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Christmas: The Solution

November 29, 2009
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As you might be able to tell from reading my blog entry Thankful for Thanksgiving (or the ensuing comments), I’m disillusioned with Christmas–or, as the PC Police would have me say, “the holiday season.”

I realized more than ever this year that I don’t want more things. I moved out of my condo to temporary storage and then to a temporary residence and then back to my condo. In the process of all those packings and repackings, I realized how much stuff I have that I never use and really don’t need. Despite all that, I still have several boxes in storage–why do we even need storage? Storage means “stuff that we’re afraid to admit that we never use.”

In addition, I don’t want to buy things for people any more. Our economy isn’t failing because people aren’t buying things–it’s failing because Americans got so used to buying tons of stuff we don’t need or can’t afford, like houses or new cars or clones of our old pets.

This doesn’t mean I’m cheap. I love to buy lunches for friends. I love to treat people. I love to share in experiences with people.

This all leaves me in a conundrum when it comes to buying Christmas presents for my family. Especially because I understand that I shouldn’t transplant my beliefs and struggles with consumerism onto them (although, they’re pretty close to being on the same page. Everyone in my family is extremely fiscally responsible).

Last Christmas I went through this struggle, perhaps on a slightly lower level. And I came up with a decent solution: I bought my family a Wii. Sure, it’s a material object (but it’s small!). But my motivations behind the present went much deeper than the actual game console. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I shop almost exclusively online. But that didn’t work for the Wii last year. I had to wake up early–on a Saturday–go to Target, and wait in line in the cold just for a chance at the Wii. Pretty ridiculous, but it meant something to me, and I think it meant something to my family. Plus, the Wii truly is a great social game console. Instead of watching a movie when we’re home, we’re on the Wii, and the living room is filled with laughter and mirth.

That brings me to this year. I guess I could buy a new game for the Wii…didn’t think of that until just now. That aside, here’s the real solution for giving something that matters: I’m going to give my family members gift certificates to Kiva.

Kiva is a microlending site. Go to Kiva and you’ll understand in about 5 seconds. Basically, you lend money to someone in a third-world country who needs some funds for a project. Like, you might give a wannabe farmer in Kenya $50 so he can buy a cow. These are people trying to be responsible for their futures, but they need a little help to get started, and then they’ll pay you back (not guaranteed, but I think something like 95% of Kiva loans are repaid).

Paired with each gift certificate, I’m going to offer some suggestions to each family member about some Kiva loan possibilities that I think fit with their interests and passions. That makes each one personal.

What I consider the genius behind this gift is that some farmer in Africa is helped by it AND my family members ultimately get some cash in their pockets (they’ll get the money when the loans are repaid). Thus it’s different to the gift that no one wants, a donation to some foundation in their name.

I haven’t actually bought these gift certificates, so if a reader has a better idea, let me know. I’m open to your thoughts.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Nelsy permalink
    November 30, 2009 12:10 am

    kind of the same idea.
    http://www.heifer.org/

    i always donate flocks of ducks to villages! my friends love having that in their name. but you can donate lots of cool stuff to people.

  2. Rachel Lyons permalink
    November 30, 2009 11:51 am

    I was so excited to read this entry today, because just this morning I got an email update on the Kiva loan I made to Emilio, a grocery store owner in the Dominican Republic. It felt awesome when I loaned his group the money to meet their fundraising goal, and I love seeing all the different people invested in his life and the lives of his family members. Good thing Annemarie had the idea to give these gift certificates way before you did, Jamey. 🙂 Glad you are sharing the goodness. Also, for another idea, I am planning on making little short story/poetry booklets (just some nice [perhaps recycled?] paper sewn together) for my family this year…that is if I finish writing everything by the time baby Jesus arrives. The writings will be a merging of an experience in my life that I value and something I respect or love about that particular family member.

    • November 30, 2009 12:35 pm

      If only Annemarie had a platform to share her ideas with the world…

      I think it’s cool that you get updates from the people you help. I think that’s a key aspect of development/fundraising that a lot of organizations overlook. People will give altruistically, but they’ll give multiple times and feel better about the original gift if they actually hear from those who benefit from their gifts. Kiva is wise to prompt Emilio to send that e-mail. This works with the Kickstarter concept I blogged about recently as well. I know there are privacy concerns, but I think more people would donate blood if they got a letter from the person whose life they saved thanking them for their donation. There’s nothing wrong with being thanked for your gift, especially if it prompts you to continue generosity in the future.

