Brace Yourself

Today is Thanksgiving and tomorrow is Black Friday. We know the majority of all Americans will be shopping over the long weekend with 20 percent shopping today and 70 percent tomorrow. More than 43 percent will be shopping on Saturday (Small Business Saturday) and another 48 percent on Cyber Monday. The holiday shopping season has begun and the expectations from retailers and online merchants are high this year.

However, it is not like it used to be when retailers were accustomed to the holidays making up 25 percent of their annual sales. In fact, the trend has been steadily declining and today sales in November and December now account for less than 21 percent of annual retail sales at physical stores, and experts believe it will keep dropping. It might not seem like much but those extra percentage points would have translated into an extra $70 billion more in buying for last year.

“There was a mindset even before online shopping,” says Michael Niemira, principal at The Retail Economist, “but this just accelerated it.”

More people are shopping for the holidays all year long now. Heavy discounting has diluted sales, and with big promotions throughout the year, shoppers no longer hold off making their biggest purchases until the holidays. As well, the amount of year-end advertising and promotion has declined as people have spread their buying out over the whole year.

So far, we don’t see similar trends in giving. Consider these statistics:

  • Nearly 30 percent of all annual giving occurs in December.
  • Over 12 percent of all giving happens in the last three days of the year.
  • Almost 30 percent of non-profits raise between a quarter and half of their annual funds in November and December.
  • Sixty percent of non-profits make between one and three contacts with donors in November and December.

The world has changed for retail sales but not so much for charity. We can still expect to be inundated with multiple requests for contributions between now and the end of the year. If you are like me you are already bracing yourself for it.

I love the martial arts choreography in movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I asked a black belt friend how he hardened his hands for real (not staged) competition. It seemed simple enough. Set up a five-gallon bucket of white rice and punch your hands in it 10-12 times in a row five times a day. When that no longer hurts use a five-gallon bucket of dry beans for several weeks and then graduate to five gallons of sand.

While it takes time to become hardened it is a simple process. My martial arts friend cautioned me, “Be careful. The process is irreversible once the calluses are there….and you could really hurt someone with them.”

Similarly,  I’ve discovered a way to build calluses on the heart – especially this time of year. Plunge your hands five times a day into websites, television, and email coming from nonprofits and ministries. When the numbing is sufficient start on your direct mail stack and auto signed personal letters. When all the feeling is gone move up to repeated plunging into personal visits, phone calls and notes from friends to attend banquets and galas. For the final hardening dwell on all the disappointments, misused gifts, unrealistic expectations and posed pictures of children and women. By then you should have to register your heart as a lethal weapon and be required to warn people before meeting with them.

Is that really what God wants? I believe what He desires instead is for us to resist becoming hardhearted. Two things I have learned that have helped me. First, we can learn from the retail trends and change our giving to be more consistent over the course of the year. Not only would it gradually change the pressure the non-profits feel to produce end of the year campaigns but there would be a valuable side effect. We would see a change in our own hearts as generosity becomes a habit and not a splurge. Second, what I have discovered and heard from others is this: resistance builds heart muscle and not calluses. Constant exposure to irritation builds calluses but the patient practice of giving builds strength. Calluses are dead and hard while muscles are alive and growing. There is no way to avoid the predictable barrage of incoming requests for help – especially in this season. So, focus on the few things that matter most to you and refuse to let your heart, mind, and soul become hardened. Remember, the process is irreversible for hands…but not for hearts.

Fred Smith1 Comment