The Lesson of the Gift Card

The season of gift giving is upon us.  Presents are being wrapped and finding their places under Christmas trees all over the world. The pretty wrapping paper and ribbons cover boxes big and small that hold untold treasures, toys and gadgets just waiting to be opened and enjoyed by those special people in our lives.  I have been blessed by many gifts from family and friends who spent days or weeks searching for that special present because they knew it would be "perfect" for me.

And then, stuck in between a gift basket and an unusually large box, is the small, but mighty gift card - loaded with $10, $25, or $100 just waiting to be used at your favorite retailer (even better are the pre-loaded MasterCard and VISA cards that can be used just about anywhere).  Many people say that giving of a gift card demonstrates a lack of creativity or a lack of effort on the part of the gift giver - an afterthought present that someone picked up at the local Walmart on the way to the holiday party.  On the contrary, I've come to appreciate the giver of gift cards for their desire to make sure, with whatever the final purchase may be, that I will like it, wear it, play with it, listen to it, read it, know how to use it, and actually benefit from it.  

The same can be said for the gifts we make to support the charitable organizations we care about.  Every nonprofit you can think of is counting on their flock of faithful donors to respond to those letters in the mail, the follow up phone calls, and the email and social media reminders between now and December 31st.  They count on your unrestricted gifts, big and small, to meet the needs of those they are called to serve.  

Don't get me wrong, I am a big believer in making sure donors have the opportunity to direct special gifts to their favorite charities in ways that help them fulfill personal or corporate goals.  At the same time, it is important that we avoid placing restrictions on our gifts that stymie an organization's ability to carry out the very mission that drew us to them in the first place.  

There are a multitude of special giving opportunities in every nonprofit that a donor can wrap in the colorful paper with the big red bows tied around them:  capital campaign gifts for that new youth center in town; endowed gifts to fund scholarships and faculty positions at your alma mater; grants to conduct research and develop new programs to improve the health and well-being of your neighbors.  Those special investments will always be received with wide-eyed excitement and tears of joy and gratitude.  But as you think about how you might benefit your favorite nonprofit this holiday season, consider the lesson of the gift card and make your year-end gift as a simple, no-strings-attached investment that the organization can use right now to meet their pressing program needs, pay their hard working staff, fix the leaky roof, or whatever other expense that will help ensure their success.  

As we celebrate this great season, may each of you find great joy in your gift giving.

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