      Your Christmas gift idea is really cool too. I didn’t know you’ve been writing short stories! I wrote my first (and probably last) vampire story this past weekend. Trying to meet my goal of writing 12 short stories in 2009.

  3. Colleen permalink
    November 30, 2009 3:39 pm

    I think gift certificates to Kiva is a great idea! Not only would you be helping people in third-world countries, which is awesome, but your idea of including suggestions for loans for your family members to possibly help out with is a nice personal touch, too. Rachel, that’s really cool that you got an update on Emilio and can see all the people involved in helping him. That really brings the whole thing to life. I agree though, that the real meaning behind Christmas is often lost – it really isn’t about presents and “stuff”, but rather celebrating the season with friends and family, and seeing how you can reach out and touch others. On a related note, I saw a story on NBC Nightly News several months ago about an organization called Pro Mujer that helps women entrepreneurs in Latin America. http://www.promujer.org Bolivia was one of the countries that the news story focused on, specifically women in El Alto (which is in the outlying highlands area of La Paz), so I thought it was great that we got to “meet” these women via interviews, and know that our donations are going to real women who are really trying to build a better life for themselves and for their families. We actually have missionaries who serve in La Paz and go to El Alto, so I can stand behind the fact that these people are indeed trying very hard to earn a living and better their lives, whether it’s helping out with small jobs like cooking or washing, or selling fruit or various items at the marketplace. We have actually purchased and brought up items from Bolivia (woodworking, clay/mud figures, and needlwork are some of the most common items that people make, and they are absolutely beautiful!), and have sold them here in order to send the funds raised back down to Bolivia. The few times we’ve done this has been great, because it gives people here the opportunity to purchase and appreciate artwork from another culture, AND learn about and help the people who created it. Anyway, back to your idea of Kiva gift certificates – I say go for it. 🙂

    You said you were open to any other thoughts. I’ve been thinking of doing something similar for my friends this Christmas, as what you did with getting the Wii for your family. I’m trying to purchase things for them that are unique and personal, and would give them time to relax and chill out, either just for themselves or with their boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses. For instance, one of the married couples enjoys wine and Italian food, so I’m thinking of putting together a gift basket with wine, pasta, sauce, etc. This way, they have all the ingredients they need (which is a gift in itself), but they can also enjoy spending time together cooking and having a nice meal. I think things like this can lend themselves to being great gifts, especially when they are personal, and thought and effort are put into it! 🙂

    • December 1, 2009 12:54 am

      Thanks for all this information! Your gift ideas for friends sound really great–they take personal care and attention, and they have the power of bringing people together. That’s really special.

  4. Dionne permalink
    November 30, 2009 10:34 pm

    I love all the suggestions that everyone commented on from Kiva, to Heifer.org, to poetry books, to Promujer.org! I am definitely going to think about doing this for certain friends and family members! Thanks Jamey for a great post!

  5. December 1, 2009 12:12 am

    Bob was unable to post this, so I’ve entered his comment below:

    Yeah, my family and I have (happily in line with our non-materialism and the lack of need to impress each other) gone a similar route with gift giving. But it can certainly be a challenge to give a thoughtful gift that’s not just contributing to more “stuff” for the recipient. When I can figure out a way to do it, I like to give an experience — take somebody out to dinner or on a short trip, etc.
    Kiva is a great organization, and I’ll have to check out the gift certificate function since I’ve never used it before. Your point about personalizing microlending is an interesting one, as there’s some disagreement about how forthcoming Kiva is being in billing itself as a “peer-to-peer” lending experience. It turns out that your loan goes to suppoort “somebody like Emilio”, not necessarily Emilio himself, to borrow Rachel’s example. This doesn’t necessarily make it bad — in fact, it probably allows Kiva loans to be used more productively — but does raise the question of whether Kiva is intentionally being opaque about how it actually untilizes your money.
    There’s a great blog entry all about this and other Kiva / microlending issues by David Roodman, a Center for Global Development research fellow, here. If you’ve got the time, Kiva CEO and Co-Founder Matt Flannery’s response (and Roodman’s response to the response) are insightful, too — see the links at the top of the Roodman’s blog entry.
    For the time being, at least, I’m going to keep the money I’ve planted in Kiva there, but as you and I make international development-related donations at the end of the year, we might check out other noted microlenders such as Accion International and Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank, too.
    Needless to say, I’m excited that others are thinking about and discussing these generous actions to help our brothers and sisters across the globe.
    For anybody who bothers to read David Roodman’s critiue, what do you think: Is he being nit-picky or does he raise valid concerns?

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