Last fall, Blair Souder was hiking through the Himalayas when he realized that something was missing. “People really don’t have a whole lot of stuff there,” Souder says. "But what really took me back was how connected and friendly people were.” Blair returned to the United States just in time for the Black Friday shopping rush, where “the energy was all about buying as much as possible,” he says. “People were knocking each other over to buy the cheapest DVD player.”
While people around the world are in need, consumer culture encourages Americans to invest in stuff they don't even really want. So when it came time for Souder to make his own holiday wish list, he considered how he could shift that consumerist energy to a more productive place. “I had five wallets in my dresser," Souder says. "I really didn't need any more stuff." So Souder began asking friends and family to forgo gifts in favor of a charitable donation that mattered to them, like a goat from Heifer International or emergency aid for earthquake victims.
This September, Souder invited everyone else to edit their holiday focus, too. Through a new digital tool called Shift My Gift, celebrators can sign up to encourage potential givers to fund charity instead of consumerism when marking their next wedding, birthday, or holiday. Once invited to Shift My Gift, givers can connect with nonprofit organizations like the National Wildlife Federation, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Heifer International, and The Hunger Project to make a tax-deductible donation in the recipient's name. (Shift My Gift charges an additional $1.49 per donation to cover operating costs).
Souder hopes the network will help make a dent in holiday consumerism—starting with “the garbage alone that’s generated from packaging around Christmastime”—and reallocate resources to those who really need it. In return, givers and recipients will receive a boost in holiday cheer. Once Souder started shifting his gifts to charitable causes, parties took on "an entirely different vibe,” he says. "It felt really cool to be a part of this new movement.”