The truth is my family has no income right now, hasn’t for many months. My husband is a full-time student who works crazy hours, I’m a stay-at-home-mom….who works crazy hours. We are “financed” by student loans and the overwhelming generosity of both our parents. We are awash in privilege and support to live very comfortably during these two years of Nick’s grad school program. That’s a little insight, humbling as it feels to share it so publicly, into where this ¨no gifts¨ plan came from.
Another factor was that I grew up in the world of NGOs and UN organizations. My dad is currently working on a major nutrition program in Burundi with CRS. He’s worked across the African continent for over 25 years in aid and development projects. And you want to know the major “helping others” lesson I picked up being his daughter? If you want to help people, give money. Choose carefully where to give your money, and then give generously.
Especially as someone with no income (in the sense of work = pay check), it´s hard to reconcile what I know about aid with my current financial situation. Don´t get me wrong, we live very comfortably thanks to the generosity of our families. I have a lovely nanny who helps me out twice a week, Charlie goes to a beautiful preschool three mornings a week, we have a generous grocery budget, etc. So the first part of finding ways to give money was to tighten up our spending habits. Which we are doing and it is such a WORK IN PROGRESS. Changing ingrained money habits is going to take a lot of time and discipline, we’re taking baby steps. Pray for me, because let me tell you, all my good intentions and altruism go out the ever-loving door when I’m craving take out or I want to order books on-line. It kind of makes me grossed out at myself how quickly I get sucked into ¨but I want it¨.
So we´re tackling (albeit like the shaky-handed consumerist junkies coming off the drug that we are) our budget to find ways to give money. But it still doesn’t feel like enough. I desperately want more dollar power to wield when faced with the world´s horrendous problems. Things like:
– Homelessness in my city
– Pregnant immigrant and refugee women trying to navigate a foreign medical system
– Famine in South Sudan
– Burundians fleeing violence in their country
The list is endless and the issues are complex and myriad. And I want more money to give!
I’ve become an insufferable cause crusader on Facebook, and I even dipped my foot into the fundraising pool with a small event for WfWI at my house (3 new sponsors and at least 6 cookbooks and counting sold! small beans add up to big beans!).
But I still want more money to give!
I had a small epiphany, to embark on an unremarkable experiment that I’m sure many others have done before me. I saw an ad for Christmas shopping something-or-other on my Facebook sidebar and suddenly realized that the gifts under the tree with my name on them = money! And I set out to turn some of those gifts back into cash so I could give it away.
Lest you think I am a self-important philanthropist who wants to guilt you into not buying gifts, let me be very clear: I LOVE CHRISTMAS GIFTS. I love buying them and receiving them. I always go overboard with gifts and stocking stuffers and may still be carrying credit card debt from last year’s gift buying spree. I am not being ¨precious¨ when I say it was an epiphany to me that Christmas presents = money, because I had been labouring under the delusion that money spent on gifts was not really spending and should therefore know no limits. Those of you who are fiscally mature are shaking your heads right now, and I deserve the eye rolls. But I still believe in gift giving as a love language, partnered with responsible spending of course. It always has and always will warm my heart to see people loving on each other with fun and thoughtful presents. Gift away! But let me tell you more about what happened after my own epiphany…
Two weeks ago I wrote to our immediate families to tell them we would not be giving gifts this year. We also asked them to not give us, including the kids, any gifts for Christmas. I explained my hope was that any money we all would’ve spent on gifts to each other could be donated to charity or an individual. I had this small dream that our family of four’s usual Christmas gifts could maybe be turned into tents for refugee families, or an envelope of cash for an acquaintance who really needs help with wider margins.
My family is used to my schemes and “bleeding-heart liberalism”, but I was still nervous because I didn’t want to come across as holier-than-thou or seem like the Grinch.
I got a stream of responses from parents, in-laws and sisters basically saying “on it”. And I’m looking forward to hearing where they decide to donate the money! One person did tell me they reserve the right to buy gifts for my kiddos, which I happily support.
Asking the people you know well, those closest to you, is the most effective kind of fundraising because it is relational. When I got so much positive feedback from the people dearest to me, I wondered if my on-line community would be interested in #nogiftsChristmas too.
We could get more money together!
And that’s why I’m writing this blog post and telling you about our financial life and hoping you will join us on this little Christmas experiment too.
I’d be a big fat faker if I didn’t admit that I’m secretly dreaming 100s of people will sign up to eschew Christmas gifts with us this year. But the reality is if even one person, one family, decides to come along on this ride, it will = $$$$ in the coffers of the UNHCR or White Ribbon Campaign or a friend who needs a surprise reminder of how loved they are. And small beans add up to big beans.
How to participate:
- Write to your family (or anyone you regularly exchange gifts with) to tell them your gift to them this year will be a donation to a charity/individual, explain why, and ask them to donate the gift money they would’ve spent on you.
Here is a link to a sample letter!
- Post in the comment section here – “I/we are pledging to a #nogiftsChristmas this year! “
And tell us where you plan to donate your gift money!
- Share this post on social media to encourage others to join in.
Here is a short list of organizations doing amazing work globally where your donations would make a huge impact:
- UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency – Doing the first responder work to help refugees and internally displaced people around the world.
- A21 Campaign – anti-human trafficking organization that does advocacy, rehabilitation and prosecution in nine countries.
- Preemptive Love Coalition – Mission is to eradicate the backlog of children in need of lifesaving heart surgery in Iraq & many other programs for Daesh (ISIS) survivors.
- Women for Women International – Help women survivors of war in 8 countries rebuild through a year-long training program.
Thank you for reading, I am so nervous that this invitation will receive only RSVPs that say “no thanks”, but I’m going to trust that small bean theory…and PRAY!