I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never really celebrated Christmas as such. As a Hindu, I’ve placed more of an emphasis on Diwali, which has its own festivities and giving traditions. That said, the Christmas spirit is infectious. This time of year gets me thinking a lot more about giving back and showing my appreciation for loved ones. In this season of giving, I’d like to take some time of explore that very subject. As we all know, there are many ways to give. We can give presents in the form of material goods. We can also give charitable donations or volunteer our time to worthy causes. The list goes on. With all of that in mind, I wanted to take a closer look at the impact of giving on the recipient.
If your job has anything to do with improving the lives of others, chances are that you’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about what’s the best way to achieve that goal. In international development, there is much debate over how we give and who receives those benefits. One model that has been popular is called conditional cash transfer (CCT). In this model, one might pay a poor family a small stipend if they send their children to school every month. This might be a solution to the family having to hold their children back from school in order to work on the family business or because they couldn’t afford school fees.
Another model that builds off of this idea is the “give directly” method. While traditional charitable organizations often set up projects to achieve a certain goal, the give directly model circumvents the project phase. Instead, it directly hands cash to the people it wants to benefit. Using the example above, instead of “paying” a poor family to send their children to school, you would give them cash so that they could determine what were the most pressing needs of the family. No strings attached. Interesting, right?
Outside of the development field, we’ve also looked at a number of business models on the blog. Some – like Ajiri – give a portion of their proceeds to the communities that create their products. Others – like LXMI – support their producers in the form of fair wages. The TOMS model is another that we haven’t yet explored, but is quite popular. TOMS is a canvas shoe company that follows a “get-one, give-one” model. For every pair of shoes you buy, people who cannot afford them receive one pair of their own.
How does the recipient perceive these kinds of “gifts”? How might it change his/her life? As you may know from personal experience, when a gift-giver doesn’t really know you or hasn’t put a lot of thought into a gift, it may end up being “re-gifted”. In the same way, organizations that intend to do good may not always reach their goals. For example, the recipients of the CCTs would follow the “rules” they needed to until the stopped receiving payments. After that, they would go right back to the behaviors that their donors were trying to eliminate. Similarly, the TOMS model (which was largely positive) had some unintended consequences. Sometimes the recipients of new canvas shoes ended up reselling them in their local markets rather than wearing the shoes!
My point here is not to criticize those who give with good intentions. I also don’t intend to imply that all giving is bad. If we do choose to give – in whatever form that takes – we should always do so with the best of intentions and with the recipient at heart. That said, we can all do a bit better to educate ourselves on the recipient and the gifts we offer. This doesn’t have to mean spending hours researching a product or charity. Who has that kind of time? Luckily for us, there are a few useful tools out there to help us along the way. Charity Navigator and Guidestar are sites that help you quickly assess which charities give effectively. Donations in the name of your loved-ones makes a great gift! If you’re looking for products in the US, you can always look for ones that have the “Fair Trade Certified” seal on their packaging. In this way, you can feel confident that these companies have been vetted by Fair Trade USA. They are required to meet high standards of fair payments to their producers. For example, Philly Fair Trade strictly adheres to fair trade principles. I also hope you use this blog as a resource for navigating companies that have sound operating principles as well as beautiful products.
Getting personal with giving
How do I give? As my loved ones might know, I try my best to think about the needs, interests, and personality of the recipient. I also try to apply the same principles I described above. Whenever appropriate, I love hand-making gifts from the heart, such as baked goods wrapped in beautiful packing. If the recipient has a cause that is dear to her/his heart, I also consider donating to a charity that reflects that cause. There are also certain stores – such as Bhoomki – that I can depend on to carry products that reflect the principles that are important to me.
It’s not always easy to know exactly how a recipient feels about a gift. They may sometimes hide how they truly feel. And let’s face it – sometimes your gift may end up in a re-gifting or donation pile. That said, giving with the right intentions and a bit of thought goes a long way.
If you do end up exchanging gifts in the coming weeks, I hope you consider applying these principles of giving. They work not just in the season of giving, but all year long. You may be surprised by how much the recipient appreciates the idea.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by. Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!