket.com) aims to do for nonprofits what eBay did for sellers of Flintstones lunch boxes. Groups that run auctions through Cmarket's Web-based platform can dramatically reduce costs: no printing, no mailing, no ballrooms at the Holiday Inn. They can expand their universe of potential bidders. And by letting donors put links to their Web sites next to the descriptions of their donations, organizers can solicit more stuff.
Cmarket takes an average of 8% of gross auction proceeds for the service. But it's still a win for organizations. Using Cmarket, the Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau raised 35% more for youth scholarships this year than last and did it with fewer staff hours.
A Community Foundation With National Reach
Like almost everything else, giving has become a lot more global. As people live and work in more places, they make connections in more communities. Ray Crabbs, whose career as a social entrepreneur spans 34 years, is betting that the next change-the-game innovation in philanthropy will reflect that trend. "People see themselves not so much as municipal players but social players," he says. "They see their roles as being larger than any single place."
His brainchild is America's Fund for Communities (www.americasfund.org), a national version of a community foundation. Founded last January, this nascent consortium of local efforts lets people easily support causes in whatever cities they want to reach. America's Fund works with existing philanthropic organizations to find best-of-class programs in each area.
One of the fund's more creative partnerships is a new for-profit venture called Fundlink (www.fundlinkllc.com). The idea is simple but powerful: a loyalty program that enables local merchants to give to community nonprofits. Think of it as a reverse affinity card. Even better, customers, by registering their credit cards with Fundlink, elect those community nonprofits that they want the merchants to support. Now that's innovation with heart.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.