Ideas for Meaningful Gift Giving

Over the course of the year, I strive through this Game Plan column to bring attention to people, issues, businesses and creative ventures that highlight ways to live a better life. It is only natural, then, that ideas for potential holiday giving or your own end-of-year giving emerge as a result. It is my deep wish that something here speaks to you as you make the final checks on your list.

There are themes that tend to resonate with me pretty consistently: peace, educating/inspiring our young (especially the underserved), and personal growth. The way I see it, the latter makes each individual stronger and more equipped to be of service in the community, the nation and the world.

I begin with peace.

“And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict -- filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other,” President Obama said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech last week.

Giving to The Peace Alliance – whether in your name or as a gift in someone else’s -- is a wonderful way to answer the question, what can I do for the cause of peace other than practice it in my own life? This is a terrific time to lend your support to an organization whose mission is to empower “civic engagement toward a culture of peace.”

On to another priority that’s high on my aforementioned list of causes -- educating/uplifting our youth, especially those with inordinate challenges. There are several directions you can go if this one is near to your heart.

One is the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship [NFTE], which states its mission as providing “entrepreneurship education programs to young people from low-income communities.” An entertaining way to get to know the program is through the work of filmmaker Mary Mazzio, whose latest film, Ten9Eight, chronicles the NFTE’s national business plan competition.

“Fifty percent of all profits go back to support inner city kids learning how to start a small business,” Mazzio says.

And to that end, how about supporting the very student entrepreneur who won the 2008 competition? Her name is Jessica Cervantes and she is the creator of Popsycakes – cake on a stick! Cervantes is a dynamo and will customize them for you. Perhaps most importantly, I can personally attest to how delicious and easy to eat Popsycakes are.

I have also formed a deep respect for the mentoring work of Big Brothers Big Sisters over the past few years and love the statement put forth by Michael Corriero, the executive director of the New York BBBS, last month. Give whatever you can afford.

“I get checks for two dollars, five dollars, one dollar and change, and I remember those people,” said Corriero.

This year, through the work of Skadaddle Media, I also came across a worthwhile cause that takes on the squeamish topic of how people relieve themselves around the world.  Wherever the Need has a core aim of “the building of eco-sanitation toilets, which we believe to be vital to the good health of both people and the planet. We combine this with the provision and conservation of clean drinking water for people and, where possible, livestock, crops and trees.”

While I’ve covered peace, educating our young, and helping the less fortunate, there’s another major “cause” that’s dear to me – personal growth. For me and so many of the people I come into contact with through my work as a life coach and a journalist, the key is tapping into our creative gifts. The more in tune we are with our own lives, the more we evolve emotionally and spiritually (not just financially!), the more likely we are to give of ourselves and our resources.

In that spirit, I recommend the work of Jill Dearman for any writers or would-be writers in your life. Her workshops and book, Bang the Keys: Four Steps to a Lifelong Writing Practice, are designed to keep the writer writing. She offers an array of services, including coaching (for writers) and editing, but also some in the mystical realm.

And if the practical/mystical combination appeals to someone on your list who is stymied by his or her career choice, career intuitive Sue Frederick’s book, I See Your Dream Job, is a terrific choice.

If none of these suggestions resonate with the folks on your list, ask yourself what they would find meaningful and find a creative way to make it happen. For example, maybe your teen-aged daughter is getting a Coach handbag and an iPod. Why not add some meaning to her pile of goodies by giving something to a cause in her name? It will add a dimension that can become an annual tradition and you will be setting a tone in her life.

That’s the true spirit of the holiday season.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is Please direct all questions/comments to