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Compassionate Gifts

When Sharon Saxelby’s first grandchild was born last year, she knew baby Reece would be showered with generosity by other family members, friends and well-wishers, and she was right. But, as president and CEO of a nonprofit organization called Friends of the Orphans, which transforms the lives of children in need in Latin America and the Caribbean, Saxelby was thrilled that one of the most thoughtful gifts Reece received wasn’t an expensive stroller or baby play mat.

Colleagues from work, in the spirit of celebrating Reece’s birth by helping those less fortunate, made a monetary donation in her name to their charity. Saxelby was touched by the gesture and so were Reece’s parents.

As the hectic holiday season once again approaches, gift givers frantically compile their annual lists: an iPad for their spouse, a PS3 game for their tween son, pricey jeans for their high school junior. According to the National Retail Federation, in 2009 the average amount spent on holiday gifts, food and decorations was $682.

When looking at the escalating cost and proliferation of electronic gadgetry, the clutter of DVDs, books or clothes and the time spent trying to find that special trinket, givers are realizing they could do a lot better. Creative gift giving or charitable contributions in the name of others is a lasting way to make an impact and transform the lives of those desperately in need.

Not to mention the fact that the gift of nonprofit giving will withstand the next technology iteration and continue long past this year’s fashion fad.

When heavy charitable hitters Bill Gates and Warren Buffett announced in early August their “Giving Pledge,” a recession-inspired commitment to sign over at least half of their assets to nonprofits over their lifetime or after their death, they hoped to inspire others to contribute to worthy causes as well.

For organizations like Friends of the Orphans, which supports more than 3,600 orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged children in nine Latin American and Caribbean countries, this commitment to help children in need, resonates especially powerfully this year.

“Realizing that if each family donated just 10 percent of their estimated holiday spending to a charity instead of spending it on material gifts, many recipients who are deprived of life’s most basic needs would be afforded the chance for a brighter new year,” Saxelby explains.

“For instance, an amount as small as $12 can provide a child with no shoes a brand new pair, or $100 can provide one of our children anti-retroviral HIV medication for one month. When put into the right perspective, it’s easy to see how a small amount can have a huge and lasting impact.”

Each charitable organization has different methods of encouraging holiday giving, and each is an important part of the vitality and growth of the nonprofit.

This year, Friends of the Orphans has created a unique and memorable way donors can help children in need, especially during the Christmas season. The 2010 Gift Catalog, at, allows visitors to learn about the special Christmas celebrations each orphanage has, and through donations either in their own names or on behalf of others, provide useful and appreciated gifts to the children.

Saxelby says that for the thousands of children Friends of the Orphans raises, Christmas is an especially poignant time for them, because for many, it is the first time they have felt love, warmth and hope for their future.

“Watching a happy child enjoy holiday traditions, a warm meal and then open up a bag of gifts containing shoes and clothes, when perhaps a year ago they were homeless and afraid, and knowing that our supporters make that transformation possible, is a very powerful thing,” she says.

The holidays are all about celebrating, and regardless of which organizations donors choose to contribute to, giving can make their season more rewarding and truly enrich the lives of those less privileged. Realizing that you are able to transform someone’s life is often the best gift of all. For more information about Friends of the Orphans, visit

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