Three Golden Lessons in Holiday Giving

Photo via Vicki's Nature on Flickr
Photo via Vicki’s Nature on Flickr

A decade-old holiday tradition continued this year in Morris, Illinois when an anonymous donor dropped three gold coins into a Salvation Army red kettle. These aren’t just any coins. They’re worth $1,835.

I bet you didn’t drop that much into the red kettle outside your supermarket! No matter. We all give in our own way. But the mysterious coin donor has three golden lessons for donors.

Give anonymously.

I write a blog called Selfish Giving. It’s all about win-win nonprofit and business partnerships. You do something for me, I do something for you. Tit for tat. Regardless of how much people complain about cause marketing, I believe this kind of “look at me” giving is natural, powerful, and useful.

But being the biggest promoter of selfish giving has made me aware of another power: unselfish giving. To give unselfishly without expectation of thanks or reward is one of the best–and hardest–things you can do. That’s what makes the mysterious coin donor so special. The fire of generosity burns brightly within him (or her), but it’s known only to that person. Yet the warmth this person emanates is felt by everyone around. Just as some kinds of wood burns better than others, anonymous gifts throw off an intense heat that could warm the world.

Give “flexible” gifts.

The fact that our coin donor has been dropping gold coins in Salvation Army kettles for over a decade says something about his faith in the Army to deliver important services to its constituents in and around Morris. He doesn’t restrict his gifts to this service or that program. An unrestricted gift allows the nonprofit to put the money where it’s needed. Giving anonymously is when you put others first. Giving flexible gifts means you let go of your priorities and put your trust in others to use your money wisely. This holiday season, forget your name and ego and just give.

Make your gift a present.

This coin donor has pizzaz! He doesn’t need to buy gold coins year after year. He could just write a check and pop it into the mail. Instead, he buys three gold coins at the current market price (we know this because the coins always have the current year stamped on them), wraps them in a dollar bill and donates them on the first night that local church volunteers are ringing in front of a local store.

The fact that he donates three gold coins is unusual. It’s not uncommon for volunteers to find one golden coin in a kettle. But three is special! Anonymous doesn’t have to mean boring. When you give, find a way to be creative, unique and interesting in how you make your donation. In the case of Morris, think about the excitement–and press–the coin donor has generated for the Salvation Army’s office in that area, and for the volunteers that anticipate the gift that will happen on their watch.

Money is just one thing our coin donor is giving. He’s also spreading a lot of happiness. And that’s just the kind of spark we all need in our holiday giving.

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