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My Grown Up Christmas List

“Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you with childhood fantasies
Well I'm all grown up now
And still need help somehow
I'm not a child but my heart still can dream
So here's my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas list
Not for myself but for a world in need”

- My Grown Up Christmas List

‘Tis the season for Christmas and year-end charitable giving! There are so many incredible ways to give and various, creative ways for families, places of employment, and churches to meet the needs of charities who work to serve people in our own communities and around the world. Last year, in addition to poring over store magazines and circling items of want, my daughter also browsed through World Renew’s Christmas Catalogue and circled items that she wanted our family to “buy” for others in the spirit of Christmas. 

As the Executive Director of a small charity, I do not have comprehensive Christmas gift catalogue. But throughout the year as I fundraise for the work Restorations does to support survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, I’ve found myself in various situations where I’ve thought “how would I articulate this need in a Christmas catalogue?!” 

So here it is, my Grown Up Charity Christmas List: the obvious, the odd, and the sometimes overlooked. 

Tangible Items

I find that tangible items filling needs faced by those we support are appealing to donors because they are most easily understood and relatable. Donations for items like food, clothing, hygiene products, and special interest products (art supplies, books, etc.) are easily identified by donors as basic necessities. Especially around Christmas as we are in a mode of buying tangible items for family and friends, donations that go towards physical items that directly benefit those in need are appealing. As Christmas approaches, there are needs for special gifts for those who we serve. Asking charities well in advance of Christmas if you can cover these needs will help offset the finances that the charity would otherwise need to direct to Christmas celebrations with service users.

Tips for giving: 
  • Ask charities what tangible items they need; don’t assume. For example, at Nancy’s House, certain food donations do not meet the dietary or personal preferences of residents.

  • When donating products like hygiene supplies or personal items, consider diversity and the needs of a wide range of demographics. When Restorations put together Christmas baskets a few years ago, we had an abundance of generic shampoos and conditioners but had to go out and purchase products specific for Black hair.

Utilities and Maintenance

Churches understand this as well as charities: there is a cost to running programs that operate out of buildings! And yet fundraising for costs like heat, hydro and water can be challenging. Many grants are specific to launching new programs, not ongoing overhead costs of existing programs, but funds are needed to keep our buildings in good working order and the costs associated with doing the work we are called to do.

Budgeting for the surprise costs associated with buildings can be tricky. For example, when setting last year’s budget, I did not foresee spending funds on an exterminator for snakes inside Nancy’s House… Charities count on general donations to cover these arising, immediate costs.

Tips for giving: 
  • Give a general donation to a charity and let them direct it to where it’s most needed. General donations are crucial for covering the behind the scenes costs

  • I appreciate that donors might want to make a donation with a specific intent in mind. Ask a charity what their monthly bill looks like for heat, hydro, or water and then make a donation for that amount.

  • Offer to donate tangible items needed for building expenses like salt for walkways, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, light bulbs, etc.

The unseen but the crucial

To run a charity efficiently, effectively, and safely, there are many behind the scenes costs and expenses that are not just crucial but in some cases required. Charities strive to operate with minimal overhead costs, with as many resources as possible directly focused on those we support. However, operational costs are necessary to provide better services, and funding these crucial elements impact an organization’s health and growth. For example, client management systems help provide continuity of care and track goal progress while maintaining privacy. Donor management systems are utilized to track donations, communicate with donors about the impact of their giving, and ultimately help generate more revenue.

I don’t have any fun tips on how to make this area of giving more appealing or “fun.” But I would like you to know that when you give a charity a general donation, you are helping to further the mission, vision, and work of the organization with the percentage that goes directly towards the cause as well as whatever the charity might use to ensure organizational sustainability. 

Invest in an organization’s people

Restorations wouldn’t be where we are today without dedicated staff who are committed to seeing the flourishing of survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. People - both in the form of volunteers and employees - give their time, energy, resources, and expertise to the organization because they are passionate about our mission, vision, values, and work that we do. And yet, many charities face challenges to securing funding to adequately staff programs. The costs associated with hiring employees - salaries, benefits, mandatory employment related costs, training, and professional development - can take up a significant, if not the majority, of a charity’s expenses. The reality is that it takes people to get good work done. While volunteers are crucial to many charities, some charities cannot complete their work with volunteers alone. Many churches can attest to the challenges of recruiting, onboarding, engaging, and retaining volunteers for their programs and activities, and charities face these same obstacles.

Every charity is different in their staffing models. But at Restorations, donations that go towards staffing have a tremendous impact that directly benefits survivors. Approximately 50% of Restorations staff are individuals with lived experience of human trafficking. We create employment opportunities for individuals who have experienced gender-based violence and provide meaningful employment with at least living wage. Employees at Restorations are crucial for building rapport and trust with survivors, providing survivors with support to navigate and access resources, and instill hope, confidence, and belonging. 

In regards to the resources used by employees, many charities make do with what is available in an effort to cut expenses and direct funds to programming elements. At Restorations, we utilized donated, large corporate office furniture in our small residential office for a few years before finally investing in furniture that was more suitable - and welcoming - for our space. We have put up with a finicky printer for years before finally admitting that we needed to invest in a new one for efficiency. A staff member who just received an upgraded laptop raved for days that her productivity has increased tremendously. Personnel at many charities “make do” with what they have, but could be deeply encouraged and benefited by additional or more suitable resources.

Tips for giving: 
  • Ask employees at a charity for their “wish list.” Ask them to list “nice to have” items - something that might not necessarily be prioritized in the year’s budget, but would be incredibly useful or appreciated.

  • Offer to fund professional development courses or purchase tickets to conferences or workshops.

  • Provide a meal or treats for a staff meeting.

  • Send employees at a charity a note of encouragement for the work they are doing. 

However you choose to be charitable and donate this Christmas season, our act of giving is honouring God who has modeled the ultimate form of generosity through the gift of Jesus. May your charitable giving this time of year illuminate the hope, peace, joy, and love we experience in Christ.

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

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