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A very altruistic Christmas: Ingenious ideas that provide a welcome antidote to festive splurging

Forget the last-minute dash to splash the cash on presents - there is an alternative approach to giving, and it needn't cost you a penny

If Christmas has become a “ celebration of unholy consumption and greed”, there are welcome antidotes to rampant festive splurging. For charities as well as retailers, this is a crucial time of year. Christmas appeals raise millions and, if our own elephant campaign is an indication, tough economic times appear not to dull our will to do good.

A new website satisfies positive impulses one hopes are common to all - to give to those we love while bettering ourselves and helping strangers in need, all without ruinous recourse to Amazon (or - worse if you hate shopping - the actual high street).

I Promise I Will… invites givers to make pledges that can cost nothing but are confirmed by donations to participating charities. Pick a recipient, come up with an idea, a donation size, a charity - and the pledge is yours to keep. Even if your resolve weakens, you’ve already helped someone you probably don’t know.

Fenella Kemp set up the service last month after being inspired by the warm glow that enveloped the London Olympics and its benevolent army of volunteers. “I always feel that a present that is given with thought in mind rather than money means so much more.” she says. “How much better to receive an offer to teach me how to do a spreadsheet and spend some time together rather than a scented candle?”

Kemp, a businesswoman from East Sussex, says ordinary pledges to partners are most popular - I promise to… fix that broken tap, walk the dogs for a week or… be nicer. One donor from a family experimenting with a commerce-free Christmas has asked all her relatives to give her promises rather than presents.

The site reflects the rise of what we might call imaginative aid. Communities are increasingly bypassing traditional organisations in the new “sharing economy” . Meanwhile individuals such as the anonymous Free Help Guy, who I met in October, are taking a personal approach to giving, while recognising we could all be more altruistic given the opportunity.

It’s a sentiment Kemp shares. She says: “I think that people would love to give more to charity if it was made easier for them, and if the recipient had something tangible to receive, such as a promise to help in some way.”