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New wrappings for Christmas giving

Social media, a slow economy, and other trends are forcing big changes in holiday gift-giving and charity donations. But trends in giving still point toward the spirit of Christmas.

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Country singer Rodney Atkins performs at the first annual American Giving Awards, Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, in Los Angeles. The awards show granted $2 million dollars to five finalist charities.

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

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'Tis the season to shop for gifts but here’s news that serves as a reminder of what Christmas is all about:

According to a new poll by the American Red Cross, 8 in 10 people prefer that someone give them a donation to a charity in their name rather than a gift they don’t want.

In other words, give a goat to a hungry girl in Gambia on behalf of a friend or relative who really doesn’t want one more scarf or fruit cake.
The trend in such charity gifts is one way that giving is changing – forcing both holiday shoppers and charities to stay on their twinkle toes this time of year. The biggest changes are driven by a stagnant economy, the ease of social networking, and a rising desire for practical results in selfless giving.

With joblessness so high, for example, about 7 out of 10 Americans say it’s important to give to charity this season – a jump of 10 percentage points from last year. And donations are the last thing that hard-pressed people plan to cut after curbing their holiday travel, parties, and gifts.
That’s music to the ears of charities. They usually collect 30 to 50 percent of their donations during the holidays (especially on Dec. 31, the last day for charitable tax deductions).

A decade ago, only 4 percent of Americans gave money online. Now it’s 65 percent. Young people are tapping into friends on Facebook, Google+, and other social media to create “swarms” of givers for a cause or to solve a social problem.

One Twitter account called Online SwearJar allows people to make a donation to a cause every time they use a curse word on Twitter. The Case Foundation is giving money to people during the holidays who post pictures of someone committing “little acts of good that go unsung” on the Twitter hashtag #GoodSpotting.

With less faith in corporations or government these days, givers want to assist nonprofits more – but with a guarantee of results. To catch that trend, Oxfam America runs ads that say “gift better” (an echo of Apple’s “think different”). The Red Cross campaign this year is “give something that means something.”

The ways of giving may change but the spirit of it only grows. And celebrating the coming of Christ is a reminder of that eternal truth.

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