Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dummies Guide to Giving

Well we’ve made it through Black Friday, which analysts tell us was busier than last year. But traditionally the busiest shopping day is still ahead of us. The Saturday before Christmas is a big day for all those last-minute shoppers.

Christmas, of course, is a time for giving. I don’t know if anyone keeps statistics on this, but I bet quite a few of those Black Friday shoppers took advantage of many of those special offers to buy presents for themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that; Christmas is my favorite time of year to buy myself a present or two as well.

Most gifts are bought for friends, family members, and coworkers. Few of the gifts were bought for strangers. But maybe that’s too bad. Remember the old expression that it’s better to give than to receive. That counts double when buying for someone you don’t know well or at all. When people are expecting you to buy something for them it becomes more of an obligation than a sincere act of kindness.

Several years ago in this column I related a story about how the Student Council at a school I taught at put on a canned food drive each Christmas. Dozens of boxes of canned and boxed food were collected from students. And the student council purchased turkeys or hams to place in each box.

The group then used names from the free lunch recipient list to determine whom to donate the food baskets to. Each year the students would take time to deliver all the food baskets, but only once do I remember actually getting a card of thanks from any of the recipients.

There were always several phone calls each year complaining that they got a turkey and wanted a ham or vice versa. Or maybe someone didn’t think the basket was as full as it was the year before. But gratitude was in short supply.

That made me think; maybe there should be a set of voluntary guidelines in place for both the givers and the receivers to make the process a little more charitable.

For example, if you are on the giving end, here are some things to keep in mind.

Give cheerfully and non-grudgingly. Do not expect to receive any thanks. Give anonymously when possible. Give useful items that are in good condition, not just the ones you are tired of or have no more use for. Give to those whom you believe need it most, not to those whom you like the best. Look on your donation as though it were a universal obligation rather than something coming from your great generosity.

And, personally, I would advise again giving money to churches since most churches have lots of overhead and building maintenance. Your dollars will likely to go to the church’s self-perpetuation fund rather than to people who really need it. Give canned goods to a church food bank instead of cash.

If you are on the receiving end of an unexpected gift, here are some guidelines for you.

Accept each donation with humility. Do not simply refuse a charitable gift if you don’t want it, but rather suggest an alternative recipient. Always thank the giver, if you know who it is. A card would be nice. Never complain about the gift you have been given, even if it is not what you want or think you deserve. And try to remember to “pay it forward.” Even if you can’t afford to buy a gift, donate your time or talent.

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