A couple of weeks ago, we asked a group of mothers if the gifts we channelled into their neighbourhoods were important. We anticipated that they would say “Yes,” less we stop being a conduit for goodwill from the larger community. “Not always,” was their answer but they do find it comforting receiving presents for their children because they cannot afford to give them, and they want their children to be happy.
Gifts are a tangible way of expressing care, concern and for strengthening a relationship. Over the past 3 years we have flowed in some $450k worth of gifts and experiences into the neighbourhoods we support annually, and this does not include the ‘hand-me-downs’ as we do not put a dollar value to them. However, we are now more mindful that what we have been really trying to achieve is a relationship between our members and others in our society that fosters social inclusion. On this count, we must admit that there is much more we should do, and we need to get better at what we do.
At a meeting with 6 neighbourhood leaders, we were disappointed when they described us as service providers. We realised though that it was difficult for them to think of us differently when one of them elaborated, “There are so many service providers in our neighbourhood, and so many programmes but you are the only one that we talk to regularly.” We were indeed there to have a talk and an authentic one to understand why attendance at our programmes was dwindling. We also expressed that it was very difficult for us to explain to donors and volunteers when their gifts and time are not well received. As we did our best to listen without coming across blaming, we picked up 2 sentiments.
Firstly, while they perceive the programmes as well meaning, there are just too many and they have little time to lead their own lives. Secondly, the gifts are nice, but it always feels a little awkward receiving them from a stranger. It hit us then that $450k is a performance indicator for ourselves and not exactly a relationship that fosters social inclusion.
We remain committed to facilitating relationships that grant our members access to new information, opportunities and mobility and to do it right, we have made a list of principles and practices to guide us. Going forward, good logistical skills to distribute food and other gifts are the easy part of the job. The first task at hand will be to bring about the notion of mutuality and reciprocity. It is not about providing a gift or a programme but about developing a relationship. We will impress on our members, donors and volunteers that encounters cannot be one-way streets. All involved must consider what is it they can give that would be of value to the other.
For those of us more accustomed to giving, we need to ask what it is we can receive from those we seek to support that would be of value to us and yet not devalue them. Not such an easy question to answer but our genuineness in honouring their gift may be most valuable.
Enjoy your week
“Be transparent. Let’s build a community that allows hard questions and honest conversations so we can stir up transformation in one another.” ― Germany Kent