Maybe it’s the turkey. Or the opportunity for family togetherness. Or maybe it’s a combination of the two (we’ll even credit the mash, gravy and dressing for good measure), but there’s a reason why Thanskgiving is one of the most popular holidays on the calendar. Here’s one more: it’s also an ideal opportunity to inject a hearty helping of philanthropy into the fall festivities, particularly when shared with loved ones.
Why? As the name suggests, early European settlers in Canada and the U.S. observed the holiday as a chance to feast and show appreciation for the year’s harvest. The origins actually date back to other religions and cultures, almost all of which celebrated harvest in some form or another, but we’ll save the full history lesson for another day. The point is that Thanksgiving is about showing gratitude for a fruitful life. It’s hard to imagine a better way to do that than to also turn Thanksgiving into a way to give back to your community.
A chance to combine togetherness and generosity
In many cases, Canada Gives Foundation account holders do exactly that. Several of our clients use their Thanksgiving family get-togethers to catch up, enjoy each other’s company while also setting their charitable goals for the year. Christmas serves a similar purpose for many of our most committed philanthropic families. You may be wondering why it’s necessary to focus that strategic planning time at Thanksgiving. It’s not, charities certainly need and appreciate funding all through the year. But the fact is that whether your children are school aged, in university or adults with their own kids, odds are you’ll likely come together to break bread and fight over who gets the drumstick this October. Why not compare notes on charities, too?
Now, it’s one thing to rendez-vous once a year to direct your familial generosity. It’s another to organize that time to ensure your philanthropy generates excitement and delivers maximum impact for your community. Here are a few key tips on making the experience as meaningful and effective as possible:
Plan ahead—The best way to choose a charity (or several) to support is by thinking strategically. See our recent blog for tips on how to do it effectively. If you know your family will be under the same roof for Thanksgiving, agree that you’ll also take time to decide your donation recipients for the year. But don’t stop there. Develop a short survey for your family to complete in advance of the big day to help narrow down ideas and options (Survey Monkey is an easy, free tool that can do the job), and then short-list several charities.
Make it fun—Between the endless food, sporting events on TV (and maybe in your backyard) and dinner-table chatter, Thanksgiving is a fun and relaxing holiday. Philanthropy should be just as engaging and enjoyable. Ask your family members to jot down a few thoughts on why they think their preferred charity should receive donations that year. Some of our clients even ask their kin to make a tiny presentation (no PowerPoint deck needed!) to make their case. And be sure to get the little ones involved. Even young children can make a persuasive philanthropic argument with a little bit of time to get their prepubescent thoughts in order.
Set the rules—One of the best ways to get everyone involved and interested in this process is to let them have a say and vote on the outcome. This is also a good way to ensure that philanthropy becomes a multigenerational habit in your family. If kids (and especially teenagers) can help choose the charity you’ll be supporting, they’re more likely to become dedicated givers themselves, and perhaps even offer time to their favourite charity by volunteering hours. Figure out the process for choosing your donation recipients and then share those (hopefully simple) rules with your family.
Spread the love—Some Canada Gives Foundation account holders prefer to support a single charity, but most sprinkle their annual grants amongst a list of several key charities. Instead of choosing just one charity to support, you can also decide to vote on a few preferred recipients in between helpings of turkey and pumpkin pie. That also helps ensure there are no hurt feelings and at least a few family members get the satisfaction of knowing their charity of choice will be supported that year.
Do it again—Before your family parts ways, make a plan to do the same thing next Thanksgiving (or maybe even at Christmas, another holiday, or an alternative date on the calendar when it’s convenient for all of you to come together again). Many of our clients use their philanthropic endeavours as an excuse to unite their family multiple times a year. Just be sure to pencil in a date before everyone’s busy schedules fill up.
Once the charity is chosen, remember that it’s up to us to handle the rest—including all administration, tax receipting and reporting to the Canada Revenue Agency. You get to sit back and watch your generous gift work its magic.
Who knew that Thanksgiving could carry even greater meaning for you and your family?
Denise Castonguay, Executive Director and CEO