Contributed by Gerrymin 


After a discussion about holiday gift-giving and a practice I started over 15 years ago, Donna suggested I share some thoughts about that practice. Aside from giving to my mother and father, I stopped giving gifts to my siblings or their children and instead had them select a charity of their choice and I would make a donation in their name. Since starting my independent consulting practice, I’ve done the same for my clients. A note goes out in November asking everyone if they’d like me to continue with the same charity as the previous year or select another. I make the donation in their name and ask for an acknowledgment to be sent to me. (I never give the client or family member’s address or they’d be inundated with charity requests. Instead, I am!)  In January/February I then send the acknowledgements to my clients.

Usually people select a charity that means something special to them — and I combine the list with my own personal causes. Over the years, that list has included health-related causes (Susan Komen Foundation, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association), environmental (Sierra Club, Mohonk Preserve), arts (National Endowment for the Arts, Gallo Center), relief organizations both foreign and domestic (Red Cross, OxFam, Save Darfur, Habitat for Humanity/New Orleans), religious (United Jewish Appeal), children (St. Jude’s Hospital, MARE). Several of my special favorites are: 

  • Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange or MARE (I’m a Boston girl by birth and at heart) — a very good friend of mine has worked for years as a social worker for foster care and adoption, so it has become of my causes as well. I think there is nothing as heartbreaking as seeing or hearing about a special needs child ready, willing and able to be adopted — but finding no takers (and I hear about such cases — too many of them — all the time from my friend) 
  • City Meals on Wheels — which provides meals for the elderly (Maybe this is starting to hit too close to home as I’m well into AARP territory). I usually give a donation in honor of my mother on Mother’s Day. (Thankfully, she is 91 and still active.) 
  • Habitat for Humanity — I just love the concept behind this organization and the dignity it provides to the recipients that it helps. I hope to volunteer in person at some point. 

This year I intend to add some of the education-related organizations that have come to the forefront recently with the increased attention to our underperforming education system. (I just saw the documentary “Waiting for Superman” and it highlights a frightening situation.)

In fact, this practice is probably my way of making up for the fact that I don’t think I give enough of my time or energy to such causes. Whenever I’m writing those checks, I think of my father — probably the biggest influence in my life in terms of the importance of charity (and so many other things as well). In a way, I’m taking over where he left off. (He’s 91 years old now and on a fixed income so he has had to curtail his donations. I’m sure when he has passed — and I dread that day — this will be a way of preserving a special bond with him.) I always remember him sitting at the kitchen table every month and writing out his checks to charity. They were never large donations (we were never rich…but comfortable enough), but he had a long list of them which seemed to grow exponentially every year as I think he became known as a “universal donor.” He is one of 10 children of Italian immigrants (4 still remain!) and he never took his good fortune of achieving middle class success for granted. And he didn’t just reserve his charity for anonymous organizations. I’ll never forget his story about the man who would be asking for money outside of the Starbuck’s near his office every morning. My father felt sorry for him and told him that he couldn’t afford to give him something every time, but promised to give him something one day a week — food or money — and I know he kept that promise. 

With the economy hitting us all hard these days, it is easy to forget those worse off than we are — and the charities are suffering.  My mailbox now won’t let me forget…and I don’t want to.