Archive for the ‘Gift of Giving’ Category

Respect the Bird This Holiday Season

November 21, 2011

This week marks the beginning of the traditional holiday shopping season, starting with “Black Friday” the day after Thanksgiving. This year, Black Friday is spilling over onto Thanksgiving, with more stores open at midnight and some even opening for Black Friday on Thanksgiving night!

One Target employee, aggravated with his family day of thanks cut short, started a petition on to pressure Target (and presumably other big national chains) to allow employees to truly have a day off:

“A midnight opening robs the hourly and in-store salary workers of time off with their families on Thanksgiving Day.  By opening the doors at midnight, Target is requiring team members to be in the store by 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. A full holiday with family is not just for the elite of this nation — all Americans should be able to break bread with loved ones and get a good night’s rest on Thanksgiving!

“Join me in calling for Target retail stores to push back their original opening time of 5am on Black Friday.”

One of the signers of the petition, Deborah Schwartz of Hoboken, NJ, gives her reasoning for adding her name:

I’m so tired of turning on the news the Monday after Black Friday and having to hear about how much money the big retailers did or didn’t make. As if that’s the point of our year-end holidays. I’m tired of Christmas being promoted BEFORE Halloween. I’m sick and tired of these attempts to brainwash us into thinking Christmas is about how much money we spend. Every American has the right to spend Thanksgiving with their families…

When using my app on my smartphone, I ran across another grassroots effort to keep Thanksgiving as a non-commercial holiday called “Respect the Bird”:

Respect the Bird supporters have a mission. They are determined to ruffle feathers as much as possible and restore Thanksgiving to its rightful place as a meaningful, respected American holiday, not one that’s merely a one-day delicious afterthought between Halloween and Christmas. Tapping into its original roots—thankfulness, a celebration of friendships, family, and gifts from the earth—Respect the Bird supporters want to create a Thanksgiving experience extending beyond meal planning. It is, after all, one of the treasured holidays that’s not about spending.

“I hope it sets a precedence that the holiday be celebrated by sharing thanks and good food with friends and family, not Black Friday shopping!” – Doug Matthews, Community Member and Leader of the Respect the Bird movement

If you would like to take the pledge to Respect the Bird, head over to the blog or like them on Facebook.

If you’re tired of the commercialization of the holidays, here are a few alternatives.

  1. Wait until Small Business Saturday. I’ve written before about the movement to support small, local businesses. By paying perhaps a little more for aspirin at a local pharmacy instead of a national chain, you leave more money in the community where you live, in the form of wages, sales tax and the community involvement that many small businesses engage in. As an extension of this effort, this year the Saturday after Thanksgiving has been designated as “Small Business Saturday.” You can find out more here, or take the pledge to Shop Small or find retailers in your zip code here.  “If millions of Americans shop small, it will be huge.”
  2. Give a Charitable Gift Certificate. A new survey from the Red Cross shows that 79% of respondents agreed that “they would rather have a charitable donation in their honor than get a gift they won’t use.” So you make the donation but let them pick the recipient. JustGive is an online web site that allows you to purchase charity gift certificates. you pick the amount and receive a ncie card to present to the recient. they go online and pick which charity they would like to receive the money. On Cyber Monday (Nov. 28th), JustGive is waiving their usual fees and the service is free. Great alternative to stocking stuffers and dust collectors.
  3. Join or Form a “Cash Mob.” Take Small Business Saturday right through the end of the year. On NPR this weekend I heard a story about a “cash mob” and was absolutely intrigued. According to this press release,”Cash mob plans to gather on specific days at 6:00 at a predetermined location and target a store in the area.  It must be locally owned, have products for both men and women and have parking.  The store must be civic minded.  Armed with at least $20 each, the “mob” will make purchases at the assigned location in a show of support for their neighborhood businesses.” What? Awesome. I’m thinking of organizing a cash mob in Mount Prospect, IL, where I live. How fun would it be to do your holiday shopping–especially the “hostess gifts, teacher gifts, people who bought you something and you need something to give them back gifts”–through this whimsical approach. Facebook seems perfect to organize this…

What other ideas do you have that are an alternative to commercial holiday celebrations? How do you keep your priorities straight during the frenzied consumer free-for-all that is December? Do share.

