11/20/2013 11:06 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Turning Nonprofit Beneficiaries Into Donors

This holiday giving season, I'd like to encourage you to give your neighbor half the cash in your savings account.

Sounds absurd, right?

Imagine you're among the world's poorest: you've never had enough for your family, let alone to spare. But today, for the first time, you will become a giver, and you will give your neighbor roughly half your wealth.

Can you even fathom what that might feel like?

I have witnessed this happen, and it's one of the most powerful things I have ever seen.

I work for Heifer International, and a hallmark of our model is Passing on the Gift®, or POG for short. While it may sound ludicrous to ask you to give half your wealth to someone else, it's precisely how our projects work. Every family who receives a farm animal from Heifer must commit to giving the first female offspring of that animal to another family in need. It's at the heart of Heifer founder Dan West's original concept for solving the hunger faced by families around the world, and it's how we have managed to serve 20.7 million families since 1944.

In the nonprofit sector, the focus tends to be on the beneficiaries; how our donations and hard work make their lives better. At a Passing on the Gift ceremony, that notion is flipped on its head. While the people receiving new gifts of livestock are certainly grateful -- they have undergone training and prepared their farms, and this animal is going to improve their lives -- I have learned that the people to really watch are the givers.

In my three years with Heifer, I have had the honor of attending about two-dozen Passing on the Gift ceremonies. Every single time, I am amazed to see people and communities who have so little compared to Western standards giving away their livestock's offspring. And truly, for many, this amounts to half of their wealth. They do this willingly, graciously and often many more times than required.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend a 13th generation Passing on the Gift ceremony in the Chitwan region of Nepal. It was one of the most moving ceremonies I have been to, as this community has chosen to keep the POG tradition going well beyond what is expected, and the outpouring of generosity was otherworldly. I was also given the chance to pass on a symbolic goat from San Carlos Alzatate village in Guatemala, where I had just visited. I told them, "This goat is a representation of the global community and the solidarity we all have for each other. The women in Guatemala want you to know that you are not alone, and they salute your success amid the real challenges that they also face. The key to understand is that together there is nothing we cannot do."

As you'll see in the slideshow below, the moment participants hand over their animals to the recipients, a palpable transformation takes place. Where once they were unable to meet their own needs, they now have enough to give. They are no longer beneficiaries; they are donors. The thought of giving away half their herd or flock is not a source of stress; it is a source of satisfaction. The pride of these new donors is radiant. I will never tire of being part of these Passing on the Gift ceremonies. They are the embodiment of the spirit of gift giving. Let's carry that spirit with us into #GivingTuesday this year.

Passing on the Gift

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction in celebration of #GivingTuesday, which will take place this year (2013) on December 3. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is to kickoff the holiday-giving season, in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday-shopping season. We'll be featuring posts from InterAction partners all month in November. To see all the posts in the series, visit here; follow the conversation via #GivingTuesday and learn more here. For more information about InterAction, visit here. To see what Heifer International is doing for #GivingTuesday, click here.