How to Give a Gift That Really Matters: Eight Tactics for Meaningful Holiday Giving

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As joyful as the holiday season can be, you may still be feeling a little…unfulfilled this time of year. Maybe you’ve finished all your shopping and decorating, but the spirit of the season still eludes you.

Or maybe you haven’t done much shopping at all—not because you’re disorganized but because you’re disillusioned or disheartened by the rampant consumerism surrounding the holidays.

If you feel discouraged by the obligatory buying of “stuff” that people don’t need, it’s not too late to tap into the real meaning of holiday giving.

There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts, especially in moderation, according to Yvonne Streit, author of Everybody’s Got a Seed to Sow: The Brookwood Story. But it’s meaningless in the long run.

What if we harnessed some of the energy (and money) we waste on consumerism and applied it toward giving something that matters?

“Meaningful giving not only feels good, it makes the world a better place,” Streit said. “When you give your time, ideas, or service to help your greater community, you can change lives for the better, often in amazing ways. Can you think of a better example to set for your kids?”

As founder of The Brookwood Community, an educational community for adults with special needs, the idea of giving has been incorporated into every aspect of Streit’s life.

In the 1960s she began a grassroots school to teach her functionally disabled daughter, Vicki, and several other special needs children. For the next 50 years, she worked to help people with disabilities live meaningful lives. Today Brookwood has grown into a thriving nonprofit that serves hundreds of disabled adults and funds a generous portion of its annual budget through its own enterprises.

Brookwood’s evolution has been fueled further by heartfelt giving of all kinds. From an army of loyal volunteers to the support of donors and philanthropy groups to the citizens of Brookwood themselves working in one of the nonprofit’s enterprises, The Brookwood Community exists today because of the combined giving of countless people.

This holiday season, you too can connect to the true meaning of giving by donating your time, your ideas, and your gifts to a worthy cause in your community.

A few ideas:

Figure out what you really care about

For meaningful giving to happen, it must be connected to something you value deeply; otherwise, you’ll never stick with it. So, before you volunteer your time, ideas, or money to a cause, you must feel passion for it.

Streit, of course, cared about the well-being of her daughter, so giving her time and energy to Brookwood came naturally. Whether you love animals, have a soft spot for underprivileged children, or care deeply about Alzheimer’s patients, somewhere there’s a problem, a project, or a nonprofit that needs your attention. Figure out what you’re passionate about and find a way to start helping.

Step up to lead the cause (and give it all you’ve got)

Ever notice how no one wants to head up a committee or be in charge of a big, labor-intensive project? That’s because we’re all super busy (especially this time of year) and we suspect taking on a leadership position is going to be a huge hassle. But the truth is, one person’s hassle is another person’s golden opportunity.

“The great thing about leading is you get to shape what happens instead of just following someone else’s vision,” said Streit. “When you wholeheartedly agree to run the committee or teach the class or coordinate the volunteers for an organization you believe in, it unleashes your creativity. Taking ownership can be an energizing experience.”

Seek out ways to use your unique talents

Are you a skilled writer? Look for organizations that align with your values and contribute to their monthly blog or newsletter. Do you have a knack for event planning? Help organize a holiday fun run to raise money for a cause you care about.

“You have something special that only you can offer the world,” said Streit. “And trust me, there’s a need for it somewhere out there.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

A big part of building anything worthwhile is reaching out to see who else is willing and able to join in. As Streit’s student body kept growing, she reached out to countless churches and preschools trying to find classroom space for her students. Further, she and her team had to fundraise constantly to transform their vision into reality. Remember, asking for help can be hard to do if you’re not used to it, but you will be pleasantly surprised by how many people are eager to help out.

Rethink your family gifts

It’s fun to exchange presents each year, but material presents aren’t the only way to show you care for one another. This year, try buying one or two fewer traditional presents and instead choose a family project that you can all enjoy working on and that will help each other in some way. Some examples: Help a family member clean out their garage. Do some landscaping for them. Or make a week’s worth of dinners to send to your cousin who is a busy working mother.

Choose gifts for someone in need

There’s nothing wrong with giving presents around the holidays, but do try to buy gifts that really make a difference in the world. Make sure any gift you buy is produced via fair trade, or look for brands that donate a portion of their proceeds to causes you believe in. The Brookwood Community is well known for their hand-glazed ornaments and ceramics—the sale of which helps fund the nonprofit organization.

Carefully select your charitable contributions

Streit emphasizes that The Brookwood Community would not exist without donations from people who saw the impact it was making on its “citizens” (the title they give to residents). There are a lot of worthy causes out there that could use your contribution around the holidays.

Choose one that aligns with your beliefs and values and consider making a donation for the holidays. No matter how small, it won’t go unnoticed.

“It’s not the size of a gift that makes it generous,” said Streit. “It’s the heart behind it. Generosity comes in all shapes and sizes—and love shared with others quite often returns to you in surprising ways.”

Build meaningful giving into your holiday traditions

Use the holidays as an opportunity to help others outside of your circle and build these giving rituals into your traditions. If you have a family, this is a great time to teach kids about the power of giving as well. For example, on your next shopping expedition, stock up on several sets of travel-size toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, razors, and combs. Enlist your kids to make toiletry kits to pass out to homeless people in your community. Or prepare a meal together to bring to an elderly person living on your block. Or bring your therapy dog to a nursing home to visit and cheer up the residents. When you look around, you’ll realize there are needs everywhere waiting to be met.

“Giving doesn’t just help the recipient; it changes the giver too,” concludes Streit. “It expands your heart and sparks spiritual growth. It changes your perception of your purpose in the world. It makes you a better person.”

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