Bright Idea: Spread Holiday Joy to Youth While Staying Out of the Red

Photograph of a large collection of wrapped gifts.

With the winter holiday season comes gift giving. Youth service programs try to bring a feeling of connection and value to young people, but money is tight. We asked FYSB grantees what they do to spread joy without breaking the bank. Shaleen Seward of Northland Family Help Center  in Flagstaff, AZ, and Vicki Stewart of Huckleberry Youth Programs in San Francisco had these helpful tips.

Make a holiday match. Northland staff ask youth to compile wish lists of three items each. Then the staff members invite Northland’s supporters to “adopt” a young person and purchase the items on his or her wish list.

Send an e-blast. Throughout the year, Seward keeps a running program wish list, which includes office supplies and other items that help the program function. In October or November, she sends an e-mail to Northland’s mailing list, which includes prior donors, former board members, former clients and other interested parties, letting them know what the program needs.

Hit up the board of directors. Your board members, both current and former, already care about your cause. And most of them can afford to contribute a little towards a holiday meal, gifts or decorations. Appeal to them for help in person, on the phone or in a personalized e-mail.

Find a corporate sponsor. Many corporations operate charitable foundations and are looking for worthwhile causes to support. The Nick Traina Foundation, a San Francisco foundation that promotes adolescent mental health, has committed itself to supporting Huckleberry House. The foundation gives a grant to the organization every year, including a $25 gift card for each young person.

Provide a drop box for gifts. The season inspires people to contribute, but they won’t if there isn’t an easy way to drop things off. Be sure everyone dealing with the public knows where it is.

Reach out to other youth programs. A successful donation drive could create a surplus. “Everything we don’t use, we give to other agencies,” says Seward.

What are your agency’s holiday gift-giving traditions? Pass them along to us at and they may appear in a future article!

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