The Art of the Group Gift
Last year, I gave a friend of mine a laptop. Another friend received a guitar. I got a trip to California.
Are we all fabulously wealthy? No way! Our circle of friends makes liberal use of "group gifts." By pooling everyone's resources, we can give people a high-end gift they will really use and love, instead of a pile of tchotchkes that will be put aside and forgotten once the party is over.
A group gift is a pretty simple concept: everyone pitches in the $10-$30 they would have spent on a birthday or holiday gift for Susie, and Susie gets something expensive that she really wants. While simple, group giving can also become a sticky situation if done badly. Here are some guidelines for group giving. (See also: 5 Reasons to Change Traditional Gift-Giving)
Be clear who is organizing the gift.
Too many cooks can spoil a sauce, so let one person handle the communications and payments.
Be sure the gift is something your friend or family member really wants.
Nothing's more anticlimactic than coordinating efforts between 20 people only to have the recipient open your gift on Christmas morning and sincerely say, "Oh, you shouldn't have."
Not everyone wants to contribute to your fancy present, no matter how great an idea it is. People may be strapped for cash, or planning their own gift, or simply not interested. Be sure that your invitation to chip in doesn't come off as a guilt trip.
Make it easy.
Set up a PayPal or other electronic account for people to send money to, or give them an address they can drop it off at. Choose the methods that work best for your group.
Especially at the holiday season, when everyone is gift shopping, it's important to let people know early if you want to do something as a group. It might be awesome to surprise Mom with a trip to Disney under her Christmas tree. But if you wait till Christmas Eve to ask your siblings to join you in paying for it, you'll find they've already done their shopping for the year.
What kind of gifts make good group presents? Anything that is valuable to the person getting it, spendy and not particularly intimate. You probably don't want to split the cost of a pair of earrings or a dinner out, for example. Laptops, vacations, art objects and hobby supplies all make great group gifts.
Put some thought, too, into who you want to team up with. Everyone on your birthday party invite list? Just your siblings to do something special for mom and dad?
In addition to giving people more valuable gifts, group gifts are a great choice for anyone interested in a "Green Christmas." Since you're giving only one gift, you're reducing demand for piles of cheap manufactured import goods, and putting your money into a quality product.