If central London is anything to go by, it’s already officially Christmas. Roll on the festive excitement as the window displays at Harrods, Harvey Nicks or John Lewis are revealed – ta-dah! The lights are rigged up in Regent Street (very elegant this year, don’t you think?) and the Christmas adverts reveal various wonderlands that trigger our romantic (and ready to shop) consumer within. But as we immerse ourselves happily in this mêlée and joyfully sprinkle ourselves with tinsel, are we forgetting that this is the time of year to be thinking about others – not just ourselves and those on our Christmas present list?

Has a grandmother or teacher ever said to you “it’s not about the presents you get, Christmas is a time for giving.” Have you watched (another) mawkish advert on TV with someone going out of their way to make an unfortunate person’s life a bit brighter and admitted to yourself with a small sniffle “oh, that’s a nice thing to do”. The feeling kind of hits you right there, doesn’t it? But then – it goes away just as quickly.

The importance of remembering the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas is often gingerly impressed upon us by those who aren’t trying to sell us something, but in our largely secular society, what does this truly mean? From which sources can we draw moral insight or ethical inspiration to help make sense of this annual explosion of festive goonery?

Philanthropy is at the heart of most of our ideas about the meaning of Christmas. It’s a time to be selfless, altruistic and kind. Interestingly though, kindness doesn’t always have to be entirely selfless. Aside from the kick of goodwill that we can experience when giving to those less fortunate, charitable behaviour can be a solid way to add new strength to the culture and ethics of your company and staff. Giving is, to use a well-worn cliché, a gift that keeps giving.

Regardless of the size of your company you run or work for, there are plenty of opportunities to help someone less fortunate than yourself this Christmas. Here’s a little inspiration:

Small ones are more juicy

Small companies may not be able to devote large chunks of time or cash to charitable causes, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping efforts small and cosy.

Why not organise a get-together with some work colleagues and create a charitable master plan? It’s a great way to create a genuine team bond that comes from an innately positive place.

Something as simple as a bake sale or buying an extra present for a local project can make a difference. A Friday festive fancy dress can be a lot of fun and if you and your colleagues feel brave enough, you can take to the streets at lunchtime to shake a collection bucket at your neighbours. This sort of bravery can be greatly enhanced by mulled wine.

Step aside for the big cats

Larger organisations have the resources to be bolder with charity fundraising ideas. Why not sponsor an event and encourage colleagues or staff to take part – or why not hold an event and push to attract other sponsors? Justgiving.com and localgiving.com are two sites that make it easy to make it happen. Be imaginative – your event will be more compelling!

Challenges never go out of date (though some of the ideas can). Fun-runs might take one back to the late 80’s but are still common – likewise sitting in bathtubs of custard, extreme haircuts, and tests of human endurance a la ‘celebrity get me out of here.’

If you’re an employer, get to know what your employees are passionate about

For something more authentic, challenges can be used in a way that really highlight the plight of the people you’re trying to help. If you’re an employer, get to know what your employees are passionate about (great excuse for a focused company outing). Employees – get to know your colleagues and organise an event that genuinely means something to you. If helping the homeless is close to your heart, you can consider a ‘sponsored sleep-out’ (sleeping rough on the streets for a night in January in the rain or snow).

Get into the community spirit

If you want to do more than donate quids, then donate your time and labour too. Helping your local community directly can include taking time out of your week to go help out with the work your chosen charity is involved in.

Volunteer projects are so much more than escaping the office for a day.

Taking food around to rough sleepers, helping out at community centres, care-homes, libraries, schools, animal shelters and food banks are all rewarding possibilities. Crisis have several centres in London and throughout the rest of the country. To find who else is looking for people offering their time, Google ‘volunteer Christmas’ and the area where you work. Alternatively, contact organisations such as the Royal Voluntary Service for more inspiration.

Volunteer projects are so much more than escaping the office for a day. They offer the opportunity to solve real problems, to develop leadership, listening and delegating skills – in a much more fundamental way than any team-building exercise ever can. Reach out, do some good and see how much YOU end up benefitting too.

Bah Humbug

Charity projects are much like dogs, in that they’re not just for Christmas. Maintaining green spaces, community centres, spending quality time with elderly people and helping out at animal shelters are all things that need willing hands (and hearts) all year round – it’s only the proliferation of Christmas messages that reminds us to help more in December. Why not see if there’s something you can do on a monthly basis that people can get involved in?

As many as 82% of consumers claim to bear Corporate Social Responsibility in mind when deciding what to buy and where to shop

Working with local community organisations won’t hurt your bottom line either. Many businesses who have a community involvement policy, are not only viewed favourably by their consumers but also have happier staff. As many as 82% of consumers claim to bear Corporate Social Responsibility in mind when deciding what to buy and where to shop. There’s genuine concern amongst consumers that their hard earned bucks aren’t going into a fat-cat’s offshore account. People are much happier when they feel that the money they spend is actively being used to help people.

It can be easy to get wrapped up in the commercial fervour of Christmas. Everyone and everything seems to be encouraging us to indulge in self-fulfilling hedonism at this time of year. Ironically, one of the best ways to offer ourselves a little treat is by giving to someone else. Charitable giving not only ‘makes the world a better place’ (of course) but also improves our own sense of self-worth and happiness. Indulging your proclivity to be kind is a much healthier vice to bend to than your sugar cravings. It offers the kind of reward that your pay cheque can never quite provide. Have you just discovered your ultimate Christmas bonus?

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