How You Can Support the People Who Make Your Gifts

By Cheryl Mahoney

Today, we’re excited to tell you about a UniversalGiving partner who’s doing great work for the world!  The Hoop Fund is located down the hall from us at the Hub SoMa, and they also share our international focus.

The Hoop’s mission is to create a more  connected marketplace, building links between consumers and the people who created the products they buy.  The Hoop partners with entrepreneurs, artisans, and farmers, and invites the people who buy their products to help fund their work.  The Hoop gives you two choices: you can directly fund a microloan to a project of your choice, or you can buy a bundle that combines a great product for you, and a microloan for the person who made it.

If you make a microloan, you get your money back when the loan is complete.  They have a 100% repayment rate so far, and loan recipients are charged zero interest!

The Hoop has recently launched gifting features for the holidays.  Every gift purchase also funds a microloan–or you can give a microloan on behalf of a loved one.  So you can buy a sweater that also supports women weavers, or give someone a beautiful necklace, and help build a daycare center.

This is a great opportunity to think about where the things you buy are coming from.  Contrary to the popular images, most gifts aren’t made by elves up at the North Pole.  :)  With the Hoop, you’ll know who made the gifts you’re wrapping up, and you’ll know that your gift also supported a great cause.  It’s an inspiring option for the holidays!

Doing Good (twice over) with Holiday Gift Packages

Today’s guest post is from Chelsea Iverson.

If you will be giving to charity this holiday season or are considering making a personalized and meaningful donation on behalf of someone you love, you’re not alone.

Holiday giving is a tradition that combines the Scrooge-inspired spirit of Christmas with generous year-end-tax breaks. Each year, charitable organizations around the world receive millions from contributors during the holiday season. It seems that the tougher the economic times, the more dedicated we are to helping those who are most vulnerable. According to the Red Cross, 68% of Americans believe that it is especially important to give to charity this year due to poor economic conditions, and 79% of Americans admit that they would prefer to receive a charitable gift in their honor than a present they would not use this holiday season.

Two years ago, when my father asked that we donate to a meaningful charity in lieu of giving him a Christmas present, I immediately knew I wanted to donate to an organization that would save the world’s trees. My father loves trees. He loves their resilience, their fortitude and their ability to withstand so much human destruction. Overwhelmed with all the charitable organizations out there, I wondered how to select the most impactful, the most meaningful organization and how to be confident that my donation was going directly to saving trees.

Through my experience looking for a charitable gift in honor of my father, I discovered that there are so many charitable organizations spreading so much hope all over the world, and deciding where to give can be difficult.

UniversalGiving offers a tool that helps you find gift packages – from thousands of charitable organizations – suited to your loved ones. This tool helps ease your concerns about choosing a trustworthy organization and provides clear gift amounts that allow you to see what your gift will actually achieve.

Saving trees is just the beginning. There are over 400 gift packages available on, which means you will be able to find a charitable gift package for all your loved ones. To give a gift package in honor of family members, friends or colleagues, begin by thinking about their interests, concerns and cares, and search for the gift package that best suits them. UniversalGiving’s pre-packaged gifts make it easy to see where your gift is going and who the beneficiaries are. Here are some examples of the gift packages that are offered:

For the teacher in your life:

Give $25 to give an impoverished child in the US a pair of eyeglasses so he or she can see the blackboard and succeed in school.

For the cook in your life:

Give $50 to provide an in-school meal to a hungry child for an entire school year.

For the doctor or nurse in your life:

Give $350 to supply one clinic in rural Bolivia with all the needed equipment to serve a population with no access to health care.

Check out more gift packages

UniversalGiving screens non-profits for you with their Quality Model™ standard, so you can be assured that your gift will go to a top-performing organization. You want to do as much good as possible, and since UniversalGiving takes nothing from your donation through their website, you don’t have to worry.

When I was searching online for a charity for my father, I wished that I had better options for sorting through the abundance of organizations that help save our planet’s trees. I needed an organized catalogue of charitable organizations that I could easily search by cause and have the confidence that my gift was making the greatest possible impact.

This year, I think I’ll help reforest Haiti in my father’s honor. Thanks to UniversalGiving’s gift packages, I know my gift will go directly to support the cause he believes in so much.

For more ideas on holiday giving, a live online discussion, hosted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy and The Christian Science Monitor, will be held on December 6.

