The Seasonal Surge of Service and What It Really Means

Opinions - Swindell.ServiceSurge - Max Wel - Salvation Army -12.12.12 flickr.jpg

Sarah Swindell
  Staff Writer

Soon, when shopping, the faint sound of bells will be heard throughout shopping malls. Food drive signs will be more and more prevalent. Toy drop-offs will be sitting inside super stores passively drawing customers to drop off a toy. Even the news will be promoting local service work with major organizations.

It is a sign of the inevitable push to volunteer and donate around the holiday season with empathetic appeals to help those vulnerable populations in the community and around the world. Turning out wallets is always a well-intentioned gesture, but it seems that the action might be more of a guilt-trip, than genuine giving.

By this is I mean there is an obligatory feeling surrounding the giving during these seasonal holidays. There is some unspoken assumption that this service is more of a requirement rather than truly wanting to reach out.

Maybe for the most part, it is just well-intended service to the community, but the obvious correlation leaves non-profit organizations coasting through the summer months each year. Let’s have some statistics to put this into perspective.

Roughly 34 percent of all charitable giving and donations are done in the last three months each year, according to Steve McLaughlin, a product manager for Blackbaud Index (a major company designed to support non-profits and their fundraising). Within that 34 percent however, about 18 percent of it is given in just in the month of December.

This leaves more than one-third of all giving in only one-fourth of the year. While that seems fairly proportional, one has to take into account the surges throughout the year during natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. The large chunk means that there is not an even distribution to help the communities throughout the year.

According to Causes (the largest social platform for nonprofits), the donation on the site increases by about 42 percent during November and December compared to other months throughout the remainder of the year.

The obvious spike connected to the holiday times calls into question what it means for these organizations who support the more vulnerable populations in our community (whether that be via socio-economic standing, mental health, systemic hindrances, etc.)

Upon examination, it seems these organizations are well off the increase and plan their work and fundraising accordingly. Sam Worthington, CEO of InterAction (the largest alliance of U.S.-based nongovernmental international organizations) once commented to USA Today, “Many of our members are dependent upon a good holiday season for a large portion of their annual fundraising,”

Worthington also noted. “There’s the practical aspect, which is that it’s the end of the year and people want to make sure their giving is done before a new calendar year, and there’s the fact that we spend time with our families, we think about others and want to have an impact on the world around us.”

Good cheer and good feeling all around, it makes sense that people would be more readily willing to turn out their pockets and put a drop in the bucket. However, why aren’t we willing all year round to help those individuals among us who may require assistance?

It seems this systematic obligation has created a vicious financial cycle for these organizations who plan their largest fundraising times around our holiday cheer. While that is all well and good, we as a society should be more willing to put forth our spare time and means toward the organizations who work to make the world a more equitable and beautiful place for all beings across the nation and globe.

Instead, we create a pity party as Worthington mentioned, when “we spend time with our families.” We come to realize what good things we have in our day to day lives, and start to feel bad for those who may not necessarily have good food and a bed to sleep under. We start to create this image of sad children without a plethora of gifts and old men without families.

It is then when we decide to begin service work and answer the call of the bells. We pull out our loose change and drop it in the iconic red buckets, and begin to feel good about ourselves.

That leads us to another problem: the self-gratification seen when someone bothers to do a good deed. Some people act as if they deserve a sainthood for donating a few toys and working one soup kitchen meal. It creates this connotation around the service that is more for the benefit of the individual rather than the organization or community the service is designed to benefit.

This ideology creates a detrimental understanding of what volunteering is intended to be. The mindset thusly leaves behind the population in need, and a facade of kindness is created. Underneath is a self-obsession to feed the good feeling one receives with doing a kind deed. It is wretched, and makes the necessity for service a whole different beast.

If we really are to serve our communities, then surely do it with an open heart. However, do it in March or April, July or August. Do it when you have a free weekend or a spare afternoon. Keep a jar by the door. Trick-or-treat for Unicef in October. Do not leave your service work to the last month of the year.

Always ask for what these organizations need, not what you think they need. That mindset returns to the same narcissistic feeling that leaves nobody benefitted. Do not just donate a can of corn you found in the back of your cabinet to the local foodbank . Actually bother to understand what the organization requires more of, whether that be canned tuna, apple sauce, or socks.

Let’s be honest with ourselves when we toss those few pennies into the bell ringer’s jar. Do not forget why you actually need to be giving back. Don’t fall prey to the mindless cycle society has set up. You’re better than that.

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