The Gift of Giving

The season for giving now includes giving away gifts. This blog post will take a look at the trend to donate gifts for birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs to the celebrant’s charity of choice and the potential impact that it has on the community.

I picked up the phone to make a thank you call to a donor yesterday, only to find out that her donation was a holiday present for her mother. “What can you get a woman who has everything? She already has all of the sweaters and necklaces and books she could want”. I saw her mother later that day and told her of the donation made in her honor. Her joy was evident as a big smile spread across her face.

The trend of dedicating personal gifts to a social profit of choice grows with each passing year. My recent experience with this phenomenon has convinced me that giving gifts away is a powerful and profound choice.

Each year special occasions, seasonal or personal mark days when your friends and family are inclined to spend money to demonstrate their love and appreciation for you. Why not use those opportunities to ask them to direct those philanthropic feelings towards the good of humanity? In one sense it’s irrational—why give away what could be yours? In another sense, it is a strategic day to make a difference in your community.

In November, philanthropists, fundraisers, social profits, and community members across the nation celebrated National Philanthropy Day. At our local Association of Fundraising Professional’s Chapter ceremony philanthropists of all ages were honored. When 13 year old Lindsay Eckelman, a lanky gal with freckles and a slight build, took the mic she used her 3 minutes at the podium to ask the forum to consider giving a home to a shelter pet and to remind us of the great need in our state.

Lindsay’s passion was uncontained for even the brief window in which most honorees confined their comments to a list of acknowledgements. A young person who at the young age of seven chose to give away her birthday gifts to the animal welfare charity of choice, understands the gift of giving. Now, almost half of her life later, she is a leader in the community. Her birthday generosity presents a challenge and a learning moment to those who would have purchased a gift for her!

In her TED talk What adults can learn from kids, Adora Svitak describes the power of young people to make choices that will change the world:

“Who’s to say that certain types of irrational thinking aren’t exactly what the world needs? Maybe you’ve had grand plans before but you’ve stopped yourself that’s impossible, that costs too much or that won’t benefit me. For better or worse, we kids aren’t hampered so much when thinking about reasons why not to do things”

More and more individuals are choosing to flip the paradigm of birthdays, holidays, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and other celebrations, and give their gifts away! By asking friends and family to make a donation instead of buying a gift, the honoree is educating the community and encouraging philanthropy!

This summer, friends of mine Jessie and Brian, shared nuptials in a remote orchard in Chimayo, New Mexico. In lieu of gifts, they requested that guests donate to a charity of their choice, a local spiritual center that they both attend. The wedding website detailed guidelines for making donations and pointed to the mission and online information for the organization.

While many churches, synagogues, and spiritual communities give back to the community around them, this spiritual center let the members choose three local charities to give 10% of their annual revenue. This couple is trending forward! Gifts from their wedding celebration flowed from their ceremony of love, to their spiritual center, to a youth organization that makes arts available to kids. Instead of a static object that sits on a shelf, this couple’s gifts will pass through many hands and touch many lives.

Recently I attended a friend’s 80th birthday party, a beautiful soiree at his favorite Italian restaurant. On his invitation, he specified: “No gifts please, your presence is my present”. Larry is a generous and caring man, and I struggled with his request. How could I show up with no gift in hand? What was clear as I shared a sumptuous dinner with Larry is that his richness extended beyond means, to friendship. His choice for his birthday was to give to his friends, and we gave back to him in turns on the dance floor, serenades of he’s a jolly good fellow, and many, many hugs.

Giving can be an echo chamber. Members of the community who chose to give away their gifts, like Lindsay, Larry, Jessie and Brian are leading teachers of philanthropy and agents of change.

Check your favorite charity. Do they have a feature on their website for members to fundraise for them? Would you consider giving your gifts away? Or is there someone in your life who would be thrilled if you made a donation in their honor instead of buying them a sweater? With the holiday season upon us, I am reminded that the most important things are not things. I am challenged by philanthropic teachers who are showing me what it looks like to give the gift of giving.

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