As the holidays approach and we are faced with the shopping and the cooking and the gatherings with friends and family, many people also consider it a time to remember the less fortunate. It is not uncommon to find collection bins for items or money at local businesses. Local media sources remind us of toy drives and food drives (and more shopping to be done). The spirit of giving can truly become contagious at times.
While community generosity serves as a foundation for many nonprofit operations, that same generosity in excess can become a burden. So, when you are trying to come up with a way to help your favorite charity this holiday season, consider a few handy tips for good donor citizenship.
- Reach out and ask: Before you organize all of your friends and family to collect their unwanted clothing or to knit scarves or to bake cookies, CONTACT THE CHARITY. Many nonprofits have limited storage space, and while your intentions are wonderful, if even just a few other people had the same idea, you have just overwhelmed the organization’s staff. Call. E-mail. Find out what they actually need. And if you want to give clothing (or other goods in kind that consume tangible space) and they say “no”—accept the answer with kindness and then ask, “What is your greatest need at the moment?” And then listen. Needs at a nonprofit change—sometimes daily—but what doesn’t change is that there are always needs.
- The universal gift: When you are struggling with what to get that difficult person on your list, what is the best default? What comes in every size and fills every need? Money. And gift cards. The same goes with your favorite charity. As much as it may seem impersonal, your gift of cold, hard cash is about the best possible thing you can give. Every organization has non-sexy bills to pay—electricity, gas, water, phone/internet, and salaries. Yes, the salaries of the people who work at your favorite charity are often paid through donations. (There isn’t a charity fairy making up a payroll list, in case you were wondering.) Give the gift in honor of someone to spice it up a little. Or ask about options for a restricted gift. Heck, some organizations have possibilities for naming rights and sponsorships even for modest donations (think donor displays or those brick pathways with all of the inscriptions). And if you like the gift card option, just call and find out which cards and which denominations are best. Small denominations are usually good when they are given to clients as incentives, and larger denominations could help when shopping for supplies.
- Think outside of the gift box: What I mean by this is that your good intentions in November and December will be just as appreciated (if not more so) in January and February. Nonprofits often find themselves overwhelmed with good intentions in December and are then nearly forgotten once the New Year has arrived. So, instead of a Christmas or Hanukkah collection for your favorite charity, perhaps do something for Valentine’s Day. Or for no reason at all. But before you get inspired, please do follow tip #1…
Share your joy with others. Give big. Give often. But most importantly, give from the heart.
Jennifer Signore is a scientist turned writer, mother, and nonprofit professional. She has been volunteering since before she can remember and is delighted to have turned her years of experience into a rewarding career. She currently works as a freelance writer and fundraising consultant in Pittsburgh, PA, where she also channels her all-too-infrequent moments of free time into knitting, singing, and other creative ventures.
A few weeks ago, Toys R Us announced that it was launching a “toy reservation service” for the toys it predicted would be the hottest toys of the Christmas season. Parents who place a reservation (with down payment) by October 31 are guaranteed a toy when they are released before Christmas.
Reading that story and thinking about it for a bit, I came up with the following conclusions:
1. You have to reserve by Halloween, which means we’re now officially rolling Christmas back before Halloween.
2. From the consumer point of view, this seems a lot like pre-ordering from Amazon. Except that most of the pre-orders I do are for books I know I’ll want to read, not toys I’m trying to predict if my kid will want three months from now.
3. Do kids always really want the “hottest toys”? What if you reserve and then on Christmas morning your kid’s all “meh”?
4. Arbitrage. Reserve now, then sell on Ebay for six times the price on December 22?
5. I wonder if there’s a limit from manufacturers on the number of toys Toys R Us can order, or if it would be possible for TRU to take enough reservations that manufacturers won’t have any stock left to sell to other retailers. If that happens, it could mean that TRU has essentially put Walmart, Target, and every other toy retailer out of business for the entire Christmas season.
6. From a supply chain perspective, this could make things far easier for toy manufacturers to predict and meet demand without excess.
What do you think about this? Would you do it?
And thanks for The Most Wonderful Time of the Year:
December 3, 1927 – September 25, 2012
T-minus 90 days until Christmas 2012. And that’s why we’re here. To kick things off for the early birds, and let those of you who don’t want to think about Christmas until after Thanksgiving feel smug about what crazies we early birds are.
Look, if people can have Oktoberfest in August, then we can start getting Christmased in September.
If you haven’t been here before, Christmased.com is a place for all things Christmas–the religious, the secular, and combos of both. We’re excited about Christmas, we like Christmas, but we also examine the dark side of the season–commercialism, isolation, disconnectedness. Basically, if you’re thinking it about Christmas, it’s safe to say it here.
Have an idea for a topic you’d like to see here? Leave a comment here or on our FB page, or Tweet it to us.
And now for the big question: If you could get any gift this year for Christmas, what would it be?
Gearing up for Christmased.com 2012 by planning posts. And new this year, you can follow us on Pinterest at Pinterest.com/GetChristmased and we’ll follow you back. Like us on Facebook here, and follow us on Twitter at @Christmased.
We’re also making Pandora stations to share with you.
It’s a little weird to be making things cozy when it’s hot and humid…
Last weekend, Chris and I took our kids to a park called Dallas Heritage Village, a city park featuring a collection of historic Victorian-era buildings and living-history storytellers. It’s a great place any time, and in December, it’s is open late with bonfires and candles everywhere, and people dressed up in Victorian costumes singing Christmas carols. It’s an easy way to get into the Christmas spirit. Or, alternately, the Hanukkah spirit, because one of the great things about Dallas Heritage Village is that it one of the houses belonged to a Jewish family, and their religious observance is part of the living history of the building. I was explaining to my kid (the talkative one) about how the house we were in had belonged to a Jewish family.
“How can you tell?” she challenged me.
“Well, there is a Passover plate and a menorah over there on that cabinet. Those items are part of Jewish religious life, so a family that had them would be Jewish.”
“Well, we have a menorah and we’re not Jewish.”
We have a menorah because when we first moved to Dallas, all my friends were either from my church or my kids’ Christian school, and one December a few years ago, I was sad because it was Hanukkah and no one had invited us over to eat latkes and light candles. Dreadfully homesick for the diversity of the northeastern United States, horribly missing my friends, I bought a menorah and started celebrating Hanukkah with my family. We don’t make a big deal of it, but now every year we light the menorah and I read the story out loud to my kids, and I tell them that the Jews are God’s chosen people and He loves them, and I use the holiday to brainwash them just a little bit to make sure that they never, ever evangelize or proselytize Jews. I know it’s a little but unusual for Christians to celebrate Hanukkah, and I’m sure there are plenty of religious Jews who would be mightily offended to hear about our secular celebration of a Jewish holiday, just as there are plenty of religious Christians who think we’re nuts, but it’s part of our family’s tradition and we love it.
This year was different. This year, I did not stick a match on center candle of the menorah with a gnawing pit in my stomach, missing my friends. This year, the woman who was my best friend when I was thirteen, at whose bat mitzvah I lit a candle, whose parents were the first people to show me what it meant to them to be Jewish, is visiting me over Hanukkah. I grinned at her as I set up my menorah, and lit it.
“Check me out with the menorah,” I said. “I r teh awesomzorz.”
“Brat,” she said. “Show off.”
I’m going to wake my friend up at the crack of dawn to go with me to get freshly-made jelly doughnuts from the Korean couple who own the doughnut shop around the corner from my house.
Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. And please pass the doughnuts.