Do you have a ‘Say Yes’ Fund?
“No one has ever become poor by giving.”-Anne Frank
You’re making your list and checking it twice. Gotta figure out who gets what and at what price. Is gift-giving at work making you frown? This week, I’d like to share a hack to take the head-scratching out of professional gift-giving. That said, I have no answers for what to get your mother-in-law.
I feel like I’m a decent gifter when it comes to birthdays. Birthdays are spread out. The concentration of gifting around the holidays requires an Einsteinian level of gifting ability. Overwhelmed and with too many options, I feel like my only option is to dole out identical bottles of Trader Joe’s wine topped with cute Santa hats.
The “Say Yes” Fund is one way to avoid brain-damage from gifting and acquire karma from gifting at the same time.
The Origin Story
Around 2006, then-KW president Mary Tennant suggested our staff stop all the awkward holiday gifting between coworkers. She proposed we give back to our community instead. I loved this. I was running a large department and was wrestling with my list. There were the coworkers I would naturally give gifts to and then those who might unexpectedly give me something. I know plenty of professionals who stockpile generic, unlabelled gifts for that second category. While it could be argued that reciprocation isn’t required, that idea doesn’t meet with reality in my experience. The holidays often drive us to spend a lot of money on gifts for people who didn’t expect them and, worse, who don’t need them.
Our department voted on a local charity, The Settlement Home for Children. Instead of trading gifts in the office, we made holiday magic for kids who had nothing. I still remember one child’s heart-breaking wish for new socks. Eventually, we started hosting charity concerts to raise money in addition to providing holiday gifts. And the tradition continues. This year, our office coordinated gifts with Heroes for Children, providing holiday gifts for 144 kids and their siblings scheduled to spend the holidays in pediatric cancer wards. Santa delivered.
Shifting from holiday gifting to charity sparked a conversation with my wife Wendy on how we could increase our charitable giving. That conversation led to the creation of our “Say Yes” Fund.
The ‘Say Yes’ Fund
Wendy and I started the fund with a simple premise: When a coworker asks us to contribute to a cause, we want to say yes. And we want to do it with joy and without hesitation.
At the time, we were living on a budget. We had two kids and a single income. So we decided to set a threshold for giving that wouldn’t run up our credit cards or impact our investing goals. I asked Wendy, “How many times did someone ask us to make a donation this past year?” We started cataloging all the asks. Girl Scout Cookies. Movember drives. Sponsoring charity runs. In all, we figured that the number of asks was more than 30. Because we figured word would get out we were an easy mark, we decided to budget for 50. We set our initial budget at $25 per yes or $1,250 for the year.
Importantly, we set our budget around money we had already saved. We simply partitioned some of our savings for the “Say Yes” Fund. We didn’t want to chase our yeses with savings, or, worse, resort to credit. Finally, we created a spreadsheet and started tracking. Anything leftover would simply be given away. Each year we set a new budget.
Step One: Estimate Your Yeses
I’m not sure we’ve ever had 50 asks in a single year. Looking at the past few years, we’ve logged 37 to 43 individual donations. There are two of us. I work in a large office and Wendy’s real estate office has over 1,000 agents. So, we budget for a lot of asks. Whatever number you think is likely, add an additional baker’s dozen just to be safe.
Today, I also factor in some professional gifting over the holidays. Not everyone I work with is connected to our office culture. And no one has ever complained when they get a note saying we made a donation to the local food bank in their honor.
It goes without saying, there is no rule against buying and exchanging gifts. It’s just a lot easier to draw the line between gifting among friends and gifting between coworkers.
Step Two: Set Your Budget
Start with how much you can afford. I strongly advise working with funds you already have in savings. Your “Say Yes” Fund is not for all your giving. It’s intended to help you be able to say yes when asked. And for me, to serve as an antidote for any reciprocal professional gifting.
While we set our initial budget at $25 a yes, you get to choose what you can afford. If you need to start with $10, go for it. If you can afford to go big, go big! The budget becomes your protector. If someone asked you to donate to a cause after you’ve exhausted your fund, you can simply say, “We’ve already donated everything we set aside for the year. Please circle back next year, I’ll make sure we budget for it.”
Step Three: Track Your Giving
There are a few good reasons to track. These small gifts can be hard to wrangle up at tax time. I save all my email receipts to an email folder, too. Tracking also makes estimates for next year’s giving a snap. You simply adjust the budget, number of asks, or both. Finally, even small gifts add up. Did you know that $3 provides treated bedding and mosquito netting to prevent malaria? $21 can pay a child’s tuition for a whole year? $35 can restore someone’s sight with cataract surgery? If you’re having a bad day, you can remind yourself that even your most humble gifts may have changed someone’s life.
One question to ponder in your thinking time: How can I transform my professional gift-giving to make a bigger impact?
Make an Impact!