Chelsea Iversen is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. She works with non-profit organizations to strengthen their messaging and communications. You can contact Chelsea at or

“The Power of Giving”

by Charles McWilliams

“In order to get something, you first need to give” –Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad

Many successful businessmen and entrepreneurs practice this basic property of reciprocity. Those who we consider ‘rich’ are often capable of giving much more than those we may consider ‘poor’ and I’m not referring to monetary assets by any means. Those who are ‘rich’ are capable of giving value to others, and this is precisely why they tend to receive so much. Yet, one more important principle works imperatively with the basic properties of reciprocation, especially when applied to human interaction: one must give to give, instead of giving to receive.

When Robert Kiyosaki feels needy or short of something he gives what he wants first so that it will come back in buckets. This is true of money, a smile, love and friendship.

Robert Kiyosaki is an American investor, businessman, self-help author and motivational speaker. Kiyosaki is best known for his Rich Dad, Poor Dad series of motivational books and other material published under the Rich Dad brand.

Dear Mr. Claus

By Cheryl Mahoney

It’s that time of year again.  Garlands are strung and lights go up and the malls are packed and kids write letters to Santa Claus.  And sometimes, adults do too.  Here’s what I might ask for, if I were to write to the man at the North Pole.

Dear Santa Claus (or St. Nicholas, or Father Christmas, or Kris Kringle–whoever’s listening),

I hope you, and Mrs. Claus, and the elves, are all well this year.  In the enchanted land of Santa’s village, I’ve no doubt you are.  Out here in the rest of the world, I can’t complain for myself, but the world in general has quite a few troubles.  But you’re likely aware of that, considering you have eyes everywhere!  So for Christmas this year, while I would like Michael Crawford’s autobiography or the complete Star Trek DVD box set, there are a few bigger matters you might look into.

To start with the most pressing, time-wise, I’d like world leaders at Copenhagen to feel some of that giving, harmonious spirit you embody, and do the right thing for all of us by coming to an agreement for reducing carbon emissions and protecting the planet.  Perhaps you’ve encountered the problem of climate change yourself, Santa–have you noticed any melting near the North Pole?  If leaders can’t come to an agreement though, please, no coal this year.  How about some CFL Lightbulbs instead?  Could be a good way to change with the times…

My mother’s been asking for world peace for Christmas (and sometimes birthdays and Mother’s Day too) for years.  I think we’d both settle for peace in the Middle East though.  And in Darfur.  And the Philippines.  And…well, perhaps you’d better aim for world peace after all.

I don’t need money, but a few millions would be nice–a million trees planted and a million mosquito nets for Africa and a million soccer balls for kids in refugee camps.  And a million girls going to school and a million babies born safely and a million letters sent to old friends.

I’d like unemployment rates to go down, and charitable donations to go up, for volunteering rates to increase and for UniversalGiving’s follower count on Twitter to reach 2,000.  I’d like people to think about others who are in need of a little help, and to think about reaching out.  And to keep that spirit into the new year.

And in the spirit of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” I suppose I’m not really writing to the man at the North Pole at all, but rather–to whoever is listening.  Santa might be the only one who can help everyone all  by himself (with some help from elves), but everyone can help someone.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

Gratitude and Giving

By Cheryl Mahoney

I don’t expect many people to read this post the day it goes up.  I don’t expect many people to be on the internet on that day either.  I won’t be–I’m typing this on Wednesday, not Thursday, though thanks to delayed publishing that’s the date you’ll be seeing at the top.  I don’t expect many people to be reading on Thursday because, as I likely don’t need to tell you, Thursday happens to be Thanksgiving.  And I expect people will be a little too busy to be reading.

Busy with turkeys, and football games, and traditions, and long-distance calls to relatives, and arguments over drumsticks.  Busy appreciating our blessings and being thankful.

Gratitude is an important theme in UniversalGiving’s culture.  We believe in giving to others and changing the world.  We also believe in appreciation and affirmation and being grateful for the people around us, for the accomplishments we achieve, for the blessings in our organization and in our lives.  So even if no one’s here reading on Thursday, I couldn’t let the day go by without an acknowledgment.

One thing I’m grateful for: having a CEO who puts a strong emphasis on gratitude.  Our founder and CEO, Pamela Hawley, has written some beautiful thoughts on gratitude for her blog, Living and Giving, in the past.  It only seemed fitting to share an excerpt today.

Right now, can I think a positive thought? What is going well?  No matter how tough it gets, there has to be some thing that is going well.  Thank you that the sun is shining. Thank you that I have a great father, or wonderful relationship with my sister.  Thank you that I have a wonderful new bed that allows me to sleep peacefully.  Thank you for the rosebush on the street, that blooms so radiantly, and is free for all of us to smell and enjoy. 

For the challenges that seem to keep you stuck, remember, it will pass. The mountain will pass and at some point, you get to start walking downhill.  So keep climbing, keep being grateful, and…. keep going.

