Feel the need to reach out to the world this holiday season? To hold the handcrafts of your ethnic home, to play a thumb piano from Botswana, touch a handwoven rug from Ecuador, look at photographs of Jerusalem or, closer to Washington, discover the work of local folk artists?

Nonprofit shops usually choose unique gifts, some only available within their domains. Designs are often carefully excerpted from collections and adapted for modern use, and are usually produced in limited editions. Books are by recognized authorities.

For most of these shops, profit is a means, not an end -- a way to acquaint you with cultural or historical matters, religious tradition or environmental concerns. Profits from the sale of gifts go back into development, public education or public-policy programs. By shopping at a nonprofit store, you can help further your favorite cause.

(Hours listed are accurate through Dec. 23; AE, American Express; CH, Choice; MC, Master Charge; V, Visa; pch, personal check.)

* United Nations Association Gift Shop. Woven and applique'd wall hangings from Egypt, Poland, Bolivia, Peru. Handmade, most are a bargain at any price just because they are esthetically pleasing, but especially so in their $25-$100 range.

While most of the handcrafts at the U.N. Shop are new, you also will find an occasional antique or respectably old piece, such as Japanese dolls, $54, and a thumb piano from Botswana, $18.50. Jewelry bears careful notice, for some is antique, such as a Russian dowry necklace, c. 1880, $80, Chinese cloisonne' rings, $28-$48, and a stunning Balinese boar's tusk necklace set with garnets, $75. There's also a floppy lamb from Israel named "Merry Mary," $12, that has felt ears and feet in a variety of colors.

You will find here craftwork by local artisans: traditional key and egg baskets, dyed in warm pinks and quiet blues by Maureen Hearn of Copperhill, Va., $28-$36; felt and fuzzy puppets to fit a child's hand, made by Shirley Johannesen Levine of Columbia, Md., $1.25-$30; and 7-inch-high Colonial dolls, "Tom" and "Molly," dressed in Maryland and Florida by Bertha Emery, each $10.

United Nations Association Gift Shop, 3143 N St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007; (202) 337-5553; 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; pch.

* B'nai B'rith Klutznick Museum Shop. "Aliyah, the Jewish Trivia Game," ages 8 to adult, boxed in traditional blue and white, $11.95, and The Jewish Trivia and Information Book, by Ian Shapolsky (Steinmatzky, Inc., $5.95), are among the Judaica gifts available. There's also porcelain-handled challah knives, $10; a cutting board from Israel, $44; and, for your meals, Not Chopped Liver: The Kosher Way to Cook Gourmet, by Dorothy Seaman and Paula Smith (Jetsand Press, $10.75 softcover).

In keeping with this season's pop-up books, two by Sol Scharfstein celebrate Hanukah and the alphabet ($4.50, $6.95, Ktav Publishing House, Inc.). For a family activity, construct the challenging model of an East European Jewish town, The Paper Shtetl ($11.95, by David Grupper and David G. Klein, Schocken Books). A useful book for children of any ethnic heritage is Rosemary A. Chorzempa's My Family Tree Workbook: Genealogy for Beginners (Dover Publications, $2.25 softcover).

Also, real art: Laurel, Md., artist Marsha Goldfine's brightly happy motifs and messages, matted, $10-$70; Michael Muchnick's signed lithographs, unframed, $50-$65; and Bill Aron's photographs from his Lower East Side, Soviet Jewry and Jerusalem portfolios, unframed, $150-$500 ($100 more for cherrywood frame).

B'nai B'rith Klutznick Museum Shop, 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036; (202) 857-6583; 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sunday-Friday; CH, MC, V, pch.

* Audubon Naturalist Society of the Central Atlantic States. At the Woodend headquarters, there are binoculars, $56-$300, and spotting scopes, $130-$333, for giving now or -- via a gift certificate -- later. The store has numerous birdfeeders, including weatherized bluebird boxes made by Peter Samponia of Upper Marlboro, Md., $9.95; pewter and birch birdcalls, $4; a laminated bird identification chart, $2; and books and records imported from three continents.

Gifts by local artists include stained glass suncatchers, $4-$22, by Marc Sagan of Leesburg; handmade paper in stationery form, $10; a four-color poster, "Common Winterberries of the Northeast," $5, by Hyattsville, Md., scientific illustrator Sally Bensusen; bird carvings, $125-$300, by John McKinley of Bethesda; and bird paintings on wood, $30, by Elizabeth Plunket of Washington.

