Community spirit of giving going viral

It was like all of twitter was a family sitting around the tree ~ @vaughndavis

A second-time player this year of #nzsecretsanta was telling me recently that he wanted to provide a really thoughtful gift because, he said, he was so inspired by the reactions to some of the gifts last year. The generosity and creativity (and ensuing gratitude) that struck the airwaves last year had a contagious affect on him, it was something he wanted to emulate. He thought long and hard about what to get his assigned person – someone, he acknowledged, who was very different from him – and went some lengths to find what she wanted. He ended up getting the reaction he wanted.

It’s easy for me to be cynical about the emotional comfort and warmth that an online community can really engender for oneself, especially a disparate group that doesn’t share a specific common interest, nor explicit ethos or values. Yet all that aside, the #nzsecretsanta online community, brought together by the fact of a geographic association with New Zealand and possession of an online twitter account, have demonstrated again what an amazing supportive, generous, caring and creative community they are as a collective.

I may be wrong, but this feels like a pretty unique online community to me.

What I observe is a self governing community that through the merits of its own members, encourages and elicits the best out of each person in the community.

What do I mean by that? Take for example a new member to the community who, upon receiving the twitter handle of the person they will be secret santa for, then tweets “omg I have an old person she’s like over 30 we have nothing in common. Can I get a new person?”. This tweet receives little attention, it is not retweeted, favourited or much commented on. Then there is a tweet from another person “omg I have *nothing* in common with my person. This is going to be a real challenge, I can’t wait”. The community love this spirit and the tweet is favourited. The community is orientating itself toward the creative generous spirit of giving, and consistently reinforcing this ‘spirit’ within the community. It is in these small details that the community spirit is fostered from within.

This is what makes the job of being a Secret Santa elf so enjoyable. I’m one of the Secret Santa elves, and I work in the Online Team at NZ Post, alongside 3 other elves within my team, an elf in Global Logistics, and another at the coalface up at the Santa Storehouse in Auckland. Every time an exceptional tweet pings into the airwaves, we share the feedback with this small team. As with the #nzsecretsanta community, this group of elves have no dictates from above about how to behave, yet in each of us, there is a massive willingness to facilitate an awesome experience for a very deserving community.

Yup, I was impressed last year with the creativity of the gifts that Secret Santas sent, but this year, I was on occasion, brought to tears with the sensitivity of many of the gifts (see @NapierinFrame’s famous #nzsecretsanta tweet).

The community has grown, and so has the spirit.

The orientation towards giving – as opposed to receiving – gains momentum each year. Last year certain individuals stepped forward with proposals, and the community openly supported a larger participation in giving to Charity through this game. This year we saw Givealittle causes started, many donations made on behalf of a Santa player, and on a couple of occasions, specific charities became the named benefactor of the intentioned gift.

In acknowledgement of this movement, the elves at NZ Post wanted to explicitly support this growing community ethos. So we approached the coffer holders of NZ Post. Not only would the chosen charity (this year; Christchurch City Mission) receive gifts in lieu of the ‘bad santas’ in the community, NZ Post agreed to provide a cash donation of $1 for every sign up (which later was doubled to $2 per sign up). With 3000 players signed up this year, it was a handsome $6000 cheque that Jared, our Global Logistics elf, handed over to Michael of the Christchurch City Mission.

Michael was at the Mission on Christmas day to distribute the gifts, and provide a Christmas lunch for families in need over this special, yet stress-filled time. He wrote to us saying:

“On Christmas Day, after the lunch put on by The Christchurch City Mission for about 600 people, Santa came and gave out gifts to the children.

One woman told me she had three children, one with a physical, and one with a mental handicap. Her husband was made redundant (with no redundancy pay) just before Christmas and they had just had a rental increase; nothing new in Christchurch at the moment. She had no money for any extras in life. We were able to give them some of the Secret Santa gifts. She cried as she said thanks.

A young girl gave me $2 to thank me for giving a gift to her little brother. I took this money to help her keep her independence and I ensured that she was also given a gift.

The looks on the children’s faces and the relief expressed by the parents was a joy to behold.

The Christchurch City Mission is delighted to be part of NZ Post Secret Santa. Together we have helped families share the wonder of Christmas and have ensured that poverty has not excluded children from enjoying what the rest of us have at this special time of year.

Thank you …”

Michael Gorman,
City Missioner.

Again, it has been a privilege and an honour to help facilitate the NZ Secret Santa game for 2014. Thank you to everyone who participated so wholeheartedly, and may this spirit of giving that has been engendered and fostered within this community, go viral.

I shall end with a comment from a new nzsecretsanta player I overheard talking, she said; “the effort that people put into their gifts was so amazing. I want to make more of an effort next year to super wow someone”. Yeah, go grrl!

Alys Titchener

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