Americans will spend an average of $750 per person on gifts for family, friends and colleagues in this upcoming holiday season, an increase of 4 percent over 2011. Predicted overall holiday spending will exceed $550 billion.
Starting at Thanksgiving and continuing through December, most of us will gather to observe religious, cultural, historical and secular holidays, and express our gratitude with friends and family. As we say thanks for what we have, consider that 3.5 million Americans will experience homelessness this year, nearly 1 out of 6 don’t always know where their next meal will come from (many of those are completely without a source of food), and more than 12 million remain unemployed.
If we’re honest, we’ll admit that at least some of the gifts we’ll give and receive in the coming weeks amount to just more “stuff” that will accumulate in our dressers, closets, basements, garages and, ultimately, landfills.
Imagine for a moment if, in addition to the many generous gifts to charity we already plan to make this year, each of us pledged to take just 10 percent of what we would otherwise spend on holiday gifts, food and candy (that’s an average of $75 per person) and committed to donate that money to charitable organizations making a difference in the lives of others, preserving something of value, or advocating for a cause that advances fairness, education or opportunity for others less fortunate. That would result in more than $55 billion of additional funds flowing to nonprofit organizations in the next six weeks!
Here are four suggestions:
1. Have a family meeting to discuss the 10 percent pledge and which charities to support. If the family is gathered at Thanksgiving or at another time, discuss giving a little less to one another and a little more to those less fortunate and decide which causes would be most meaningful to support. Make a donation from everyone’s 10 percent pledge in the family’s name. Consider rotating the charity annually so that everyone has a chance to advocate for his or her favorite cause. Check out www.changingthepresent.org and www.networkforgood.org.
2. Give charitable gift cards. Help others learn more about giving through charitable gift cards that allow you to fund, and the recipient to designate, the charities to which the money will be donated. Examples include www.justgive.orgwww.sixdegrees.org and www.tisbest.org
3. Buy gifts that directly support charities. Many nonprofits produce or sell gifts that generate earned income for the charity. Jewelry, food, cards, gift baskets, clothing and more can be purchased from nonprofits and then given to others. Some examples are
www.womensbeanproject.com, www.beadforlifestore.org and www.unicefusa.org/shop/
4. Volunteer your time. Volunteering is not only a great way to connect and engage in your philanthropy, it’s also a great learning opportunity for young people. Some of the many ways to get involved include volunteering time at a food bank, hospital or museum, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, delivering meals with Project Angel Heart, helping students graduate with the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation or apply for college with College Summit-Colorado, and helping women obtain clothes and skills to interview for jobs at Dress for Success-Denver.
Visit www.metrovolunteers.org to find volunteer opportunities to match your interests.
Making a pledge to give fewer material gifts to family, friends and co-workers and a bit more time and money for the benefit of others can bring people together with a shared purpose. It can also help children focus on what they give and appreciate what they get, help spread the true spirit of the season and make our community a better place for everyone.
Isn’t that what the holidays are all about?
Bruce DeBoskey is a Colorado-based philanthropic adviser, helping families, businesses and foundations with their philanthropic initiatives. Learn more at www.deboskeygroup.com. This article originally appeared in the Denver Post on November 18, 2012. It is reposted here by the author.