With the holiday season in full swing, you might be looking for some creative ways to liven up old traditions in your office.

Maybe your office needs a fresh way to bring the giving spirit of the season into your typical holiday activities. Here are some simple things your company can do to foster a warm and friendly culture between coworkers all while contributing positively to people in need.

Have a giving tree

A giving tree is a more charitable version of the Christmas tree you might already have in your office.

Instead of merely serving as a festive decoration, a giving tree enables employees to choose a charity they’d like to donate to. To set up a giving tree in your office, attach tags in place of ornaments, each representing a charity or organization in need. Employees can select a tag from the tree and fill the stated need.

While you can choose to represent a variety of different charities, selecting one cause that all employees can get involved with can be a good way to bring the office together. When I was in high school, my friends and I set up a giving tree outside the school library, as a fundraiser for the Harambee Centre, an organization which provides, among other things, ambulatory services; and which builds schools for children in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Whether you choose to collectively raise money for one cause, or donate to a variety of charities, you can keep track of how much you’ve raised and announce it to the whole office at the end of the year, so people can have a moment to feel proud of their contribution.

Alternatively, you can always have your employees purchase physical items from a local charity’s wish list, and then place them under the tree as gifts. A group of colleagues might even enjoy dropping these items off together.

Sponsor a family

At Bplans, we do this by working with a local homeless shelter, who assigns us a group of families in need. We split the office into groups, each with a budget and a family to sponsor. Together, each group is responsible for purchasing basics like coats and socks, as well as presents for the family, and these things are then delivered in time for the holidays.

This is a great way to get people from different departments in your organization to meet and engage with one another, as well as doing a good deed.

Combine your holiday party with a charity auction

Throwing a holiday party for your office? Consider combining it with a silent auction, so everyone can have the great experience of a fun holiday event while also bidding on some donated prizes. You can give the money raised to a local charity.

One fun way to decide which charity to donate to would be to have the office vote, perhaps using an email survey provider like Survey Monkey, where employees can weigh in on their preferred recipient organization. Don’t forget to give a special gift to the employees who helped organize the party and auction.

Sign up to participate in a local event, like a seasonal fun run

Another way to be both festive and charitable during the holiday season is to sign up as a team to do something in the community. We’ve done this a few times here at Bplans—including cleaning up a local park—and it’s always fun.

There are plenty of possibilities, from The Ugly Sweater Run to volunteering for a shift at a nearby food bank. You can search local listings for activities in your area too.

Bring the spirit of giving into the office for your employees

It’s wonderful to give to charity during the holidays and all year round, but it’s also thoughtful to encourage your employees to be generous toward each other.

These events can also easily be combined; for example, hold a holiday potluck after you complete the charity run. There’s no reason you can’t do both, and it will be more fun for everyone.

Holiday potluck: A holiday potluck is pretty self-explanatory—it’s a more casual version of the standard office holiday party, where everyone cooks a holiday related dish and brings it in to share. Remember to have everyone write the ingredients on cards, in case you have employees with restricted diets or food allergies.

We’ve just done a fun variation on this at Bplans this week: a holiday cookie bake-off, where people get to vote for their favorite cookies.

Secret Santa: While not necessarily charitable, a Secret Santa gift exchange encourages employees to get to know one another, and everyone gets a little present, which is always nice!

If you’re not familiar with the idea, start by having employees draw names from a pool of everyone in the office, and then purchase a gift for the person whose name they have drawn.

Remember to set a price limit so that all presents are of about equal value, and no one feels the pressure to spend a large amount of money. It’s also a good idea to let any employees who ask to be omitted from the game; for some people, it just isn’t their thing.

White elephant: This combines the general idea of Secret Santa with a fun game.

To set up a white elephant exchange, ask all your employees to buy a small gift (still with a price limit), but tell everyone that the gift must be a silly, novelty item.

Fun trivia: The idea of giving a “white elephant” gift is meant to imply a gift that is undesirable or burdensome. Supposedly, this tradition got its name from one of the kings of Siam, who gave albino elephants as gifts to people that displeased him. Naturally, the recipient couldn’t refuse, even though the animals were difficult to care for and expensive to keep.

To play the game, everyone stands in a circle, and the first person chooses any gift to open. After that, the second person can decide if they want to take the already opened present or chance it on a new, unwrapped one. The game continues in this manner until all of the presents are gone. This is a great idea for a company culture with a sense of humor and is probably best for a smaller group.

While the holiday season can be stressful, these activities can help add a bit of charity and holiday spirit into your workplace. Plus, you’ll be strengthening your company culture by letting your team know that you value giving back to your community. These suggestions should make any work environment a little cheerier!

What is your company doing to celebrate and give back during the holidays? If you try one of these things out, let us know how it went!

AvatarAngelique O'Rourke

Artistic + intellectual pursuits. Social justice. Actress. Model. Musician. Eugene // Portland.