Show Me the Money

December 8, 2010

One night last week, my husband read the book One Hen to our kids at bedtime. It’s a children’s book about a very grown-up topic: the power of banking. More specifically, the power of microfinance loans to provide opportunity for the poorest people in the world to build a business and improve their lives.

One Hen tells the story of a child in Ghana named Kojo whose community pools their money to allow each member in turn to buy something to improve their tiny businesses. The people use their purchase to increase their income and pay the funds back so the next person can borrow and the cycle continues. Kojo’s mother gets her turn with the funds, and in turn she lets him use enough to buy a hen.

With this one hen, Kojo sells enough eggs to pay his mother back and then buy more hens. He eventually pays for his own school fees, then builds a large and successful business. When he’s older, he goes to the city and asks for a loan from the bank to buy an entire farm. Of course, the first banker turns him down, because by traditional banking standards he doesn’t look very creditworthy. But when another banker hears how Kojo has grown his business from that first little hen, he decides to take a chance and Kojo gets his farm. Now he’s supplying not just eggs, but jobs and stability to his community. People that he pays in turn buy goods and services from other community members and so begins a virtuous cycle of economic prosperity for them all.

One Hen is the story of microfinance: How loans that are too small to be worth the time of a commercial bank can be the ones that have the greatest impact on increasing the wealth of poor communities. How people that aren’t “credit-worthy” by traditional standards can still be worthy borrowers. It is in many ways the story of Opportunity International, a pioneer in microfinance that has been championing this work for almost forty years, and which is the nonprofit partner of One Hen. (The real-life inspiration for Kojo sat on the board of Opportunity International for many years and continues to be engaged with the work today.)

Grown-ups talk about rates of return, recycling capital and other fancy terms. But kids relate to other kids, and they especially relate to narrative. So what better way to draw them into the power of microfinance than by telling the stories of other kids?

“Show Me the Money”

Now one woman who was inspired by the book One Hen is creating a documentary to do just that. Show Me the Money will follow kids in the United States, themselves budding entrepreneurs, as they earn money through lemonade stands, bake sales or other micro-businesses and lend it to an entrepreneur in another country.

Then the film will follow the borrower—perhaps a woman in China buying a donkey to transport her goods to market, or a seamstress in Peru who buys a sewing machine to be able to make larger and more expensive items for sale—to show the joys and struggles as they try to build their business.

What a fantastic way to show kids the power they have to positively impact someone else’s life! No lectures, no guilt trips, and no powerless recipients of their handouts. Just the excitement of earning their own money and then putting it to good use, helping another human being halfway around the world move beyond poverty to a life rich with possibility.

Behind the Scenes

Producer Kathleen Ermitage is passionately pursuing the vision for Show Me the Money. As her partner in crime, she has recruited Emmy and Grammy nominee John Scheinfeld, best known as the writer, director and producer of The US vs. John Lennon and the critically-acclaimed Who Is Harry Nilsson?

They have imagined an inspiring and engaging film that humanizes the concept of microfinance to empower young people and show them that they can make a huge difference in someone else’s life. Once young people get drawn in by the film, Kathleen and her team will provide educational resources to teach them financial skills so that they can earn, save, spend and give in their own lives.

Kathleen says, “We aim to celebrate the American spirit of entrepreneurialism and the great power of micro-finance. And we’ve got the perfect director for it—to bring just the right tone to the material. What a great ride! We’ve met fascinating young people. And we will respectfully give them room … watch them make decisions that are very important to them. We’ve already witnessed their wheels turning in terms of how they develop financial skills—and true business savvy. It is an education that occurs inside the classroom … and outside, too.”

Although he is best known for documentaries about the lives of well-known individuals, John Scheinfeld says, “Kathleen’s passion for this project was so infectious and the kids’ stories are so inspiring there was no question—I had to be involved in making this movie.”

Show Me the Money will make the festival circuit, followed by a theatrical run and DVD and TV, but Kathleen will also draw on her background in creating educational media to develop web sites, videos, social media outreach and other tools. Kathleen plans to work closely with financial institutions and individual advisors to distribute the educational content so that kids, once inspired, can have outlet and direction for their energy and enthusiasm.

