FORUM: How does your program handle holiday season gifts?

6598576457_8234fc4768_nOver in Expert Corner, we’ve posted a nice excerpt from The Mentor’s Field Guide on whether mentors should buy gifts for their mentees, an issue that can crop up throughout the year, but often takes on increasing importance every holiday season. The end-of-year holidays carry a lot of symbolism and emotion for most people, and mentors can struggle with the tension between program rules, personal motivations and feelings, and the spirit of giving and sharing that accompanies these holidays.

I was talking with a fairly well-known mentoring professional a while back (I’m not naming names!) who admitted in conversation that they occasionally break the gift-giving rules of the program where they volunteer, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. These were smallish gestures, mostly, but included things like buying a turkey for Thanksgiving or getting a few small stocking stuffers for the mentee and siblings. This mentor always checked with the parent to see if these gestures were OK, but usually didn’t mention them to the program staff because of the inevitable admonishment that those types of gestures were not permitted by the program. This particular mentor felt like these gifts were minor and the type of thing that caring, decent people do for each other, while also fully admitting that programs have every right to prohibit such activities.

I’m not going to judge the attitude of this mentor, especially in a public forum like this, but I found the conversation to be refreshingly honest about the disconnect that can happen between volunteers’ values  and culture and programs’ rules and concerns. On one hand, I imagine that I’d be freaked out if I was this mentor’s case manager: What other rules does this mentor deem unworthy of following?! But I also sympathized with the mentor: They were from a culture where one provided a little extra to those in need this time of year and where a thoughtful (or much-needed) gift was an essential part of having a true relationship with someone. In some ways, it became a choice between expressing love for the mentee and the family over respecting the authority of the program that brought them together. That’s a rough choice on a lot of levels.

So I’m curious to know: How does your program handle holiday gifts? Do you make a special allowance for gift giving at this time of year? Do you allow it with parent consent? Or does your program stick to a “no gift” policy year around? And how do you handle it when you find after the fact that the mentor-provided turkey was delicious? Please share your thoughts and strategies in the comment section below! I’m really interested to see where our readers draw the lines…
[Photo courtesy of Hades2K via Flickr]