In a recession-ridden holiday, shop and give locally

December 8, 2008
The news stories I read and watch say that we're in a recession. The commentators I read and hear smack of Chicken Little. My 401(k) statement seems to confirm that the fiscal sky is, indeed, falling.

But you wouldn't know it from the holiday advertising and charitable solicitations clogging my TV screen and radio, mailbox, e-mailbox and newspapers.

Mercedes, Acura, Honda, Toyota, GM, Ford, Chrysler and all the rest want me to buy new vehicles for Christmas (Do people really do that? On which planet?).

Vicky's Secret wants my wife to buy lingerie.

Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn want us to refurnish our home.

Harry & David want us to buy fresh produce.

Macy's and Nordstrom want us to buy new wardrobes.

A hundred restaurants want us to eat out.

Best Buy wants us to buy electronic equipment, then entertain ourselves with a million games, CDs and videos.

The theaters want us to watch all the latest movies.

The bookstores want us to own a stay-at-home library.

And then there are the charitable solicitations:
"Please help us educate students."
"Please help us house the homeless."
"Please help us train physicians."
"Please help us nurture nursing."
"Please help us feed the poor."
"Please help us heal the sick."
"Please help us fight disease."
"Please help us promote recreation."
"Please help us perpetuate Greek life."
"Please help us advocate the arts."
"Please help us promote business."
"Please help us develop downtown."
"Please help us advance our ministry."
"Please help us save children."
"Please help us save animals."
"Please help us save the planet."
"Please help us end domestic violence."
And they're all legitimate.
And they're all worthy.

And the solicitations all come from organizations whose boards and staffs are scared to death that our depleted disposable incomes will limit our charitable contributions and further devastate their already-depleted endowment-fund revenue (if, of course, they're lucky enough to have endowment funds).

And they're probably right. So what's a year-end shopper and philanthropist to do?

Get parochial. Assuming your year-end giving and shopping means are more limited in 2008 than in past years (as are mine), you have some tough choices to make. So why not apply your tight budget in the one way that not only helps those on your giving list, but also benefits you and your community?

How? When it comes to holiday shopping and charitable giving, act locally.

Granted, when it comes to retail buying, the Internet's convenient. Yes, it might save you a few bucks on the purchase price. And yes, it will save you gas money.

But when you choose clicks over bricks, you choose to benefit who-knows-where workers and business owners who can't and won't use the revenue to benefit you and your community. Former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot once described this phenomenon as the "giant sucking sound" one hears as dollars and jobs are sent elsewhere.

Giving to non-local charities can do double damage. While these organizations may, indeed, be worthy, their worthiness goes elsewhere unless those good causes employ local people and return benefits to those in need right here at home.

The point is this: When you do your holiday shopping at a local store or make a year-end gift to a local cause, you're not only giving generously to those you most care about, but also triggering a ripple effect. Your locally invested dollars support organizations that pay local taxes, buy or lease local property and employ local maintenance workers, construction workers, etc.

Those workers and their employers, in turn, pay even more taxes, and do business with your organization, and make contributions to your favorite causes, etc.

Finally, our local governments use all that tax revenue to police our neighborhoods, pave our streets, promote job growth and otherwise make our collective livelihoods possible.

So if you're able to be generous this year, join me in a holiday giving economic development crusade. Get off the Internet. Get in the car. Go to the mall. Drop off a donation to the food bank. Or write a check to a local charity.

If you're not able to be generous with your money, be generous with your time. Every hour you volunteer can save dollars that some good cause might otherwise have to raise.

And with Chicken Little ruling the holiday roost, we all know how difficult that's going to be.


Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.
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