Kathleen says, “We can generate a great deal of content with a wide range of curriculum applications. The great fun and challenge for us will be to take full advantage of all of the media, distribution channels. Content is flourishing—and we will wrestle it to the ground and into the right formats for our end-users. We’ll have curriculum content flowing concurrently with filming in some cases, nearly real-time.”

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the film’s nonprofit partners, including One Hen, Inc., the nonprofit that converts Kojo’s story into interactive and classroom resources and Opportunity International,  a global microfinance agency that partners with One Hen. Investors will also have the opportunity to go along with the production to visit the entrepreneurs around the world.

Get Involved

If you are interested in getting involved with Show Me the Money, we’ll be sure to share details as they become available. Kathleen is in the process of pulling together the final financing for the film venture, which includes the educational products. If you are interested in this regard, please contact Kathleen directly at

In the meantime, this holiday season consider the gift of the book One Hen and a $10 or $25 Opportunity International gift card for a special young person in your life, maybe a niece or nephew or God child. Read them the story about Kojo and show them how they have the power to give the gift of opportunity to others by going online together to find and fund an entrepreneur through

Every Kid Wants a Dad

June 17, 2010

An email that touched me this Father’s Day.


Every kid wants a Dad who’s there. Not every kid has one.

Every kid wants a Dad who can support his family. Not every kid has one.

Every kid wants a Dad who can come through in emergencies.

Not every kid has one.

And on one day of the year, that’s painfully clear for the families on SmallCanBeBig.

Honor Dads the world over with a small donation to help them out.

This donation will do what Dads do. Bring a family back from the brink of hopelessness.


Happy Father’s Day.


The Team at

Great Mother’s Day Gifts for Charity

May 6, 2010

Time for the annual collection of ideas around how to show your love for Mom while giving something back to the community or the cause she cares about. It’s amazing and wonderful how mothers inspire us to make gestures of our love and appreciation by sharing our resources with those who are less fortunate.

Picking a Cause

If your mother already has a favorite charity, I suggest you skip the stuff, buy or make her a nice card and put a check made out to her favorite charity inside. Write a brief but sincere note telling her how she has influenced your values and shaped the person you are today. Ta-da! Guaranteed tears and appreciation, and no wasted packaging so it’s eco-friendly, too.

If your mom has always been the giving type but you don’t associate a particular charity with her, you might want to select one that particularly resonates with mothers, or serves mothers. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Women for Women International: “Since 1993, Women for Women International has helped thousands of female survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts rebuild their lives and regain their sense of self. Through our one-year programs, women are given the tools they need to get back on their feet and contribute to their community.”
  2. Partners in Health: This is one of the international aid organizations for which I have the most respect, in whom I have the greatest trust. They were founded by Paul Farmer, who spent years in Haiti working with the poorest of the poor. They’ve since expanded to other countries (I visited a hospital under construction in Rwanda) but have been a vital partner in the recovery efforts after the Haitian earthquake in January.
  3. Epic Change. The founder of Epic Change, Stacey Monk, is a tireless advocate on behalf of Mama Lucy, a woman in Tanzania who describes herself as a “former poultry farmer turned school founder & Mama to over 400 kids.” This Mother’s Day, Epic Change has developed a great web site and campaign called “To Mama With Love.” There, you can donate to support Mama Lucy while creating a “heartspace” for your own mother. Then send her an e-card telling her about the gift and sharing your heartspace.

Picking a Gift

First, let me say this: Don’t be fooled by marketing hype (is there a colored ribbon yet for Mother’s Day?). Personally, I have come to avoid products that say “a percentage of every purchase will be donated to XYZ charity.” Why? Because no one knows how much is donated, what other fine print is included or what controls exist to make sure the donation is really made.  Just like with many of these online contests for charity, I believe many of these companies are engaged in a cynical ploy to buy your affection by association with a cause you care about. If the rest of the company and the product itself have nothing to do with the cause, move on.

