The Power of Alternative Giving

Someone has recently called consumerism the fastest growing religion in North America. There is some truth to that.

Yme Woensdregt

Have you heard about the concept called alternative giving? I’ve written about it before, and I’m delighted to say that it’s a growing phenomenon. The heart of it 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? I remember an episode of Seinfeld in which 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 still recognize the occasion (whether it be Christmas, a birthday or an anniversary) and 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.

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 an altruistic lifestyle is a critical component of mental health. (“Adaptation to Life”, 1977).

We’ve been doing this at Christ Church 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 sponsoring a project right here in Cranbrook. We are proud to partner with Street Angels, who provide amazing services for many at–risk street people. They provide hot meals six days a week; counselling of all kinds to people who are in need; access to a nurse practitioner and other support staff for different kinds of services; training which has resulted in long term employment for many; laundry and shower facilities; and a place where street people know they are welcomed and loved.

Street Angels depends entirely on donations and funding proposals to fulfill their mandate to provide services to people in our area, to our neighbours and fellow citizens. We hope to raise enough money through this alternative giving project to help them buy suitable equipment to continue to provide this important service.

Because we do it through Christ Church, I can guarantee that every penny which is donated will go directly to this project. There are absolutely no administration fees. Gifts in any amount will be gratefully received.

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 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.

John Templeton once 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