Fast Company

Guest Post: Your Holiday Giving Strategy: Is it Decoration or Dedication?

By: Thatcher Young

In today's world, we often forget what the holidays are all about: people. It is about pausing from the hustle and bustle of every day and taking some time to be with those important to us, and to reach out to those in need. Unfortunately, this principle has often become an institutionalized, mechanical holiday giving campaign for companies around the world. A donation to a charity tagged on the bottom of the holiday card or a box of Toys for Tots sitting in the building lobby. The question arises: Are these types of giving tactics sustainable, or even in line with your corporate sustainability goals?

Sustainability is about so much more than just being environmentally friendly. We often forget the equally important aspects of sustainability: the people we work with and affect as businesses, and capital we are spending and the return on investment (ROI) of our business practices. Let's think about how to create a people-centered, sustainable giving program for your business, large or small.

According to a study by ADC Partners, 80 percent of consumers feel that it is still important for brands and companies to set aside money for social purposes during a recession. But how, in a capital constrained period, do you create a sustainable giving strategy? My company took a three-pronged approach to holiday giving: start locally, think globally, talk simply.

Start Locally

At ignition, our mantra is "Fueling Brands with Positive Human Energy," so we partnered with a local organization and shared our positive energy with a gift of time. Moving in the Spirit is a non-profit dance education organization working with low-income, inner-city youth in Atlanta. They have a holiday store fundraiser to provide affordable gifts to their students for their families. We took our local staff of about 25 people and spent four or five hours setting up the store and decorating the theater using our event skills to bring their holiday store to life. Even though this was a small gift of people and time, it had a big return for the recipient and the giver.

Think Globally

Since we're a global company, we decided to support two international NGOs that we work with throughout the year with a holiday donation. Even as a small company, we can make a meaningful donation, connected to 1) the people we work with and 2) the work we believe in. These are two of the most important criteria for choosing a charity, either locally or globally. The charities we chose to support were Nothing but Nets, a United Nations Foundation program set up to eliminate malaria, and the Ubuntu Education Fund, which works to improve education in townships in South Africa. There is still power in the adage of "Think (give) globally, act locally."

Talk Simply

Finally, we created a Holiday Good Guide with some simple ideas on choosing holiday causes and eco-consious gifts, as well as reducing the environmental footprint of your holiday celebrations. Nothing fancy -- just simple, clear information our network can use. We are not creating new ideas, simply communicating good ones.

A similar three-pronged strategy can create an authentic, people-centered holiday giving campaign that is sustainable in human, capital and environmental terms. Delivering the gifts of time, a donation, and a clear, thoughtful message kept people at the center of our holiday giving, and everyone connected to the spirit of our efforts. Don't over-think it, and don't let the economy keep you from giving -- it doesn’t have to be expensive. Get your people together, get out and take some action. As long as you are giving personally and authentically, your holiday giving strategy will be an extension of your dedication to people and not a decoration of corporate charity. Your consumers and customers will thank and reward you for it! Have a healthy, happy and meaningful holiday season.

Thatcher Young is the sustainability director at ignition, the award-winning experiential marketing agency behind some of the world’s most ambitious and famous events and campaigns, such as Coca-Cola’s Olympic Torch Relays and FIFA World Cup™ Trophy Tours. The company designs and manages every component of an event from placing and training staff, to developing the physical tools and assets that enable the campaign to deliver results. [Full disclosure: ignition is a client of Louder Than Words.]

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