Instead, look for companies that have woven their social values into the fabric of their operations. Ones that employ women, pay them a fair wage, provide decent benefits, promote them internally and have women in leadership positions, etc.  It would be better if the companies aren’t merely offering a one-time promotion, but demonstrate consistent commitment to the cause.

Ah, but how to find such companies? Here are a few resources:

  1. Dressed to Give. Check out this blog series from Stephanie Hackman at the Case Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to help people integrate giving into their daily lives. Her posts feature ideas for t-shirts, nail polish, boutique fashion and more, identifying great options if you just have to have something to wrap up to go with that card.
  2. Green America: For the scoop on environmentally- and human-friendly products in a range of categories, you can trust the folks at Green America who have screened thousands of companies to find those you can feel good about–not just those with good marketing. “The National Green Pages™ is a directory listing nearly 3,000 businesses that have made firm commitments to sustainable, socially just principles, including the support of sweatshop-free labor, organic farms, fair trade, and cruelty-free products.” As one example, check out their listings of 139 companies offering products in Body/Personal Care. For a broader range of ideas, check out their Gift Guide.
  3. B Corporations.” Again, it can be hard for individuals to really know what a company is up to. That’s why we need outside certification of corporate social responsibility, such as that obtained by B Corporations. “B Corporations are a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. You can search for a B Corporation by key word, like “gifts” or just browse through the list.  A few likely candidates for Mother’s Day include: UncommonGoods, an online and catalog retailer of creatively designed, high quality products; NUMI Organic Tea, a specialty tea company known for their full leaf teas, herbal teasans and line of Flowering Tea;, an online retailer that sells thousands of the finest ecologically (eCo “friendlier”) and socially responsible products available and donate up to 10% of every purchase to the exceptional Non-Profit organizations listed on their website.

One final thought: Why limit your socially responsible purchases to those associated with Mother’s Day? Couldn’t a much greater percentage of your personal shopping also be done through socially responsible companies? For easy resources for your everyday purchases, check out GoodGuide (especially their iphone app) and


December 20, 2009

Though the title of the book sounds crabby, Joel Waldfogel has a point that’s really about bringing joy to people we care about enough to buy presents for. The Wharton professor and author of “Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays” says in Time magazine that when we buy things for ourselves, we only pay what it’s worth to us.

But when we buy things for other people, we’re more likely to overpay and throw the economics of value out of whack. It’s bad for us, because we overspend and tend to rack up debt. And it’s bad for the recipient, because they get something they might not value instead of something they would have really valued and enjoyed for the money we were willing to spend on them.

Most of us intend to bring joy with the gifts we give, but it’s easy to miss the mark, even with good intentions. So how to we actually accomplish our goal of making the gift recipient happy?

One way, Waldfogel points out, is to buy gift certificates so the person can buy something they really want. But another way, he also recognizes, is to give to someone’s favorite charity instead of buying them things. If you don’t know their favorite charity, you can use a site that allows for charity gift certificates, where your recipient gets to choose the ultimate beneficiary of the donation.

Giving to charity is often seen as a luxury, and it makes us feel good. Two great attributes for any gift.

Additional sites that allow for your recipient to choose between many different charities:

Charitable Mother’s Day Gifts 2009

May 2, 2009

This blog is full of gift ideas.  You may want to search this site for the word “gifts” to see what comes up (a lot).  But a few posts would be a good starting place:

My 2008 post on “Philanthropic Mother’s Day Gifts

My 2008 post on “Philanthropic Father’s Day Gifts” One reader commented on the post by saying “My dad’s 78 and at this point in his life has what he wants and needs. He is not big on exchanging gifts so most times I don’t bother unless I randomly come across something that I know he’ll love and use. But what I never thought of was giving him the gift of letting him know that I learned and am living some of his lessons and am continuing to pay it forward, because of him.” Sound familiar? Check it out.

Lists, Lists, Lists. Compiled over the holiday season. Some require money, some don’t.

Charity Gift Certificates The advantage of these virtual purchases? You procrastinators out there can usually print something off the internet  the night before.