My 97 year old Oma and grandmother, one of my best friends once told me,” Whenever I feel down I find something to be grateful for, and I find someone else who is in a worse situation and help them. It helps me be grateful.”

Gratitude gives us a humble confidence to continue pursuing our dreams, step by step.

Gratitude brings a sense of joy, peace and then confidence so that we can maintain our course. Go for it – – and be grateful along the path!

Whatever day you’re reading this, thanks for being here.  I’m grateful that you are.  I hope you have much to be grateful for in your own life, and, if you feel moved to do so, I hope you’ll think about finding someone else to help too.

Time to Give Back

By Cheryl Mahoney


I want to talk about American Idol today.  Not about singing or about snarky judges, and I freely confess that I have never watched a single episode of the popular show.  But I stumbled across a news item recently about “Idol Gives Back,” an annual American Idol event designed to raise money for charity.  Apparently it’s been canceled for 2009.  One article says that they’re making the event biannual, to help them focus on keeping up the quality of the show.  More sources cite the floundering economy as the reason, and I even read an article which cited Simon Cowell as saying it was an “inappropriate” time to ask people to donate to charity (second paragraph from the bottom).

I believe that if there was ever a time when we ought to give to charity, this is it.


As the song says, “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, time to put a penny in the old man’s hat; if you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do; if you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you.”  We whiz through that song because it’s old and familiar, but I think there’s something profound there if we slow down and look for it.  Christmas is coming–a good time to embrace the heartwarming value of charitable giving, and it even comes during a season when it’s cold and dark and people may be a little more in need than they are in August.  For the people who have been hit so badly by the economic downturn that they haven’t got a ha’penny to their name, of course they shouldn’t be worrying about donating money to charity (though perhaps they have something non-monetary to share).  If, however, we have a few pennies we can spare without taking food off the table, now more than ever is the time to give, to help those who don’t have anything to put in the old man’s hat.  Maybe we can’t all afford to give as much as we used to, but we can still give something.

In a large-scale economic crisis like this, I believe we have two choices: we can close our checkbooks, hoard what we have, keep what’s mine MINE so that I’LL be all right.  Or we can open our hearts and share what we have, and believe that we are all the better for it when we come together to help one another.

I guess we know what American Idol expects us to do.  I’ve never seen the show, but I hear they were raising money for Save the Children, UNICEF and The Global Fund–all of whom, I am sure, would still be thrilled by a donation if you choose to make one.

How to Make this Holiday Season Truly Meaningful

By Cheryl Mahoney

Christmas is coming, the goose might be getting fat, but wallets are getting thinner.  There have been a lot of gloomy predictions this year about struggles to pay for Christmas.  I think we need more positive thoughts on that subject.


#1: I think that scaled-back holidays are often nicer than huge ones.  I firmly believe that buying fewer gifts makes for better gifts–as they say, quality over quantity.  When I go hunting for lots of presents for someone, I usually end up buying kind of so-so things because I just don’t have that many good ideas.  Focusing on a few gifts let’s you concentrate and come up with some really good ideas.  Also, it takes a lot of stress out of the equation to try to do a little less.

#2: People really do like home-made things.  I gave up buying Hallmark cards years ago when I discovered that home-made ones save money, are far more personalized and–best of all–very popular among my friends and family.  You can do wonderful things on a computer, and colored pencils work rather well too.  As for other home-made ideas, who doesn’t appreciate a nice batch of home-baked cookies?

#3: It’s not really about monetary things anyway.  True, a turkey and a Christmas tree and most gifts cost money, but they don’t have to cost a lot.  And the most important part of the holiday really isn’t a matter of money.  From the religious perspective, Christmas is about the birth of Christ.  From the secular perspective, the holidays are about family and friends and giving and generosity. None of those are things that should really be affected by the economy.

So this year, I think we ought to view an economic crisis as a good opportunity to bring some creativity, simplicity and meaning into a perhaps less extravagant holiday, but one with a better spirit to it.

If you want to go further and have a truly non-materialistic holiday, you could incorporate volunteering or giving to those truly in need into your plans.

There’s a lot of other great ideas out there, a few of which I want to share with you:

A View from a Distance: 2008: Revisiting Gratitude and Giving

This moving piece offers a nice perspective on Christmas and ten wonderful suggestions for making the holiday meaningful.

Communicating Sense: Redefine Christmas–Social Media Meets Charitable Giving

This is a great post providing resources for online giving.

If you are going to shop online you can still help charities by using iGive, which is a service that allows you to shop online at over 700 brand name stores and a portion of each purchase will be donated to your favourite cause.

However you choose to celebrate it, I hope you have a merry and meaningful holiday season!