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126homespunweb.jpgBy Michael DeHaven

RISMEDIA, Dec. 6, 2007-( thousands of gifts in stores and on the Internet to choose from, how do you decide where to spend your budget? What gifts will be most meaningful to the people you know? Should you really buy another coffee mug or calendar for your co-worker?

In preparation for the upcoming holiday season, my wife and I started gift shopping this past weekend. While shopping, we ran into a friend who told us about a local homeless shelter that is raising money to build a safe playground for children visiting or staying there.

While looking at various photos of the current, dangerous playground, I had a moment of clarity and realized that my wife and I typically dedicate most of our gift budget to people whose needs are met in abundance. Most of the “gifts” purchased for our adult family and friends are not really gifts at all; they’re more like tokens in a complex exchange system filled with obligation and rules.

This realization is changing the way that we do gifting this year. Little will change with what we give to the kids, but we are going to proactively discourage obligatory and unnecessary overspending with our family and friends. We will still have fun spending time together, and the money that we save by this change will be focused toward meeting the needs of people less fortunate.

The ideas and principles below are applicable to both personal and business holiday spending. Consider some of the following ideas to help free up your holiday budgets – and have extra money available for charitable giving this year.

Saving your Holiday Budget

White Elephant Exchange

Whether at a private or corporate party, a white elephant gift exchange is always fun. With this kind of exchange, each guest is asked to bring an undesirable gift. The gift could be something you find around the house or a product severely discounted because nobody wants to buy it. The key is that it should not be expensive.

Each person who brings a gift puts his or her name in a hat. After all the gifts are piled together, the host starts the fun by selecting a name from the hat. The selected person picks a gift and opens it. After showing the gift to everyone, that person then selects another name from the hat. Subsequent people may either steal an already opened gift or pick a wrapped gift from the pile.

When someone’s gift is stolen, he or she also has the option to pick either an opened gift (obviously, it cannot be the gift just stolen from them) or a wrapped gift from the pile. This process proceeds until the stealing and opening is complete. It is usually wise to set a rule limiting the number of times a gift may be stolen (two or three usually works well).

Mad Santa Exchange

This game follows the same rules and structure as the White Elephant Exchange, except that everyone who wishes to play brings a desirable gift within a specified value range. It is wise to keep your price range relatively low. Having a low price range encourages greater creativity and participation.

Both the White Elephant and Mad Santa Exchanges work well in office environments. They are especially good because participation is optional, but the game is fun for all to watch.

Letter Writing

In the age of e-mail, instant messages, and cell phones, it is abnormal for many people to receive a handwritten letter. A sincere, handwritten letter can be an amazing gift for family, friends, and co-workers. Because letter writing has become less common in our culture, it may take a little work to write a great letter.

However, the recipient will surely appreciate a letter from the heart. Note: It may be easier to draft your letter on the computer and handwrite the final version.

Give Time

Rather than giving a physical gift, give your time. Take a co-worker, employee, friend or family member out for a cup of coffee, or invite them to your home to cook dinner together and play board games. The point is to find a meaningful way to invest time in your relationships, whether personal or professional. Building stronger relationships will surely have a long-term impact. Most people understand the value of time in our busy lives and will appreciate your gift of time.

Office Holiday Parties?

Office holiday parties can be very expensive, and not everyone enjoys an extravagant office soiree. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many corporations reduced or cancelled their office parties. They instead shifted budgets toward relief efforts, a move supported by most employees.

Before spending your entire holiday budget on a lavish party, survey your staff and find out where they would like the money to go. If given the option, many people will forgo the fancy social occasion and instead vote to donate the saved money to relevant charities.

Unique Gift Ideas

Whether you choose to make a change in your gift giving habits personally or corporately, take steps to make your charitable gifts relevant. It is not a good idea to blindly pick a charity. The below list contains 10 unique ideas that may be of interest to you.

Because the options are virtually unlimited, it is wise to search for organizations with which you share a specific passion. This holiday season, search for real needs and give gifts that make a difference.

Local Families in Need – Ask your employees if they know of specific needs in the community. People within your company may be connected to families who are out of work, struggling financially, or dealing with private situations that will cause the holidays to be less than ideal. Find a true need and give a gift to help fill that need. Another option is to give a gift of money for use as the family sees fit. When looking at situations like this, remember that both adults and children in these families have needs. It is tempting to give to the children before giving to their parents. Think of both when deciding on a gift.

Local Charitable Organizations – Give your time and money to shelters, food banks, and other charitable organizations in your community. Organizing a group of co-workers to volunteer together is a powerful team and character building opportunity.

Charity of Choice – Many people have a preferred charity. Ask your employees which charities they care about most and donate company money to those charities on their behalf.

Angel Tree – A ministry of Prison Fellowship, Angel Tree helps make Christmas special for children of inmates and their families. (

Make a Wish Foundation – Make a Wish’s unique holiday donation options will help grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. (

Toys for Tots – Donate a new toy or give a donation to help make the season a little brighter for a needy child in your community. (

Samaritan’s Purse – Samaritan’s Purse invites you to pack a shoebox with small toys, school supplies, and other gifts for children in need overseas with Operation Christmas Child. They also have a gift catalog with opportunities to purchase unique gifts like livestock and schools for people in impoverished areas. (

My Two Front Teeth – My Two Front Teeth offers a personalized online gift-giving experience to aid underprivileged children. These children are selected through community organizations and allowed to individually pick their one holiday wish. The child’s wish profile is entered into the online database where donors then choose an online sponsorship. (

Millennium Promise – Millennium Promise works with impoverished communities, national and local governments, and partner organizations to implement high-impact programs aimed at transforming lives in African communities on the continent and engaging donor nations, corporations, and the general public in the effort. (

Coats for Kids – As the name suggests, Coats for Kids is dedicated to supplying warm coats to thousands of children in need across the country. (