This suggestion was sent to me by a new twitter friend, Ruth-Anne Renaud of Opportunity International, and is taken from her blog post over at the Bono/Bobby Shriver ONE organization:

“Check out the heartwarming Global Opportunity Quilt sponsored by the Women’s Opportunity Network. This Mother’s Day, I’m purchasing tribute patches on the virtual quilt [$25 each] to honor special women in my life and to give a hand-up to women who need it the most. I can choose from several beautiful Mother’s Day patches by artist Dawn Feller, and then write a tribute that can be read by everyone visiting the virtual quilt. Each woman I honor receives an email with a link to view the quilt plus a gift card that can be used to help another woman with a life-changing loan at OptINnow. It’s fun to visit the quilt (I must admit…I do it several times daily) to see all the wonderful messages that have been posted.”

One last gift idea: don’t buy a card with someone else’s thoughts about someone else’s mother. Write your mom a letter from you. For inspiration, check out my letter to my father on his 60th birthday.

Happy Mother’s Day!

“Giving Game”

January 9, 2009

Remember these VW Beetle Convertible commercials (see above) where someone opens a door for someone else and then they trace it backwards and show how one nice thing someone did led to a continual chain of nice things?  Now you (and your kids) can be the person who sets the whole chain in motion.

 There’s an online site that helps you initiate and track a chain of kindness–using cards that are passed along from person to person and then logged on the site. Almost 13,000 people have signed up and there are over 100,000 cards in circulation in 63 countries.

According to the site: “The Giving Game has three critical parts:

“You – You perform a kind act for someone else. Your act of kindness can be done secretly or known to the person.

“Giving Game Cards – You leave a game card with your kind act. Each game card has a unique ID number and will inspire the next person to do another kind act and pass it on! Cards have instructions on the back for the person receiving the kind act to know how to play the Giving Game.

“Giving Game Web Site – Log onto the Giving Game website and track the kind acts you and your card inspired! You can register your card(s) online, record your kind acts, and read the stories of others. As your card travels from one kind person to another, you can see what’s happening, who’s involved and which cities and countries it reaches!”

Getting Started

To get started, you need cards.  Whether you want to do it as an individual or as a group your cards will forever be associated with the originating group.  You can print them off the web site (which probably results in flimsier cards harder to pass on) or you can buy them from the online store.

Helpful hint: you need to register for the game first, then click through and RE-register for the store.  I kept trying to log into the store with my game log-in info until I figured out that it wanted me to register for the store separately.

Cards can be bought for $1 each, or in sets of 30 for $14.10.  The cards can also be customized with your group name and screen name, so the receiver will know where you came from.  

Since it seems only logical to order 30 cards at a time, I ordered a set. (Sticker shock: $8.43 in shipping costs, although this number stays the same if you buy 1 pack of 30 or 2 and goes up to just $8.68 if you order three. Must be assuming some weight and box size.  Aren’t you glad I’m here to do this little bit of research for you?)

I can’t wait to start giving them out and hopefully see them passed on.  I think tracking your cards through the future is the best part, and will make you want to give out more cards to watch them travel.  

You’ve Got the Cards, Now Get Going!

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service is coming up. Are you volunteering with a group somewhere? What a great way to kick off a Giving Game.
  • Get a family pack and put your last name on the custom cards.  What a great family ritual to sit down once a month and track your cards, and of course to try to get additional cards going out there. 
  • If you’re a teacher, do it as a class project.  Print the school name and grade on the cards and give one to each kid to pass on with an act of kindness and then track.  Bonus points for the card that travels the farthest, or passes to the most people.
  • Get  the Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop to order a pack of cards. Customize them with “Pack #1410, Mt. Prospect, IL” for a special touch
  • Do you belong to a Mom’s Group?  A knitting circle? A wine-tasting group? 
  • …or just forget the group and start your own thing! You could keep the cards anonymous so the receiver of your kindness doesn’t know who you are. Pay a stranger’s meter and put a card under the windshield. Snow-blow the neighbor’s driveway and tuck a card in their mailbox. Pick up someone’s tab in the diner and have the wait staff deliver a card instead of a check.  

I’m sure you can think  of lots of great ideas to get the cards in circulation.  And, much like the 29-Day Giving Challenge, a game like this helps us become aware of our own acts of kindness every day. Good stuff.

