Monday, December 8, 2008

Tis the material and nonmaterial season

Everyone's talking about cutting back on holiday shopping, which is good for the soul. But for the economy? Not so much. In my household we're doing our best to stretch our gift dollar by doing most of our shopping at Seattle's Archie McPhee, home of the Freud Action Figure and The Cubes.

Another area where a lot of people are worried about cutbacks is gifts to charity. Philanthropic professional groups and journals are trying to reassure charities about the bad economy. The conventional wisdom is that people find a way to keep giving to charities, and some experts say giving tends to stay flat during recessions. I'm not so sure this is an accurate picture; 'surveys of the field' reflect averages. I don't see how every charity sectors can avoid reduced contributions, especially those reliant on foundations whose investment portfolios have taken it in the shorts.

I think it's more likely that people reduce their overall charitable giving in order to support their favorite groups.

The last few years I've been trying to combine giving of presents and giving to charity. A few years ago we gave in friends' and families' names to Heifer, a terrific nonprofit that purchases livestock for people in the developing world.

A newer effort based in Seattle, maybe there are ones like it in your town, offers an opportunity for you to underwrite your friends' and families' philanthropy, and switch your scarce dollars from gifting to giving.

It's called Tis Best Charity Card, and they started last year. It works like a gift card. But instead of Home Depot or the iTunes Store, the cardholder 'spends' their dollars with the huge list of charities registered on the Tis Best website. You can even personalize the charity card with your own artwork or photo.

Tis Best is an IRS-registered nonprofit, so the cards are tax deductible. Unlike the Human Fund.

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