This holiday season, there are many who feel the weight of the year. There has been so much hardship, sickness, and struggle. In the midst of all the chaos, I have seen many bright spots from generous families around me who are giving joyfully and strategically, doing their best to make a difference with all that is going on in the world around us. It has made me realize how important it is to grab on to those moments of joy, especially this year. I was doing a philanthropy planning session with one family who described how they wanted to set aside an amount of money for spontaneous giving, above and beyond their strategic, long-term gifts. They wanted to be able to give to some things just because it made them happy. We decided together that they would call it their Smile Fund, and I was inspired by their relentless pursuit of nurturing a joyful, generous spirit within their family.

While there is a joy or satisfaction in planning, analyzing, and putting together the metrics of a philanthropic gift, we sometimes need to look at the big picture above all of that. Sometimes the gift that brings the most joy is not the most strategic or the most impactful, but it just hits a deep place in your heart where you know it was the right thing to do. It doesn’t just make you smile, it brings a preponderance of joy. I started asking some of the most generous people I know what has brought them the most joy in their giving. Here are some of the responses I received from families:

  • A Gift of Relationship – One couple described to me about an organization in Quito, Ecuador that they have given to for years. Of all the gifts they have given, there was one that was their favorite. Here are their words: “Though we have contributed to this ongoing work, in this particular year we provided funds to assist in repairing homes which were inadequate to shelter the families. The joy came later in that year when we returned to Quito to visit the ministry and other friends. We met the three women whose homes were repaired by our gift. They spoke to us of how this provided a reliable shelter for their families, how it enabled them to continue to work and avoid debt. They told us about all the benefits to their children. It put a face and a story to the gift that was made. The joy came from relationship!”
  • A Unified Family – One mom stated this to me, “The greatest joy I experience in giving is when our family is like-minded and we share a common heart space about where we want to give. When we discuss various causes to support and we come to a unanimous decision about where to give, it warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. Knowing that we all have different motivations and knowing there are so many amazing causes, when the places line up for each of us to have an impact together, it brings me so much joy.”
  • An Element of Surprise – One donor explained that while he has given lots of large and strategic gifts over time, he has found a profound joy in the gifts that have an element of surprise or subtlety. He shared how much he enjoyed secretly funding a scholarship so somebody could go to a school that they otherwise would not be able to attend, and another time he far overpaid for items at a fundraiser so that the nonprofit organization and their personnel felt especially appreciated. He said, “Such fun memories! It never ceases to amaze me that the giver is seemingly every bit as blessed as the recipient of the gift.”
  • A Personal Touch – For the last 15 Christmases, one couple has found great joy in giving extra financial gifts to people around them. This year, they are giving to a longtime friend who is extremely sick and who needs help with a medical treatment that could prolong her life. They are also giving other gifts like college tuition for a young immigrant friend and a financial gift to a friend who recently lost her husband and is facing serious financial hardships. The giver said, “We saw generous hearts modeled by my parents who blessed us with so much, and it is our desire to continue to model that legacy. There is a world of need, and we experience such joy in giving!”
  • A Gift of Giving Instead of Getting – I spoke to one woman who described a gift that she and her husband made early on in their marriage. At the time, they wanted to make a significant gift to an organization, and they wanted to do something above and beyond what they had originally intended to give. They decided to increase their donation by adding in the money that was set aside in their travel budget, which was a considerable amount for this young couple who loved exploring places around the world. They held off on any trips for three years, and donated it as part of the multi-year gift. And now, of all the gifts they have given, the one that they sacrificed for stands out as the one that brought the most joy. She said, “We feel an immense sense of joy when we give instead of getting for ourselves. With this type of giving, I know without a doubt, my full heart is in it. It is one thing to give out of abundance, it’s completely different when you give forfeiting something important to you.”

Whatever has brought you joy in your giving, I hope you are able to capture that spirit in this holiday season. May your generosity continue to bless you and your family, and may you continue to impact the people and the causes that you value most deeply. And in the midst of all your strategic planning and thoughtful giving, just don’t forget the joy!

Heather Larson is the founder of LiveGive.


The views and opinions expressed in individual blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.

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