What You Need To Know Before You Donate? What You’ll Do After

December 15, 2008

My friend Nathaniel Whittemore over at asked me to be part of his post “One Thing You Need To Know Before you Donate to Charity this Holiday Season.”

I’ve written before about how individual donors can approach giving decisions, absent the resources of an expert staff or the luxury of extensive time to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of one approach to working with teenage delinquents over another. 

So I’m actually going a slightly different route.  Instead of focusing on the charity and how you’ll evaluate its work, its staff, its financial health, I suggest that before you donate this holiday season, you evaluate yourself. 

The Integrated Life

The biggest trend in philanthropy goes way beyond the borders of what we often think of as “philanthropy”: the new philanthropist is anyone who strives to live all aspects of his or her life informed by the same values that inform that person’s charitable giving. They may show any of the following symptoms:

  • The desire for a socially-responsible job: Studies show that MBA graduates are willing to give up 15% in salary to work for a socially responsible company or feel like they are making a positive difference in the world.  Teach for America applications are up so dramatically that you have a better chance of being accepted at one of the most prestigious universities in the country than being selected to teach in one of America’s poorest school districts for next to no money. (Almost 15% acceptance rate at Teach for America compared to 16% at Penn, 23% at Duke and 20% at Georgetown)
  • The desire to patronize socially responsible companies. Studies also show that consumers are more likely to develop brand loyalty and pay a premium for products from companies that they perceive as socially responsible. 
  • The desire to replace material gifts with meaningful gestures: I don’t have any hard numbers on this but I can tell you a great deal of my blog traffic these days comes from people searching for “charity gift certificates” and “charitable gifts.” As just one example, check out the the Givelist for over 75 wonderful ideas that don’t involve giving money.  In my own family, the adults have given up buying each other Christmas presents in favor of making a donation to our family foundation.
  • Support for “fair trade” and “sustainable” commerce.  Shopping at farmer’s markets and refusing to order the veal.
  • The desire to spend “vacation” time building homes for people in Guatemala or volunteering in an orphanage in China.

People like this used to be considered a little extreme.  But our collective consciousness is expanding these days as more and more people are examining how the hundreds of little choices they make every day add up. 

Follow Through

So here’s my One Thing: pick your charity (following whatever process feels right to you) and then follow through.  Think about the values that led you to choose the charity and then extend those values to other areas of your life.  Let money be the beginning of your commitment, not the end. You have so many more resources and channels to help accomplish the work of the charity.  Some ideas and examples:

  • Your social networks: Suggestions from friends and family are one of the most important factors in charitable giving. Your friends know you and trust your judgment, so be an advocate for the causes you care about with friends and family. Online, you can add a Facebook Cause to your profile, change your IM or Twitter icon to represent the charity or cause, add a “donate here” widget to your blog, put a URL or sentence about the cause in your personal email signature line, etc.  Offline, make sure your friends and family know of your support for this cause.  Ask them attend events with you or volunteer with your or donate stuff.  When you update your wardrobe and donate clothing, ask your friends and family if they have anything to add to the pile, and offer to get them a receipt.  Is there some political aspect to the charity’s work around which you can rally your friends?  Start a petition, write letters, use your influence as a voter and encourage your neighbors to do the same. At your next social gathering ask friends to bring a piece of their work wardrobe they no longer wear and donate it to a job training program. Or they can just bring some canned goods.
  • Your purchasing power: Ask your charity whether there are consumer habits or trends that are affecting them positively or negatively.  If you support immigrant rights, be aware of your produce purchases at the grocery store–how was the coffee produced? How was that lettuce harvested? If you give money to a battered women’s program, you may want to change your media habits to avoid perpetuating images that portray women as objects. If you support charities that work to improve the community and provide health care to low-income workers, investigate whether there are alternatives to shopping at Wal-Mart and Target that provide better working conditions and keep profits in the local community.
  • Your free time: Are you willing to volunteer your manual labor? Office work, data entry, stuffing envelopes, manning the phones during a pledge drive or member drive?  Bring your friends or your spouse or your kids?  If you’re concerned with animal welfare, be sure your vacations don’t harm local ecosystems or animal habitat.  If you give to an environmental cause, really examine your transportation and see if you can’t use more public transportation, walk or ride your bike.  If you support the troops, consider writing letters to those serving abroad.
  • Your employer: More employers are promoting skills-based volunteering and your accounting firm may be willing to trade some employee time for community goodwill.  They also may be interested in your ideas to boost employee morale: If you’re a tree-hugger, form a “green committee” to promote “reduce, reuse and recycle” in the office (the CFO will especially like the “reduce” part in this economy), organize a food drive as part of the annual holiday party or have the office adopt a few families from a local shelter. Encourage the company to match employee giving. If you can swing it, try to help your company integrate socially responsible practices.
  • Your stuff: Goodwill and The Salvation Army aren’t the only ones who need gently used stuff: day-cares and churches and hospitals needs toys, homeless shelters needs toiletries, foster kids need backpacks and a few things to call their own. Many charities dislike spending money on office supplies and furniture, so when you’re ready for a new desk, see if your charity of choice could use your old one. 
  • Your talents: Can the charity benefit from any of your skills or talents?  If you’re a marketer you could design a logo or if you’re web savvy you could serve as voluntary webmaster.  If you’re a writer you could help with the newsletter. But one of my favorite ideas here is to offer your fun talents for the charity auction fundraiser.  My mother works for a nonprofit that held a live auction in October.  Since my husband and I were trained as blackjack and poker dealers in Atlantic City, the charity put together and auctioned off an “In-Home Fish Fry for 20 People” that offered our services combined with the donated catering of the family who does all the local Catholic “Fish Fry” events during Lent. I’ve never been prouder to help raise $500 for charity.

