On Giving and the Holiday Season

My friend has been running a toy drive at her office for the past few years. Each time it leads to excessive stress as she has to meet the needs and questions of her co-workers. This year a particularly strong response grew out of disappointment when some people did not get what they wanted.

Some had planned to get gifts for a specific child. When they went to sign up for the 8-year-old girl who wanted a doll they found that she was taken and there were only teenage boys in want of the newest X-Box game. Dismayed, the would be donors demanded that they be provided the ability to give to the child which they wanted. The attempt to explain that every child has an equal desire to be fulfilled went ignored.

What this exposed was something which can happen all to often in charity; the giver can become so concerned with what s/he wants that s/he neglects to consider the needs of the recipients. In this case, there was a desire to give a specific item to a specific person. Unfortunately, every child is not a young girl who wants a doll (or insert whatever example you like).

What does this teach us?

It Is Not About Us

I almost want to say 'never' rather than not, but that might be too strong. The reactions by the people to the toy drive are driven from a perspective of caring about the self. This program has been set up to meet the needs of a group of children in the community. No child has greater or lesser value. If I had my way, I would wave a wand to end poverty for everyone, but that is not a choice I can make. Providing charity/aid/economic development means determining the needs of communities and individuals and finding ways to meet their needs. Once a need has to be fulfilled, we cannot waste time by being upset that every donor did not have the chance to participate.

Donate Cash

Let me fend off a few comments right here, this is not about determining who gets what. This is about being effective. Making a cash donation will allow an organization to make decisions based on what they actually need. For example, a soup kitchen always needs food, but do you think they might not want every person to bring in tomato soup and beans? Furthermore, they probably have deals to purchase food cheaper. Giving them $10 might end up providing more food than donating $10 worth of canned goods. When it comes to making a donation, err on the side of money rather than goods. Some places will ask for goods and a rule of thumb is to still go for cash (this is especially important to follow when considering international organizations).

Need Is Not Once A Year

Just because it is the holiday season does not mean that people are all of a sudden more hungry. You can call me a Scrooge, but I despise this time of year because it leads to an extreme push in activities such as volunteering and giving which are needed all year long. Just like the inevitable new year's resolutions that will be made, involvement in activities such as volunteering and giving are needed all year long. It is great that there will be plenty of food donated this Christmas, but what about on June 25th? Need exists all year long. So participate and engage throughout the year.

Saundra hits on some of these themes as well and it is worth reading her Dos and Dont's for Christmas.