Audubon Naturalist Society of the Central Atlantic States, Woodend headquarters, 8940 Jones Mill Rd., Chevy Chase, Md. 20815. (301) 652-9188. There's also an Audubon store at 1621 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007; (202) 337-6062. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Thursday; Noon-5 p.m., Sunday; C, MC, V, pch.

* American Institute of Architects Bookstore. Technically not a nonprofit enterprise, this shop has hard-to-find books in addition to the Architects and Designers Desk Diary, 1985, $16.

For children, David Macaulay's series on Mill, Cathedral, Underground, Castle, City and Pyramid (Houghton Mifflin Co., each available for $5.95 softcover, $14.95 hardcover) carefully explains so that young minds can comprehend. Jan Adkins' How a House Happens (Walker & Co., softcover, $3.75) is 29 pages of graphics which explain it all, including, on the last page, "why": "A house is a place to live in." A favorite for the creative child is Susan Striker's The Anti-Coloring Book of Exploring Space on Earth (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, softcover, $3.95). Instead of training a child for neatness by filling in between the lines, this book encourages him or her to use imagination.

For needlecrafters, there's "The Octagon House." Designed by Holly Minor of Annapolis: a 10-inch-by-12-inch kit, $27, on needlepoint canvas, with wool yarn; a smaller kit with embroidery floss is $8.50.

The American Institute of Architects Bookstore, 1735 New York Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20006; (202) 626-7475; 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; M-F; AE, CH, MC, V, pch.

* The Craft Shop of Save the Children. The large selection of gifts from Africa includes "Rabana" drums, $58, just one of several native instruments to be found here.

From Cameroon, brass sculpture made by the lost-wax process features native figures paddling 11-inch and 13-inch canoes, $65; and from Lesotho, there are two-ounce skeins of super-fluffy, hand-spun, mohair yarn in soft hues of claret, cocoa and blue; mothproofed, each skein is $3.75.

Other gifts here include a red hooded Bolivian jacket in handwoven wool, $70, and handwoven rugs in earth tones from Ecuador (25 1/4 inches by 42 inches), $78.

The Craft Shop of Save the Children, 1341 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036; (202) 822-8426; 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Monday-Saturday; AE, MC, V, pch.

* The Washington Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul has two distinctive gift shops, the Museum Shop and The Herb Cottage. Unique to the Cathedral Museum Shop are a number of distinctive designs in needlework, statuary, chinaware and jewelry, each replicating a design motif found within the gothic structure or on the 57 acres of Mount St. Alban.

This year the Cathedral Christmas ornament is a 14K gold replica of the Peace Cross, the statuary placed on the Cathedral grounds in 1898, $37.50; with brooch back, $40; necklace with 15-inch sterling-silver chain, $33.75.

The Museum Shop also is a source for such records as "Paul Callaway Plays the Great Organ of Washington Cathedral," $8.50, and "Great Is the Lord," by the Washington Cathedral Choir of Boys and Men, $9.95.

Special gifts from The Herb Cottage include made-to-order herb baskets. Choose six of your favorite herbs and they will be arranged in a 14-inch french bread basket, with ready-to-be-framed herb chart and a red bow. Or you can mail-away The Herb Cottage blends, small apothecary jars filled with special herbs for meat, omelets, poultry, salad, seafood and soup, $7.25. (For UPS, add $2.50 east and $3.50 west of the Mississippi.)

Amidst the trays, soup tureens, tea cozies, teapots, teddy bears and totebags, there are natural wreaths, $32, by Washington designer Charlotte Schaefer, an amusing polar bear, $25.50, an appealing calico cow, $5.50, and a fine assortment of dried decorations by Sandra Seymour of Union Bridge, Md., among them a timely wreath with frankincense and myrrh, $37.50.

The Washington Cathedral Museum Shop; (202) 537-6267; 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon to 5 p.m., Sunday; H, MC, V, pch.; The Herb Cottage, (202) 537-8982; 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon-4 p.m., Sunday; pch. only. At the Cathedral, Mount St. Alban, Washington, D.C. 20016, corner of Wisconsin and Massachusetts avenues NW.