For the past four years, the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy Center for Transformative Action has been holding the Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair to give holiday shoppers the option of donating to local nonprofit organizations instead of buying material gifts. Accent Editor Jamie Saine spoke to Anke Wessels, executive director of CRESP, about the fair’s growing popularity.
Jamie Saine: Can you tell me a little bit about the CRESP Center for Transformative Action?
Anke Wessels: We’re a nonprofit affiliated with Cornell [University] dedicated to social justice work. We provide nonprofit status to 12 project partners in our community. You may know of the Workers Center, Positive News, Vitamin L. Eco Village has its education mission through us. All these organizations get their nonprofit status through us, and we also offer fiscal and administrative services.
We also are doing work in this area called “transformative action,” which is a model for social change that moves us away from an “us versus them” anger-driven, antagonistic-ridden form of social change to a social change work that’s really driven by a positive vision like “where are we going to” instead of “what are we against.”
JS: There were only about 12 organizations involved in the alternative gift fair’s first year, and this year it’s around 30. How did you get more organizations involved?
AW: We started to advertise. … We advertised through the Human Services Coalition list serve and through some other means — e-mails basically and other kinds of list serves. And, you know, what organization wouldn’t want to take part? It’s such a great idea. It’s good for the organization, it’s good for the community. It really offers an opportunity for people to provide gifts to others that aren’t material based, and it’s great for the organizations that are getting these donations.
At this point we have more applicants than we can actually physically take because … there’s a limit to the amount of space. And also if you have too many organizations, like this year we have 31 … the amount of money that gets donated gets distributed more thinly. But we’re considering growing through a Web site offering, so people can go purchase gifts, basically donate money online, before the actual physical fair, and that way we might be able to serve more organizations in the future.
JS: How are the participating organizations chosen?
AW: We have an application. The only criteria we set is that the organization have a local base and that they have a nonprofit status. … This year, because we had more applicants than we could offer space to, we started a waiting list and we … took first come, first serve, basically. So the earlier an organization applied the more likely it was going to be able to participate. Then we had a waiting list, but nobody withdrew.
JS: I can see why organizations would hold on to their spots.
AW: I know. But like I said, it’s a little bit of a concern, so that’s why we’d like to think about more creative ways to have more organizations participate if possible.
JS: Last year the fair had gifts ranging from $5 to $100 donations. Do you know what this year’s gift options are going to be?
AW: If you go to the Web site there are links to all organizations and from there you’ll see all of the gifts that the organizations are offering, so that will give you a good sense of what kind of gifts there are.
JS: How has the attendance been over the past few years?
AW: Oh, it’s just been phenomenal. … The first year I think they raised about $7,000, and that amount has grown substantially ever since. I think the next year was around 12, and last year we raised $20,000. So just in that alone I would say that more and more people are coming to the fair. And what’s so great is the atmosphere, sort of the energy that they bring with them, because it’s just so fun to be offering something that’s so concrete and knowing that you’re doing good for an organization. … You’re thinking about an individual and what they might like and what kind of organization they might want to support. It’s really a fun way of giving gifts.
The Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church. For a list of participating organizations, visit www.ithacaaltgiftfair.org.