Last week, I was talking to a friend about the definition of charity. We were debating whether “real” charity meant giving your time and energy towards a cause like Habitat for Humanity or free fab’rik (notice the absence of a monetary contribution). Or could it also include and / or be a simple gesture of providing money or essentials to someone in need? Though in somewhat disagreement of a “true” definition, we both agreed that the best of “charity” was being able to see an immediate connection or experience the outcome to what our time or money went towards. And with our agreement to disagree recognized, we shifted the conversation towards holiday shopping and holiday consumer behaviors.

As this week has progressed and holiday messaging reaching a full crescendo – along with my desperate need to get in the spirit and shop to fulfill my gift-giving list, this conversation has stayed with me.

I will be the first to admit that my travel schedule has made it harder to participate in local events; the majority of my week is spent at my client’s headquarters – typically a plane trip or two away from my home. While I still want to “make a difference” in my community, for me this means finding causes that I am drawn to and ways to feel that I am truly making a difference, albeit in a very limited timeframe. Not surprisingly, this means contributing to things that are in close proximity or already part of my daily routine.

This time of year especially, it is not uncommon to see charitable opportunities sponsored by retailers for both customers and employees to either volunteer or donate goods or money. I believe this promotes the mission of a lot of retailers, which sometimes is not as focused upon at other points in the year.

Retailers launching cause-related marketing and events, especially around the holiday season, are not new concepts. These efforts make sense according to a recent study: consumers are more likely to buy a brand when the brand highlights partnerships with charitable organizations. However, it is not that I want to take the easy out, because I actually like doing benevolent, anonymous things and going out of my way, but like many consumers, I just need those opportunities to reveal themselves in a more evident way.

How can this translate for retailers? There is a locally owned wine shop in my neighborhood, and it is not out of the norm for me to stroll over to purchase a bottle or two for entertaining over the weekend. This week, I received an email regarding the weekly wine tasting, but instead of the standard free tasting of seasonal wines, they are offering higher-end wines and champagne in exchange for contributions of new scarves, hats, jackets, gloves or toys, which are donated to a local charity helping kids and teens. For me this is perfect. I’m already on the mailing list for this retailer, and with the holidays fast-approaching, there was a good chance I was going to stop by this week anyway. Why not go ahead and use that momentum for me to help contribute to my immediate community in a concrete way?

Based on subsequent conversations with colleagues and friends, there is a huge opportunity to not only just ask customers to donate last minute at the point of sale, but provide opportunities where they can contribute when already part of their planned routine.

As I make my way home this week, my travel itinerary serendipitously includes a layover in an airport where I know for certain are shops that sell the outerwear and accessories my local wine store is seeking for donations. Instead of dreading the 2-hour timeframe I have to spend in the airport, I am genuinely looking forward to the prospect of thoughtfully selecting and purchasing a few items to contribute, and even more excited to imagine all of the children who will ultimately benefit from this collective act of kindness from my local community – prompted by a simple message from this local retailer. In my mind, I can see them eagerly receiving and unwrapping the gifts, and then quickly donning them to go outside and play in the cold weather. I can see their parents’ faces morph from worried creases to smiles as they enjoy watching their kids outside, with a bit less concern about how cold they will get.

I will likely never meet these kids, and it doesn’t matter. When I reflect on how fundamentally good it makes me feel to make a little bit of difference in my community – with a slight nudge from this local retailer’s email – my holidays are instantly brighter.

Cheers and warmest holiday wishes.

– Courtney