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'Tis the Season!

It’s time to think about Gifts.

‘Tis the season to be jolly goes the song, oh and to give gifts! It seems like a good time to think about what a gift is and how we offer and accept gifts.

Let’s be clear – this is not a shopping Blog!

I’m thinking here about the nature of a gift and in particular the “gifts” we offer in the world of service delivery. An odd thought maybe? Let’s see.

When we think about gifts at this time of the year it can be a rush and a stress to think of and to buy the right thing for each person. Aunties, Uncles, nieces, nephews, mums, dads, friends, teachers, son, daughter, husband, or wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend! Many of us end up scouring late night shopping stores on Christmas Eve in part panic and part thrill. What do they want? What may they like? Can I afford it? Is it too much? Will I offend them? Sound familiar? We end up exhausted and frequently the gifts end up in a draw or on eBay a month later.

What we are struggling with here is a mix of cultural pressure and expectation and a lack of knowledge about what the person may really need or want.

Do we do similar gifting in service delivery? The analogy of service delivery as a gift may seem strange but it asks us to think about our gift offers from the viewpoint of offering something of value to another. Perhaps from this view, we can get clear about what we offer to others and why. So, imagine for a moment a table of brightly packaged gifts to offer to those coming to us to engage in our services. How do we name the gifts of service delivery? How do we make sure the “gifts” we offer are the ones that are useful and treasured?

What do we need to consider for our offer and what is inside those packages to be the right match? One thing is to understand that the definition of a 'gift' is the transfer of something without the expectation of payment. Although gift-giving might have an expectation of reciprocity, giving a gift should be void of such assumption.

Think how messy it is in families and friendship groups when gift giving comes with expectations. It’s not a gift if we are expecting something in return – we hope that the person will be better off because of the gift but if we expect that they will change or even comply, it’s not a gift. It especially is not a gift if we put punitive and restrictive conditions around it. This stops us in our tracks because frequently an offer of service is conditional, “you must fill this form out”, “you must answer these questions”, “you must have a certain diagnosis to meet our entry criteria”. However, when we think about the gift that transforms the recipient and gives joy it usually has a few key elements, and conditions are not part of them.

Most gift giving guides will advise giving gifts that are practical, designed for the person, offer life giving experiences, are presented well but mostly are thoughtful. This is because in all our gift giving human rituals the focus is always about the relationship. This includes the building of social bonds and connections. The very things that build the foundations of a civil society.

How might this apply when we are offering a social service? A “service gift” that brings joy and transformation is one given with deep thought, knowledge and understanding of the person, and love. It is freely given and expresses a deep empathy with what may meet that person’s needs, hopes, dreams, and desires and a demonstration that we understand them. It is both unconditional and transformational. It requires both genuine curiosity and compassion.

Gift giving although not conditional is mutually beneficial, the gift giver receives pleasure from giving.

When thinking about the gift analogy it could be easy to get caught in the concept of gifts as unethical practice or thinking of the offer of service as a fair trade for payment made and therefore not a gift at all.

At Mind-Life we started to think about human services as offering “service gifts” the transformational kind. We considered how problematic some things we routinely do may not be experienced as a valued gift. For example, if it’s the same offer for everyone, if we haven’t taken enough time to understand the person’s needs, or if we rush to an offer. Perhaps then when we ignore some of the fundamentals in getting the offer and the “service gift” right its not useful or valuable at all.

We developed a few questions on this theme to help us consider our offers through the lens of gift giving. Try these out, think of the situation or offer and ask a question.

The “gifts” of service might include offers of support, offers of doing something for someone, transport, emergency relief, financial counselling, a paid friend, respite, coaching, counselling, group events, social events etc.

Ask these questions to decide if the offer is a solid one.

· Has the gift the potential to transform?

· Is this the gift a person has asked for?

· Does this gift leave the person indebted?

· How does this gift provide a key for problem solving?

· What is the return policy?

· How could this gift be one that keeps giving?

· What value does this gift give to a person’s life?

· Is this the right gift or is it a quick gift?

· Is this gift unique to the person or to the masses?

· Is this gift more than someone was expecting?

· What is the risk of receiving this gift?

· How to offer a gift without embarrassment, shame, or offence?

These questions assist us to consider the nature of the “service gift” on offer, sometimes a quick gift is ill-fitting, sometimes a mass produced gift doesn’t fit the individual persons request or need, sometimes we give the gift because we like it, or need it, sometimes we give the gift because we think it will be good for the person to solve a problem we think they have but they don’t identify (think deodorant – this never rates well on any gift giving list!).

What questions will you ask for your offers of service?

And because it is a traditional time of year for gift giving maybe these questions may also help you on Christmas Eve this year!

Happy Holidays.

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1 Comment

Jan 02, 2022

I like the gift analogy for service delivery. It raises some important points. I have worked in service delivery roles in the past but am sharing my views as a service user. The better a provider understands their service user, the better and more cost effective a service can be.

The questions to decide if the offer is a solid one are good but one question stands out as the easiest to meet

Is this the gift a person has asked for?

Avoid the ambiguity of gift giving by simply asking people what they want. There needs to be more roots based community co-design in CMO’s. Some organisations are already doing this well but purposeful co-design takes practice. Qualitative data…

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