The Challenge: Baby Steps, Baby Steps

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the huge number of possible life changes that could result from carrying all our values through all aspects of our lives.  Overwhelmed enough to decide it’s just not possible and give up.  So here’s my challenge to all of us who consider ourselves “charitable”: pick that one charity, identify that one issue, really adopt it and follow through on it in every aspect of your life.  Don’t try to do them all at once–it’s too much.  But whichever one speaks to you the loudest, ignites your outrage and your passion–pick that one, and live it.  Let your choices everyday be part of the solution. As Ghandi told us, “Be the change you wish to see in this world”

GiveList and lists, lists, lists

December 5, 2008

The cyberworld is aflutter with folks talking about resources for charitably-inclined gift givers this holiday season.

The GiveList

The GiveList was created two days ago by nonprofit bloggers Alison Fine and Marnee Webb.  “The GiveList is a resource of ways to support communities and causes this holiday season that don’t necessarily require writing a check.  We all know it’s rough out there this year, but that also means that the needs of people and communities are also greater than every.  There are a lot of ways that a creative do-gooder can continue to help heal the world.”

In fabulous cyber-speed, it’s taken off quickly and folks are adding their ideas and suggestions.  Check it out for many great suggestions on how to be charitable when money is tight.

Youth Service America

Youth Service America just added a post on 10 Ways to Serve Your Community This Holiday Season. This list is aimed at young people, which is great because adults aren’t the only ones who give gifts this time of year. I especially love the suggestion to help your teachers clean up the classroom before leaving for winter break.  Being married to a teacher and otherwise related to about 5 more, I think this effort to help teachers get home to their families would be especially appreciated.  More than a holiday mug or another candle, anyway.  Bonus: it’s free, of course, to give your time.

Have Fun • Do Good

Ten Lists of Holiday Gifts that Give Back.  If you can’t find the perfect gift after browsing the lists that Britt Bravo has collected, you should just give the person cash.  Seriously, there’s a lot of great resources here already and I’m sure people will keep adding other lists in the comments section.

A Word About Cause Marketing

This holiday season you are sure to run into plenty of products from companies who promise to give some proceeds of the sale to charity.  Although I don’t discount cause marketing as an effective way to raise awareness about problems and the people working to address them (see earlier post and comments on Product(RED)),  I’m more inclined to favor products that were produced by or reflect the experiences of the people in need of assistance: providing direct income and jobs to help those people help themselves like Rwandan Path to Peace Baskets or Zhena’s Gypsy Tea .  I think it’s nice that LUSH donates some proceeds to charity but I think it’s better that LUSH uses ethical sourcing for their glorious beauty products and minimizes packaging using recycled materials wherever possible.

