The Joy of Alternative Giving

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

I’ve written about a practice called Alternative Giving, but it’s important enough for me to repeat some of my comments. That’s especially true at this time of year, when we participate in the annual orgy of consumerism which we call Christmas.

Every year, the last week of November presents countless ways for us to indulge our most selfish behaviours. It also gives us an opportunity to be as generous as we can be.

On Black Friday, we are encouraged to buy all kinds of stuff. It’s no longer just a day, it has become a week of indulging our consumerist appetites. Three days later, advertisers and retailers reinforce those selfish impulses by asking us to spend even more money on Cyber Monday. As if we don’t have enough stuff in our lives already.

Then, the very next day, different groups tried to appeal to our better natures on Giving Tuesday. We were encouraged to be generous in our giving to others, and particularly to charities which need our help.

We are driven into an absurd rhythm during this time of year—from one extreme to another. Needless to say, I try not to participate in Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but the wiles of the advertisers are powerful. I’m not always successful. Giving Tuesday is a cause much dearer to my heart.

Let me share with you another way to be generous to others. It’s called alternative giving. The heart of this practice is that people give a donation to a charity in someone’s name instead of giving that person a physical gift.

Why would you do that? In one episode of Seinfeld, George was angry to receive a donation to charity instead of an actual gift. He made up his own non–existent charity and handed out fake donations to other people so he could save money on gifts.

There are many reasons why someone would do this. For some, it’s a protest against the increasing commercialization of life. It’s a statement against our consumerist culture. We already have enough “stuff” and we don’t need more. Alternative giving allows the giver to recognize an occasion (whether it be Christmas, a birthday or an anniversary) and at the same time to do some good. Perhaps there is a cause or an organization dear to the receiver’s heart; that person might truly appreciate the giver’s thoughtfulness in supporting that effort. When someone makes an alternative gift, it’s really a double gift: a gift to the person being honoured and a gift to the charity and the people that really need the help.

We are becoming more and more faithful consumers. Yes, I know “faithfulness” is religious language. I use it deliberately. Someone has recently called consumerism the fastest growing religion in North America. There is some truth to that—witness Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Alternative Giving allows us to fight against the “sellabration of Christmas”. We can stop just exchanging things with others who already have too much stuff and give our money where it can have a real benefit.

This kind of generous giving is also good for us. Studies have shown that altruism has positive effects on our health. One of the best–known studies was conducted 40 years ago by psychiatrist George Vaillant. He observed the health of a group of Harvard graduates for 30 years. When they reached their fifties, he compared their health with the attitudes they lived by. His conclusion was that people who were generous and who truly cared for others enjoyed much greater mental health. (“Adaptation to Life”, 1977).

We’ve been doing this at Christ Church Anglican since 2006. It was initiated by the children of our Sunday School for a project to raise funds for goats in rural Rwanda.

This year, we are partnering through two projects. The first is a local group in Cranbrook, Street Angels. They do such good work with people who are in desperate need of food, clothing, shelter, and all kinds of help.

The second is an international project through the Anglican Church’s “Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund”. PWRDF reaches out to provide animals, water, farming tools, and other such items to help people in poorer parts of the world.

Here’s another good reason to help Christ Church. There is absolutely no administrative cost. Every penny donated will go directly to this project. There are absolutely no administration fees. Gifts in any amount will be gratefully received. I guarantee it.

Generous people in Cranbrook and elsewhere have gotten involved in alternative giving projects in the past. This is a wonderful way for all of us to look beyond ourselves and help those who are in greater need than we are.

If you would like to be part of this project, please contact Christ Church at (250) 426-2644 or email us at ccace @shaw.ca. We will provide you with a gift card so you can let people know you’ve made a donation in their name. You will also receive a tax receipt for your charitable gift.

Winston Churchill famously remarked that “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

John Templeton echoed that when he said, “Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it.”

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook

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