‘Tis the season for articles about giving back. Whether it’s raising kind kids, finding ways to give financially and involve your children or what food banks actually need, my email box and Facebook Newsfeed is brimming with information to help me instill the spirit of giving this holiday season (and in full disclosure, I’m writing some of them). That said, adding one more thing to an already-crammed calendar is enough to produce resentment and bah-humbugs from even the most cheery and generous soul.
How do you balance a heartfelt desire to help make our city and world a better place, yet maintain your sanity? Here are five thoughts I have on the subject:
#1 Less is more.
It’s very easy to get into the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality when it comes to the holidays. Before you say yes to every.single.thing, step back and think about what would be the most meaningful for your family. Is it standing in line on a Sunday in the hopes of snagging a cool bowl from the Empty Bowl Project? Is it shopping for toys to donate at the Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade? Is it wrapping gifts together for Operation Blue Santa? Is it decorating the Ronald McDonald House for the holidays? Rather than sign up for a million things you’ll regret later, pick a thing (or two or maybe even three) and practice saying, “We’ve already made our volunteer commitment for this year’s holiday season. Good luck with your efforts!”
#2 Cater to your family’s interests.
As the mama to a reluctant volunteer, it’s my job to find something we can do together which is best aligned with my family’s interests. In some cases, there are things we do which are non-negotiable. I was relieved this year to have established some giving habits which were just accepted this year as part of What Our Family Does and which didn’t generate complaints. For the rest, to get my kid on board, I know it will be a much easier sell if it’s related to animals. Thanks to local nonprofit Little Helping Hands for sharing a list of ideas in their latest newsletter and to GivingCity Austin for their list of “Sponsor a Family” projects and toy drives to help determine what might be the best fit. Some things we have done in the past (or asked grandparents to help out with) include making birdseed cookies for our resident feathered friends, reading to cats in Austin Pets Alive’s Feline Leukemia Ward through the Book Buddies program, “making room” for new gifts by cleaning out our rooms and donating the rest to Goodwill (drive-thru option is nice!), cleaning up Lady Bird Lake, “adopting” a bat, making no-sew fleece blankets for kids in the hospital, writing letters to soldiers (and sending them our Halloween candy!), handing out tamales to the homeless, selecting books for libraries in Kenya and partnering with another family on our street to adopt a family from STARRY. Some are misses, but some are hits, and even the misses are great conversation starters.
#3 Give money.
As a former nonprofiteer, I know what it’s like to have a huge surge of people wanting to help during the holidays and trying my best to find them meaningful work that fits into their schedules. Even this noble work takes away valuable time from an organization’s mission. In addition, cash is often the best gift, since nonprofits are very resourceful and can make donations go a long way (see this article on donating money to a food bank instead of cans for some great background). So yes, time is valuable, but it is also in short supply during the holidays. If you can give money to a cause you believe in, this is still a valuable lesson for a child to learn. A few years ago, we gave my money-obsessed son 100 pennies and printed out cards to represent areas he might be interested in supporting (libraries, parks and animals were a few). We asked him to divide the pennies how he wanted to direct our family giving. I talk about this in an article I wrote a few years ago here on LiveMom. We then invested his portion of our family end-of-year giving per his wishes, and often in his name. He still gets mail with updates on what the organizations he supported are up to. This is the one tradition we keep coming back to and plan to continue, in the hopes that he will consider adding his own money to increase our donation.
#4 Give while you shop.
It certainly is the season of giving — gift-giving. So, while you are at it, why not support great organizations and causes at the same time? Buy an extra toy at Toy Joy on #Giving Tuesday and support Partnerships with Children, an organization serving the children in the care of Child Protective Services. Through Amazon Smile, Amazon donates .5% of the price of eligible items to the charity of your choice. Overstock.com recently partnered with PBS KIDS to launch a Kid Zone, and will donate a portion of items purchased to support the development of educational programming and digital content. Momastery already posted a Holiday Gift Guide with a Good Gifts section comprised of organizations which are doing great things. A few years ago we made a list of places you can buy gift items which have a larger social mission. You may need to go a bit off the beaten path to find these gifts, but it’s most likely that they are unique and something the recipient will appreciate more than something from a big box store.
#5 Make it a year-long habit.
Find a way to integrate giving into your family’s routine each month. Try to plan one thing each month, whether it’s bringing along a bag to the beach to pick up litter, baking cookies for a neighbor who’s been in the hospital or volunteering at the Capital Area Food Bank. I even saw a Random Acts of Kindness Advent calendar posted, with small things to do from December 1st-24th. What I learned early on was that my kid still doesn’t really “get” helping strangers, but he would have no problem giving his toys to the boys down the street (he even wrapped them up! You gotta start somewhere, right?) Sign up for the Little Helping Hands‘ newsletter and make it a priority to open it right away to have the first chance at their popular regular opportunities (hint: family sponsors get first dibs to sign up for the Event Calendar.) Check out Doing Good Together, which is an online resource for family volunteering and offers a Big Hearted Families Program and Book Club to inspire kindness. Once you carve out the time for family volunteering and make it a habit (and believe me, I understand it’s difficult — and I only have one kid!), you’ll feel the power of giving, all year long. When the next holiday season rolls around and it just won’t fit in, you’ll know you have already done your part.
Do you already have a tradition of giving back during the holiday season?
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 8-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]