Wondering What to Give this Holiday Season?

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December is the time of year we all become very fixated on giving: presents, donations, volunteer time. We seem to have arrived at a place of thinking “giving” should be strategic – as in, make a budget and a list before you buy presents; research a charity’s finances before you make a donation; choose a volunteer opportunity where you can also spend time with your friends and family. I want to be clear.  These are all sensible approaches. But sometimes it is also necessary to embrace pure charity and kindness instead of thinking – if I’m going to “give something up” I must thoroughly examine, analyze and compare all of my choices.

December is the most charitable time of the year – and I often wrestle with the concept of charity. According to Wikipedia: In Christian theology charity, or love, means an unlimited loving-kindness toward all others. The term should not be confused with the more restricted modern use of the word charity to mean benevolent giving.

The struggle for me is whether we are truly limitless in our charity or does our modern, “restricted” concept of charity do exactly the opposite – limit us?

My neighbor often asks me to look after her cat while on holidays. You could say this is a kind of charity or informal volunteering. I always say “yes” right away. I don’t ever ask her: why do you think this trip is a good idea? Could you maybe be using your time more wisely while I’m taking care of your cat? If you can afford to travel so much why don’t you pay for Mozart to stay in a kennel? If I do this will you give me 5 hours of your time in return – and a letter of reference?  If I say yes this time will you start sending me letters in the mail requesting more of my time? Because if so, I will never do it again. 

At Vantage Point, when talented people give their time to our organization we are very clear a reciprocal relationship is important. Alignment between the benefit to the organization AND to the individual is key to our “people-first” philosophy. 

But from the perspective of the individual, there are also moments when giving is important and impactful even without reciprocity.

I’ve been slightly discouraged recently by news stories about giving, charity and volunteering which focus on reciprocity. But I did find one gem - a recent opinion article by Lawrence Scanlan from the Globe and Mail called Is it good to be good?. Scalan refers to charity as the “poor cousin” to social justice and debates if the ever growing disparity between rich and poor means charity has become disconnected from the simple ideals of kindness and equality.

I was quite enjoying it until half way through I became bombarded by this horrific list of some other news stories the Globe and Mail thought I might like:
           • Guide to guilt-free giving
           • Tycoons, give your billions to businesses, not charity
           • How to multiply the power of your charitable donation

(You may be surprised I actually liked “Tycoons” the best, but that is for another blog entirely.)

So, I’m telling everyone to throw caution to the wind as you “give” this holiday season. Choose any gift you like, any cause you feel is important, any volunteer role that interests you. Give to those you know and don’t know.  Give often and give lots. And come January when the eggnog has worn off, we can all make our New Year’s resolutions and get back to strategizing.   

About the Author

Annastasia Forst contributed her creative and analytic work ethic (not an oxymoron) to Vantage Point as a past Director of Learning. She is passionate about working with many talented knowledge philanthropists to develop, deliver and evaluate Vantage Point’s board and executive leadership...
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