Giving Tuesday? Thanksgiving in May?

Pears at the Farmers' Market

by Rabbi Batsheva Appel

We have entered our season of gratitude and excess, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.  There are the excesses of shopping, between Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday.  According to Charity Navigator the excess also means physical waste:

One million additional tons of garbage are produced each week between Thanksgiving and Christmas— a 25% increase in total waste during the holiday period then any other time of year.

There is a different sort of excess that is seen in our charitable giving and volunteer work.  This is also a time of year when we are most likely to donate money or time to our favorite charities. Charity Navigator in a their report, Year-End Giving Trends: 2012 Poll Results, based on a poll that they gave both donors and charities, notes that the average charity receives 40% of their yearly donations in these several weeks at the end of the year.

The need exists all year, but we concentrate our giving of time and money in just a small window of time.

Here are some of my thoughts about giving at this season:

  • Consider adding Giving Tuesday to the list of shopping days. There could be more people than you realize on your shopping list who would be happy to know that you donated money to a worthy cause in their name.
  • Unless someone gives you a shopping list, and you have double-checked that they still need the items on that list, give money or money equivalents.  Giving things might make us feel better, but it isn’t about us, it is about the people in need.
  • If you are giving things instead of money, give new things, not things that are all used up.  Yes, people are in need, but giving ratty clothing or expired food does not help and takes up the time of the people who are volunteering.
  • Volunteer your time as well as money, when possible.
  • If you give all year long and volunteer all year round, bless you.  You know that the need is with us constantly.
  • If you only donate at the end of the year or only volunteer at the end of the year, please consider creating a second period of Thanksgiving six months from now in May. Plan on donating a little something to the charity of your choice in May. Call the volunteer coordinator back and ask to schedule a time to work in May. The need is with us constantly, the organizations you donate to and work with will be delighted to accept your help outside of these few weeks at the end of the year.
  • Our work isn’t always about money or time, sometimes the work requires advocacy so that we can try to eliminate the need for our time and our money

Rabbinic tradition holds that our prayers of thanksgiving will never cease. Until there is no longer any need for our time or our money or our advocacy, we can extend our period of Thanksgiving to far beyond a few weeks at the end of the year.

Rabbi Batsheva Appel is the senior rabbi of KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago.