How do I set up a "Giving Tree" at work this winter?
June 20, 2014 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm on the Corporate Social Responsibility team at work, and one of the things I'd really like to do this winter is a "Giving Tree", where people can choose a gift to buy for a stranger in tough times. Have you done this? Can you help me figure out how to make it happen?

So here's how I'm thinking it might work:

- Reach out to a local homeless shelter/children's home and try to find one that would like to take part
- Ask them for a list of first names and gift requests
- Post the list on our intranet, and get people to contact me if they want to fulfil a request
- Collect gifts by a certain date and organise delivery to the shelter/home.

Have you done anything like this? Can you offer me any advice/warnings/tips?

Data: I'm in London. My office contains several hundred people and has a reasonably progressive attitude to charity and fundraising.

Thank you!
posted by greenish to Grab Bag (8 answers total)
Be prepared for this to be a ton of work. We do this in my office and I wound up spending several hours at Walmart purchasing gifts that no one bought.

Also, make sure gift requests are specific. If they're for clothes, you have to have a size listed.

Do you have a place to store a bunch of gifts while waiting for delivery?

Make sure things are labeled and ask people to wrap the gifts they give, or have a wrapping party.
posted by chaiminda at 10:26 AM on June 20, 2014

I would reach out to those places, and I would ask them for guidance in what they need/want. Some places may want to create a more traditional wishlist for what people need/want. Others may be more generic.

I would create a list with the ages of children and the gender, but no names. For adults, I'd just include clothe sizes, gender, and the term "adult." I'd assign each tag a coded number so the shelter or home can distribute the gifts appropriately.

I would also leave the option for cash donations, that you can then use to purchase gifts for someone who has not been bought for, or that can be used as a donation to said shelter with the intent of buying goods for the residents.
posted by zizzle at 10:30 AM on June 20, 2014

I don't know if there's any reason this would be different in the UK, but a lot of organizations in the US who serve needy populations now put up Amazon Wish Lists.

I know it may be unsatisfyingly virtual, but I think choosing one of those, letting your coworkers buy straight from the list and reporting the purchases back to you for tallying would be probably the lowest effort (which will get you more response). You could always make a big poster of the wish list and let people cross off (identifying themselves if they choose) their purchases.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:38 AM on June 20, 2014

We call them "Angel Trees" in the US, and they're frequently in places like Wal-Mart, so you can get a kid, shop for him or her, and leave the stuff in the store. So you may want to start with a particular charity that serves the community in this way.

Salvation Army might be a good start.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:40 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My workplace also does this through the local Salvation Army Angel Tree program and I have taken the lead on organizing it for the past several years.

Every year they call and ask if we're still in when it's time. No work or planning required.

They mail me the list of gift requests in the form of christmas tree ornaments. A tag typically has the age and gender of a child, with a few gift suggestions or requests. They ask us how many tags we want to be responsible for We usually take about 50 for our office of 120 employees. Some people don't participate, but others pick up multiple tags, and the company picks up the few that are left over. The ones that get left are usually bigger ticket items like XBox consoles or whatever. Sometimes teams go in on bigger items together, though.

They set a pick-up date and then come back with a van and take in all the presents. Again, no work on our part required.

Presents do not have to be wrapped (and actually, should not be wrapped). Makes it easier on the gift giver.

I, personally, am not on the same page with the Salvation Army's political stance on things. There are plenty of disconcerting reports of shelters not providing services to LGBT individuals, for example. I've also heard that in the past they've simply destroyed toys that didn't fit with their worldview (e.g.Harry Potter books for the "witchcraft.") So that's...icky.

I inherited the Angel Tree project from someone else and haven't found an alternative that's as easy to work with. I don't feel like I can make it harder on everyone else to satisfy my political views, so for the time being, we still participate in the Angel Tree program. But it makes me feel a little...icky.
posted by terilou at 2:21 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My workplace partners with an organization that does this. They told me they distribute two tags for each kid in their system to increase the changes that the wish will be filled. The second item then turns into material for their general gift pool that they use to fill last-minute requests and other needs. I got the sense that they also write/distribute generic tags that don't really tie back to a specific kid, but rather help generate items that are generally popular and useful. I have no issues with this at all, and I think it's clever. I has asked because I was worried that one or two of our tags hadn't gotten filled.

That said, I think they generally prefer cash donations whenever possible. They do both a Christmas drive and a school supply drive, and cash lets them buy what they need with the power of bulk purchasing.

If you arrange this yourself, be prepared for a lot of work to coordinate and keep the project from falling through due to lack of interest or follow up from those who take tags. Even just delivering the gifts is a project and will require vehicles, etc. Finding a partner org might cut down on the time you spend coordinating.
posted by handful of rain at 3:03 PM on June 20, 2014

Can you offer me any advice/warnings/tips?

I apologize for making an excessively blunt and vaguely cynical statement.

It is almost guaranteed that your time in arranging this combined with the time it takes the charity to help you out and process your donations combined with the time/money it costs people at your organization to procure gifts will be less valuable than the cash-equivalent value of the above.

Consider figuring out how much time it would take you to arrange this (20-30 hours seems reasonable), figure out your company's burdened rate for labor (I don't know what this would be in the UK, but $70-$100/hour is conceivable in the USA for professionals) and then ask your employer to donate the money-value of your time in the form of cash rather than your labor.

Charities uniformly can do much more with money than they can with donations. Beyond the inherent fungibility of money (allowing the charity to pick what they want rather than what you want to give), charities tend to have access to much more efficient uses of money (for instance, buying in bulk). Although it feels nice to give things to charities, charities want cash. Really, that's all they want.
posted by saeculorum at 4:19 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do not do this yourself. It is a lot of work, as people are pointing out. Instead, call a bunch of charities that fit your company and you (animal shelters are always non-political) and ask them if they have a pre-packaged Christmas fundraising tree. Most of them won't, but some will. Choose one, follow instructions and use all that extra time saved to publicize within the office (posters at breakroom, email announcement?) the tree and raise more. Make sure you also add some brochures and a sign-up sheet to volunteer with the charity next to the tree so you can also point to hey we raised $X and Z people signed up to volunteer next year.

My non-profit does a thing where we send pretty silk fair-trade christmas ornaments with bigass tags on them that explain what the ornaments are raising funds for and have a note to write a happy message. People buy a box of 25 to 100 ornaments, decorate a tree at reception with them and put up the fundraising info etc. Then people buy the ornaments and at the end, send us the additional money raised, ornaments that weren't sold and the cards with the messages that we turn into happy garlands for our classrooms for the first months of the year.

There's also WorldVision does the child sponsorship trees where you get big tags of children to sponsor - I have Serious Issues with this because it is a commodotization of at-risk children, and the young girls get picked first (they provide extra tags to replace so the tree always looks full I've been told), but those trees do very well in raising funds.

These tree things take about an hour to set-up, run smoothly through the holiday season with your job as just collecting the cash (get a cashbox and keep records - we include a form to note down info, but depending on your workplace rules, you may need to issue on the spot receipts.) and then tidying up after Christmas. They look positive and people like them.

Oh and in the UK, look into matching funds - a lot of UK charities can get matched funds from the govt. if the right paperwork is done, and donors like that.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:14 PM on June 20, 2014

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