Brace Yourself

 In Character, Culture, Fred's Blog, Giving, Philanthropy

Listen to “Brace Yourself” by Fred Smith

 

Last week was Thanksgiving followed by Black Friday. We know the majority of Americans were shopping over the long weekend with 20 percent shopping on Thanksgiving and 70 percent on Black Friday. More than 43 percent were shopping on Small Business Saturday and another 48 percent were shopping on Cyber Monday. In spite of COVID and supply chain difficulties, the expectations from retailers and online merchants are high this year. Overall holiday spending should be up by over 7% from last year.

However, it is not like it used to be when retailers were accustomed to the holidays making up 25 percent of their annual sales. In fact, the trend has been steadily declining and today sales in November and December now account for less than 21 percent of annual retail sales at physical stores, and experts believe it will keep dropping. It might not seem like much but those extra percentage points would have translated into an extra $70 billion more in buying for last year.

“There was a mindset even before online shopping,” says Michael Niemira, principal at The Retail Economist, “but this just accelerated it.”

More people are shopping for the holidays all year long now. Heavy discounting has diluted sales, and with big promotions throughout the year, shoppers no longer hold off making their biggest purchases until the holidays. As well, the amount of year-end advertising and promotion has declined as people have spread their buying out over the whole year.

So far, we don’t see similar trends in giving. Consider these statistics:

  • Nearly 30 percent of all annual giving occurs in December.
  • Over 12 percent of all giving happens in the last three days of the year.
  • Almost 30 percent of non-profits raise between a quarter and half of their annual funds in November and December.
  • Sixty percent of non-profits make between one and three contacts with donors in November and December.

The world has changed for retail sales but not so much for charity. With Giving Tuesday this week we were inundated again with multiple requests for contributions and can expect far more between now and the end of the year. If you are like me you are already bracing yourself for it.

I love the martial arts choreography in movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I asked a black belt friend how he hardened his hands for real (not staged) competition. It seemed simple enough. Set up a five-gallon bucket of white rice and punch your hands in it 10-12 times in a row five times a day. When that no longer hurts use a five-gallon bucket of dry beans for several weeks and then graduate to five gallons of sand.

While it takes time to become hardened it is a simple process. My martial arts friend cautioned me, “Be careful. The process is irreversible once the calluses are there….and you could really hurt someone with them.”

Similarly,  I’ve discovered a way to build calluses on the heart – especially this time of year. Plunge your hands five times a day into websites, television, and email coming from nonprofits and ministries. When the numbing is sufficient start on your direct mail stack and auto-signed personal letters. When all the feeling is gone move up to repeated plunging into personal visits, phone calls and notes from friends to attend banquets and galas. For the final hardening dwell on all the disappointments, misused gifts, unrealistic expectations and posed pictures of children and women. By then you should have to register your heart as a lethal weapon and be required to warn people before meeting with them.

Is that really what God wants? I believe what He desires instead is for us to continually resist becoming hardhearted. Two things I have learned that have helped me. First, we can learn from the retail trends and change our giving to be more consistent over the course of the year. Not only would it gradually change the pressure the non-profits feel to produce end of the year campaigns but there would be a valuable side effect. We would see a change in our own hearts as generosity becomes a regular habit and not a splurge. Second, what I have discovered and heard from others is this: steady resistance builds heart muscle but not calluses. Constant exposure to irritation builds calluses but the patient practice of giving and resisting hardness builds strength. Calluses are dead and thick while muscles are alive and growing. There is no way to avoid the predictable barrage of incoming requests for help – especially in this season. So, focus on the few things that matter most to you and refuse to let your heart, mind, and soul become hardened. Remember, the process is irreversible for hands…but not for hearts.

 

 

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Showing 8 comments
  • Avatar
    Dianne Moore
    Reply

    I love this perspective, Fred. Very timely-

  • Avatar
    Tom Lowery
    Reply

    Excellent advice on giving; true givers don’t wait for a “season” to give. Spread your giving out through the year and avoid a feeling of stress at Christmas time.

  • Avatar
    Sue Saxenmeyer
    Reply

    You nailed it, Fred. I do focus on those charities that appeal to my head and heart, but believe I have not hardened myself against “new” opportunities to give. Thank you for this article’s affirmation that my giving is headed in the right direction.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Sue. I was not at all worried about your giving! I know how much non-profits appreciate you and your engagement with them.

  • Avatar
    John Sims
    Reply

    Hear, hear. I do spread my giving throughout the year — always have. Promoting things like Giving Tuesday on the air is a bit like icing on the cake — and I am pleased with the results it gets, here locally in particular. Thanks as always for your thoughts.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John. This is encouraging to me.

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