Corporations say token gifts didn't seem right this year, giving to charity did

Monday, December 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ Like many companies, the GSD&M advertising agency sends a small gift each year to the people it does business with, a simple tradition meant to say thanks and happy holidays.

But this year, just sending a box of candy didn't seem appropriate. Helping charities did.

``We're still sending the chocolates, but in addition to that, in honor of our many friends and clients and vendors, we also included a card that said we're giving to local charities in their name,'' said Eric Webber, spokesman for the Austin agency.

GSD&M is one of several companies, big and small, rethinking holiday activities in light of the terrorist attacks.

``Many companies are saying we've always done this or that, but now we're going to give money to a charity instead,'' said Charles Moore, executive director of New York-based Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy, which tracks corporate donations.

For GSD&M, known for its ``Don't Mess With Texas'' campaign as well as its work with Southwest Airlines and Chili's, giving locally is important.

``It's partly in response to 9-11 because a lot of local charities have been hurt by all the money going to national charities,'' said Webber, whose agency is giving to Austin-area charities that help elderly people and children.

In Dallas, 7-Eleven canceled its normally elaborate holiday party, instead ordering 1,000 turkeys for employees to keep or donate to the Dallas food bank.

Dallas-based Blockbuster Inc., which normally gives corporate gift baskets containing items such as videos and DVDs, this year instead gave to the Sept. 11 Fund, spokeswoman Liz Green said.

Those on the receiving end have been appreciative.

``Rather than having an item that we may or may not use, it's nice to know that money's being put to use,'' said Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Beth Harbin, whose Dallas office has received several cards announcing a donation in the company's name instead of the usual fruit and candy.

Individuals and families have also been re-evaluating their seasonal giving. Many are also seeking ways to restore an emphasis on family and close friends and are trying to downsize their celebrations to save money to give to charities.

Laura Monti, a graduate student in biology from Arlington, Va., has asked relatives and friends to donate money to the Nature Conservancy in her name rather than buy her a gift.

``I am concerned that the events of Sept. 11 and a weak economy are leading to reductions in donations to many worthy charities,'' she said. ``I have come to realize more bath soaps, shirts and earrings don't do a thing to make me content.''

More than six in 10 Americans say they want to make this holiday more meaningful than in past years, according to a poll by the Center for a New American Dream, a Maryland-based non-profit group that helps Americans cut their consumption and simplify their lives.

Early this month, the center teamed with the national non-profit agency Alternative Gifts International to sponsor an ``Alternative Gift Market'' in Takoma Park, Md., where individuals could browse for the charity of their choosing and donate in the name of family members.

Such markets have been sponsored around the country, said Eric Brown, the center's communications director, to reach people ``before they've already spent all of their Christmas loot.''

American consumers said they would spend $1,564 per household this year on holiday-related goods and services, down 7 percent from last year, according to the 2001 Retail Index survey done by American Express Corp.

Bill McKibbon's book, ``Hundred Dollar Holiday,'' suggests that spending and simplification need not be contradictory concepts.

``Buying soup for the unemployed helps the economy at least as much as buying motorized spice racks for each other,'' the book says.