3 Easy Holiday Gift Ideas for Nonprofit Staff

by Joan Garry

I have 3 holiday gift ideas. Inexpensive, meaningful, and easy. You can pull off within a week. AND not expensive to ship if your team is virtual.

You slid into Thanksgiving like a baseball player stretching a double into a triple. You are filthy, battered and bruised. Those four days “off” may have included drama at the Thanksgiving table, company that wasn’t supposed to stay that long, and checking email during courses.

Thank goodness for time off, eh?

Now here you are back at your desk. You have tried to block out the light at the end of the tunnel. You know which light I mean. The light of the oncoming train of the holidays.

There’s no time left to ignore it.

My mom would always brag about the holiday shopping she did on December 27th for the following years. I really did not like when she said that. Not one little bit.

Unlike her, I’m not ready just yet. Are you? Probably not.

And if you’re lucky enough to have staff or lead volunteers, you need to do something.

I’m here to help. Seriously. I have three holiday gift ideas. Inexpensive, meaningful, and easy.

Easy means you can pull off within a week. AND not expensive to ship if your team is virtual.


It’s so easy to lose sight of the work. We get so absorbed in emails and the weeds of running the organization. When nonprofit leaders approach full-on burnout, I encourage them to sit and chat with a client, serve a meal, or listen to a staffer demonstrate that the digital strategy is beginning to show promise.

Playing off of that, here’s something we did at GLAAD for a number of years and staff loved it.

We bought very inexpensive 5 x 7 desk frames. We found someone in our organizational family who knew Photoshop or something like that. A few of us gathered an array of visuals that were easily accessible – from client photos, to a press clip headline, to a testimonial from a gala speaker, maybe a staff photo. What we are going for here is a collage. Or if there is one news headline or photo that really says it all, use that.

It should not be fancy – we’re not winning design awards here; we are just going for impact.

Print on your office printer on glossy stock and pop it into the frame. One note for all: “Your fingerprints are all over our good work this year.”

Or, “Thank you for all you did to make this year possible.”

My staff had the whole series on their desk for the number of years we made them. They loved them.


Consider the effort to change the world as a marathon and not a sprint. Better still, a relay race.

You carry the baton and hang on tight, knowing that the race depends on your leg.

There are folks who have come before you and those that will follow. You run honoring those who came before and during your tenure.

You job is to hold it tight and to carry it with honor and pride.

It’s so much more than just a metal cylinder.

Turns out you can buy them on line in bulk. Here’s just one of many. Eight of them for 27 bucks.

Next, go buy some nice inexpensive stationery and some ribbon from Staples. Write a personal note to each staff (this would be a lovely gift for board members too, by the way).

First, explain the baton. Something along the lines of, “Changing the world here at ____ is like a relay race. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and we carry the baton with honor until we are ready to pass it with care to those who follow.” Maybe this message is typed at the top of the note?

Then personalize the message of appreciation for their unique contribution to the work this year. If your handwriting is unintelligible, type, but handwritten is more intimate.

Finish the note, tie it around the baton using the ribbon and deliver to your staff and / or board.


Really? Yup.

An inspirational book – shoot for someone reaching preschool through 3rd grade. You’re looking for a quick read that packs a powerful inspirational punch.

Could be about the gift of service, about being a good person, about making a difference.

A paperback will run around $10 and it’s easy and inexpensive to ship. Add a card or inscribe a note of appreciation. Tie the message of the note to the book’s message.

Maybe staff will give it away to nephews or granddaughters. Or maybe it will just stay on their desks and get worn from re-reading.

Not to worry. I wouldn’t think to suggest this gift idea without a few specific recommendations. And so, I asked the amazing folks from our Nonprofit Leadership Lab and the ideas kept coming. Everyone had a favorite.

Here are four most excellent choices:

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

This award winning book is simply about respect for the “other.” Those who have less then, look different, or just can’t catch a break. It tackles bullying, friendship, rejection, kindness and empathy.

Have You Filled Your Bucket by Carol McCloud

According to many brain researchers, it is helpful to think of every person as being born with an invisible bucket. You can’t see the bucket, but it’s there, and it’s the responsibility of parents and other caregivers to fill a child’s bucket. When you hold, nurture, help others, and just demonstrate that you care, you are filling a bucket. Life is about filling those buckets. Many thanks to Mary Ann for the recommendation.

One by Katherine Otoshi

I was not familiar with this one but thank you to Jodi Bromberg, Executive Director of 18doors.org. Jodi buys it for everyone she knows with kids. Blue is a quiet color. Red’s a hothead who likes to pick on Blue. Yellow, Orange, Green, and Purple don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand — until One comes along and shows all the colors how to stand up, stand together, and count. Sounds awesome.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Lab member Jennie Swantz Stokum selected my personal favorite. The book is about the life’s journey of a woman (prompted by her grandmother) in search of a way to make the world more beautiful. Spoiler alert: she figures it out.

So let’s make the holidays one less thing to fret about. I hope this list lightens the load a bit for you.

P.S. Even I went with the kids’ books. Can’t beat it.

I bet many of you have great ideas too. Let’s create a list below to offer folks with even more options. Let’s fill the buckets of our fellow readers, shall we?


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