by David W. Miller

True confessions. I delete most electronic greeting cards without opening them. They take time to download. I’m in a hurry. Too many unanswered E-mails in my in-basket. I look to see who sent it, just before my right pinky finger comes down on the “delete” key.

But this time, amid deleting a deluge of corporate Christmas and holiday season E-cards, I stopped mid-delete. “Wait, what?” I said to myself. I was stunned by this one’s brevity and message. Here’s all it said:

Dear David Miller,

It’s the time of year to share the warmth and joy of the holiday season with friends, family, and communities. Because we are a different kind of company, we’ve decided to do holiday gift giving differently this year. In the true spirit of giving, please choose a local charity you’d like to support, and we’ll make a holiday donation in your name. Click here to make your selection.

Happy holidays!

North Highland

What? No coupon for me to buy myself something? No promotional gadget or thumb drive emblazoned with a company logo? What kind of holiday greeting was this?!

It’s about We not Me. So I clicked on the link, and it led me to a choice of three local charities, including a food bank to help feed the homeless. I selected one to receive “my” gift. So struck was I by this creative and generous gesture — and so fitting with the true spirit of Christmas and the holiday season — that I E-mailed the CEO and one of his top executives, who are friends, to thank them for this different kind of gift.

The Back Story. After a few E-mails back and forth, they quickly gave credit to the source of the idea. Soon my research assistant was interviewing the VP of North Highland’s Denver office, who had come up with the idea. We learned that traditionally each regional consulting office signed and mailed beautiful holiday cards to clients. But this year the employee-owned company sought a more sustainable way to send holiday messages, coupled with their long tradition of philanthropy and community service.

After much brainstorming, it was agreed that each one of the company’s 20 regional offices in the U.S. would chose two or three charities to support. Then each regional office sent an E-mail to their clients asking them to choose one of the pre-selected charities they would like to support, and North Highland would make a donation in the client’s name.

Response? Client reactions to this innovative approach to “sharing the warmth and joy of this holiday season” has been nothing short of amazing. At last count a remarkable 29 percent of recipients have responded, choosing a charity in their region to receive the North Highland donation. Many heartfelt responses from grateful clients have been received. The initiative not only redirected funds from the annual holiday mailing to help local people in need, but it also helped them engage their clients in the community.

To be sure, thousands of companies give both time and money to charities throughout the year, and North Highland’s holiday campaign is only a part of their overall yearly corporate giving. And at a time when many non-profits are struggling (according to a recent study from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, nearly 60 percent of non-profits experienced flat or declining donations last year), every individual and corporate contribution matters.

True Confessions. I sometimes find myself awash in consumerism during this special time of the year, and forget the ancient meanings of Hanukkah (a time of “rededication”) and Christmas (celebrating the birth of Jesus). Who’d have thought a business holiday campaign would remind me of the real reason for the season?

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and season’s greetings to all.

About the author: David W. Miller, Ph.D. is the founder and director of Princeton University’s Faith & Work Initiative (U.S. 1, April 7, 2010).

A 1979 graduate of Bucknell with the dual major in business and German, Miller joined Midland Bank, becoming director of securities, and maintained that position when Midland was bought by the HBSC Group. He was transferred to London for eight years, first as head of international mergers and acquisitions for State Street Bank, then later as a partner in a private equity firm.

After 16 years in banking and corporate management, Miller felt a new calling. Miller, a Catholic, says the desire for change came gradually. “It was not a crisis in my career or negating of the past,” he says. “Rather, it was a new, added direction in my life.” He returned to academe, taking a master’s of divinity and Ph.D. in ethics from Princeton Theological Seminary. After teaching at Yale’s business and theological schools, Miller and his wife, Karen, a former lawyer and law school professor, returned to Princeton and launched the Faith & Work Initiative.

He is author of “God at Work” (Oxford University Press, 2007) and president of the Avodah Institute (www.avodahinstitute.com), which helps business leaders integrate the claims of their faith to their work.

For more information visit http://faithandwork.princeton.edu or http://faithandworkblog.com

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