While for years our firm has held Fourth Friday Cookouts for our homeless friends in Birmingham’s inner city, one of the most rewarding experiences we look forward to each year is the Annual Christmas Challenge.
Just ahead of the Thanksgiving Break (and a day after Christmas bonuses are distributed), every employee receives a $100 bill and a challenge — change the world. We have fewer than 25 employees, so the funding for this has (thankfully) been manageable every year.
The bill is stapled to a memorandum outlining the rules. They may keep the money if they need it, but are encouraged to consider doing something amazing with it. They are allowed to pool their money for bigger projects and can kick in a little extra. Gifts to charities and churches are fine, sliding it under the door of a needy neighbor is good — just as long as the world is changing.
To make a greater impact on both the givers and recipients, we urge our people to consider not just spending, but also “doing” as part of whatever they choose. For example buying books for the Ronald McDonald House is awesome; spending an hour reading to some of the kids is perhaps a notch higher and more meaningful.
To make a greater impact on both the givers and recipients, we urge our people to consider not just spending, but also “doing” as part of whatever they choose.
Throughout the year we endeavor to support a number of charities and ministries, and we require all employees to take five paid days off each year to work for the charity of their choice (which gets assigned if they don’t comply!), and all that has built community among our staff as we see what all we can do throughout the year to help.
But Christmas is special. A few days before Christmas, we have our annual Christmas luncheon, and each employee tells us what they did with their hundred bucks, why they selected that cause, and what it meant to them to help. And every year, I have tears running down my cheeks as I hear and more deeply appreciate what an incredible group of people I work with for thinking of the things they did, and because I am reminded that the needs of the world are so very many and the resources so painfully few.
After the last employee speaks about what they did, I ask rhetorically: “So what do you think? Did we actually change the world with that little handful of money?” And the answer, year after year, is resoundingly and amazingly the same.