You don’t have to make the same decision to favor social enterprise over cause marketing, I just ask that you be conscious of the difference.

Want more?

For more ideas on charitable gifts this holiday season, check out my earlier posts on Charitable Gifts for Mom, Charitable Gifts for Dad and Charity Gift Certificates.

Reclaiming My 9/11 Birthday

September 2, 2008

I was born on September 11.  My birthday has come to stand for something terrible.  I want to reclaim that day and help make it represent something wonderful.  Many thanks to Beth Kanter ( for turning me on to the September campaign over at charity: water.

charity: water was founded two years ago after Scott Harrison visited Africa and saw the women and children spending a significant portion of their time trekking miles just to bring home dirty, poluted water. Last year, he turned 32 and asked people to donate $32 toward building wells in Kenya in lieu of birthday gifts.  This year, both Scott and I turn 33.  And I’m happy to be joining him in asking for just $33 toward a well in Ethiopia.

These kids need water a whole lot more than you or I need just about anything.

charity: water describes the “September Mission” this way: “most of us get presents on our birthday. lots of them are things we don’t really need. But in many places in the world, people don’t have access to the most basic necessity: clean, safe drinking water. because charity: water was born in september, we’re starting the september campaign. We’re asking everyone born in september to ask for donations instead of presents for their birthdays, and help give 150,000 people in Ethiopia acess to safe, clean drinking water.”

I think charity: water has been so successful in such a short period of time (having built hundreds of wells already) because they are pretty transparent.  Donors and observers get to see the wells being built through live feeds (the first well in Ethiopia will go live on the site September 7.  Watch it here), and they even use Google Earth to allow you to zoom in and see the wells long afterward.

[Update September 2009: A collection of new ideas for celebrating a 9/11 birthday found here]

Will You Please Be One of the 30?

My goal is to raise $1,000, which is enough to pay for 1/4th the cost of a well.  I believe in the generosity of my family and friends, and of the extended philanthropic family I’ve come to know through social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.  Even if you weren’t going to buy me a present personally (no offense taken), I hope you’ll help me reclaim 9/11 as a day of positive celebration and love of humanity.

Just follow this link to my charity: water September birthday page and donate. We only need 30 donors to reach $1000. Actually, since I just donated $40 (to cover my $33 and to make up some of the difference between $33×30 and $1,000), we only need 29 more donors. [update 9/11: so far we’ve raised $600 toward this goal! Thank you to all who have donated.  Only 12 more people!]

And If you’re a September baby, start you own page!  If you love someone born in September, you could donate in their name. And if you do nothing else, pass on this campaign. The direct link is

Other September Babies Speak

17 year-old Catherine Luu says “Can you imagine children younger than you and I not going to school in order to walk miles to a water source, that only contains filthy water? Well you don’t have to. 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean water.  This year I turn 17, and instead of buying me a gift, please donate to this charitable cause.”

15-year-old Keely O’Laughlin says: “I’m turning 15 this year. In Australia we are having a drought, but we still have showers, clean water, swimming pools, and we waste billions of litres of water per year. These people can’t even safely get to their water holes, let alone get clean water they need. I have a responsibily to my fellow man to do what I can. $33 isn’t much to ask. It’s the price of a t-shirt, which we might not even wear often. Or 10 hot chocolates (no matter how good they are). A very small thing to give up for someone to live a bit easier.”

thomas bouldin emery was born sept. 1 2008. his parents are committed to africa and helping to provide sustainable solutions to who we feel are some of the world’s most joyful but vulnerable people. In place of traditional gifts for his birthday, please consider donating to this great cause.”

Aileen Ryan is turning 21 this year and she says to her friends: “Many of you know me well enough to warrant our friendship with a present on my birthday and many of you don’t. But this year I’d like to ask everyone to donate their thoughtful idea of a gift to help build water wells to those in need. A present to me could bring a days worth of excitement to my life but a gift of a well could bring years of health and happiness to an entire village in need. I’m beyond fortunate in my life and so this year I’d like a gift from you to be given to someone who really needs it. Thanks for making this my best birthday so far!”


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