Many times a day I realize how much my own life is built on the labors of my fellowmen, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received. –Einstein
With Thanksgiving upon us, the holiday season has more than officially begun. In a society where fast is never quick enough, Christmas decorations have been snuggling on the shelves with turkey figurines and fall memorabilia for weeks, and the pumpkin pie hasn’t even cooled. As this special time threatens to fly by, FliP invites our readers to take a brief pause to reflect on philanthropy during this festive season, and how we can contribute to a culture of giving in more ways than one.
As in recent years, nonprofits and charitable organizations have been feeling an acute need for both volunteers and donations this holiday season. Social service groups are especially needy as they attempt to respond to the influx of requests from their clients; many of our neighbors continue to be affected by the economic downturn we’ve all become so familiar with. According to Catholic Charities, while 76% of the agencies in its national network are seeing an increased demand for food, 72% of these organizations have cut operating costs. According to the Bridgespan Group, 80 percent of the 100 nonprofits responding to its latest survey have reported funding cuts. Nonprofits are calling for assistance now more than ever, and yet money continues to be scarce for the majority of American families that have given in the past.
As the general public finds new ways to fill their holidays with meaningful gifts and traditions that don’t break the bank, they are simultaneously innovating their philanthropic support. Convio, a web-based software company that helps thousands of charities raise money through the internet, reports that contributions have grown by 20% or more, even without counting the surge of online donations stemming from the earthquake in Haiti. While it is encouraging to see that giving remains on the rise, it is perhaps even more heartwarming to learn that more and more people are flocking to their local organization to volunteer. When money gets tight for those in the position to contribute, the vast majority of us continue to give in any way we can, skinny wallets be damned.
The Corporation for National and Community Service reports that 63.4 million Americans volunteered to help their communities in 2009, which shows an increase of 1.6 million volunteers from 2008. In total, they contributed 8.1 billion hours of service, which has an estimated monetary value of nearly $169 billion. That’s nothing to sniff at. A tradition of volunteering can help to compensate for a smaller pool of funds by lessening the burden on staff and increasing in-kind donations. According to a 2009 holiday article from MSNBC, Feeding America, a national umbrella organization for about 200 food banks, reported a significant increase in donations of money and food to its national operation. In addition, the president of Catholic Charities of Central Florida reported there was a hopeful and resilient tone at the organization, as it saw the average gift size had dropped but the number of people who donated had risen.
And how’s this for innovation: According to a World Vision survey conducted by Harris Interactive in November 2010, America’s attempt to scale down their gift budgets resulted in 51% of survey participants indicating they would be likely to give a charitable gift as a holiday present this year. Meaningful gifts apparently do come in all shapes and sizes, and have many varied functions.
As individuals, we can choose to be the change we wish to see in the world. So when you’re wrapping up that Kindle to place under the tree for a loved one, consider proposing an outing to a soup kitchen in need of volunteers as an addendum to a traditional gift exchange and eggnog overindulgence. When you’re remembering what you’re thankful for over turkey and stuffing, consider making a donation of any amount to a local or national organization calling for your support. Make personal time to donate blood, or heck, give the gift of life by becoming an organ donor this holiday season. Philanthropy means a lot of things to a lot of people. This giving and thankful season, perhaps a return to basic gestures of gratitude—giving our time, our gently loved clothes, or extra food from our pantry—is just what we need to truly celebrate the holiday season the way it was intended.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” -Melody Beattie