If your family is anything like mine, a month or so before Christmas you exchange those emails and phone calls begging each other for Christmas gift ideas. It’s not without notice that we each usually reply with some iteration of “I really can’t think of anything I need.” And then we scramble around for the next month trying to find something to buy just so they have something to open under the tree.
That reality has always left me reeling, full of guilt and embarrassment that we clearly buy to buy, even though there are so many people in need. For years I have suggested going to a charitable giving only Christmas with my family, but with traditions disappearing faster than flat-screen TVs on Black Friday, I understand why they want to hold on to giving each other gifts under-the-tree.
So this year, rather than do away with gifts all together, I looked for opportunities to scale back my traditional gift giving in honor of charitable donations or products that promote one-for-one buying. Here are a few organizations on the top of my list:
Care.org: Leveraging the concept of sending care packages to those in need, this organization lets you make annual contributions or one-time symbolic “gifts” like a bicycle for a community volunteer, a scholarship that sends a girl to secondary school or even a 5th birthday party for a kid who would otherwise not have one. When making your donation you then have the choice of printing a card or an e-card to give to let your recipient know you’ve made a donation in their name.
Trickle Up: Recently endorsed by The New York Times, Trickle Up helps women living in “extreme poverty” graduate toward independence. This systematic, step-by-step program provides access to hands-on support, risk free capital and training that has affected 1.1M lives so far. Before you buy another $20 candle for that person who has everything, tell them this story instead.
Spark Ventures: Born and raised in Chicago, Spark Ventures’ approach is business-driven philanthropy that creates economic development engines for local communities currently in Nicaragua and Zambia. My favorite part that is in addition to making a financial donation or volunteering locally, you can travel with Spark to the communities it helps uplift.
Warby Parker: One way to give a gift that’s both tangible and charitable is to purchase a gift card or product from someone like Warby Parker that donates a pair of glasses (or money equal to) for each pair of glasses sold.
The Anti-Cruelty Society: This amazing resource for homeless dogs and cats gets less press than some others in the city, and because of that is always in need of donations of all kinds. Having volunteered at this organization for five years and then subsequently adopting both my cat and my dog from Anti-Cruely, it holds a special place in my heart. If you don’t want to donate big-ticket things like kitty condos, they always have a wish list they need (towels, blankets, used ipads, etc.) and many opportunities for volunteering.
Off The Street Club: The class, income and opportunity inequality in Chicago is arguably the worst in the country. If you live on the south or west side, the cycle that perpetuates violence is a hard thing to break. One organization that gives young people a place to escape that reality is Off The Street Club. Want to see the difference this place makes firsthand? Attend the holiday luncheon where the kids will school you with their public speaking skills in their annual thank you speeches.
She 100: Julie and I are both part of this Chicago organization that brings together LGBTQ women and their collective charitable giving power to benefit members of the larger community. Created out of the realization that, compared to LGBTQ men, women are often under-represented in charitable giving efforts, She100 is actively committed to connecting and bettering.
Give what you got: Many local businesses don’t realize that a gift of whatever you sell (or do) is just as valuable as a cash donation. In the ad industry like me? Get involved with epic and donate your talents to a non-for-profit that needs to get the word out.