A pair of gloves. A toy guitar. Passes to the science museum. These are just a few of the things on the holiday wish list provided to me by REACH, a Waltham, MA-based organization that serves survivors of domestic violence. For the third consecutive year, my colleagues and I are coming together to provide a few nice things to a few of REACH’s families in the spirit of the holidays.
We have a deep appreciation for good facilitation around here. REACH does a stellar job facilitating a Holiday Gift Program that provides support to over 200 families each year. REACH invites survivors they work with to participate, and ask them to provide a list of gift wishes for themselves and for their children. REACH then provides the wish list to a donor, who may select the size of the family or families they wish to support. Donors include individuals, churches, and companies throughout the Metro West Boston area. The concept is very simple (though I suspect the logistics are not), and REACH manages the whole program with great organization and lots of hard work by smart people.
I am Collective Next’s liaison with REACH. I do it because, to put it simply, I love helping. I know how much those families must appreciate it, and I will look for any excuse to shop for Star Wars action figures.
Facilitating collaborative giving at your organization, or with your extended family or friend group, is actually much easier than you might think. The four simple steps I followed are outlined below. I hope this helps you and yours do something for someone in your community.
Step 1: Choose a Cause
The word “collaborative” appears in the title of this post, and I would like to be able to say that choosing a cause was a collaborative effort for us. But no. I like to get stuff done. When I heard about REACH’s Holiday Gift Program, I immediately thought, “We should just do this.” It was obvious to me, so I moved it forward.
But if you’re NOT sure where to start, GuideStar has created a searchable database, Philanthropedia, in which they rate verified, financially responsible charities according to how much great work they’re doing. You can find reviews of over 750 top non-profits across 36 causes. If you’re so inclined to collaborate (might be why you’re here…) when choosing a cause, talk with your possible contributing collaborators about your ideas and their ideas. Take an informal, or formal Survey Monkey-style, poll and see where there’s consensus, or at least alignment. And pick that.
Step 2: Find Out What They Need
In our case, REACH is able to tell us how many families we can help and very specifically who (anonymously) in each family needs what. I receive a list of families and a pretty specific list of gifts. We run with it.
You can find out the best way to contribute to the cause of your choice by either straight up giving them money OR contacting them and asking what they need aside from money. Money is almost never a bad gift. JustGive.org is a great place to find ways to make financial contributions to specific gifts and services related to your cause of choice. For example, you can “Give a military member 25 hours of talk time to connect with their loved ones back home: $50” or “Connect a transgender job seeker with a mentor for resume and interviewing help: $45”.
There are many programs around the country structured like REACH’s Holiday Gift Program, where you are able to serve the needs of families in your community in a very specific way. I have listed a few of these types of programs at the end of this post.
Step 3: Enlist and Organize Your Contributing Collaborators
Sometime mid-November each year, I send a company-wide email asking who is DTD. Down to donate. Remarkably, most all of my 28 colleagues reply within 24 hours that yes, they are in fact DTD.
Then in early December, once I have received word from REACH, I email my colleagues again with a wish list of all of the families and all of the gifts requested. Then it’s first come, first served. This year I sent my wish list email out on a Sunday at 9:30pm. By 8:00am the following morning, my inbox was full of replies claiming gifts, and there were only a few items left on the list. This is not a humble brag. More, I find it interesting (and okay, kind of amazing) that so many people are so ready and willing to jump in and do something nice for other people. We at Collective Next are… unusual in a lot of ways, but I suspect that this willingness to help is NOT exceptional. I think more people would express it and do it if they saw they had the choice, the clear path. Which is why I’m writing this. So let’s keep going.
Organizing your contributing collaborators means you’re air traffic control, you’re the project manager. Communicate and manage the list of items requested and the offers of help. Give folks a timeline - ours is about two weeks from sign up to delivery. Explain the process at a high level (e.g. “Sign up for something, buy it, then bring or ship it to the office by the 15th, at which point it will be sent to REACH.”) Answer questions. Help connect people who might be able to contribute together to a larger gift. Your job as the facilitator is, as always, to make it as easy as possible to make stuff happen. (In this case, it’s not that hard. You can do it!)
Step 4: Collect and Deliver the Goods
Over the coming weeks, a conference room at CNHQ will fill with Amazon boxes, unwrapped toys, cards, holiday paper, and lots more. We’ll store these items and check our list twice. We’ll deliver the goods to REACH when they’re ready to receive them, in time for their holiday party, where they distribute the gifts to survivors and their families.
Every program is different, and they’ll tell you how and where they want to receive gifts. The important thing is to designate a space to store the items as you collect them and to make sure everything that you’ve agreed to deliver arrives.
And that’s it. Your efforts might mean more people will experience the loving support, goodwill, and kindness of community. And more people will be able to keep their hands warm, jam on their toy guitars, and learn about science. All good things in a world that is badly in need of more good things. So go for it!
Here are some regional programs similar to REACH’s:
New York: New York Cares Winter Wishes
Michigan: Adopt a Family
For more information, fire up Google and search for: (your city) holiday gift program.