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Call me ungrateful, but I’ve never liked a single holiday gift Google has ever given me. Over the last five years I have spent at least $10-$15 million with Google and the collective value of the holiday gifts I’ve received in return has been perhaps $150.

I know that holiday gifts aren’t mandatory, but I’d rather just receive nothing than receive the same form letter and $25 schwag sent to everyone else. That is, until this year.

This year I opened the Google holiday gift and initially began my annual holiday gift tirade against Google. The gift is a very small flash drive that you can fit in your wallet like a business card. I figure it must have cost Google $10-$15 to make these. Cool, but is that how you say thank you to someone who probably single-handedly pays the salaries of dozens of your employees?

So I was about to write an angry post about this when something else fell out of the gift box. It was another credit card-sized card and it was from The letter than accompanied the card explained that I could use this gift card online to make a donation to a public school in need.

I went online, registered, and found a science teacher in a low-income school in Indianapolis that needed some cabinets to store his equipment. He needed $69. I applied the gift card and then found out I still had $31 of credit left. Google had given me $100 to give to the public school charities of my choice.

This really excited me for several reasons. First, I love the fact that I get to personally choose where and to whom this donation goes. Even though I had spent a total of five minutes reviewing the different options on the site, it got me into the spirit of giving.

There is a concept in marketing called “the escalation of commitment.” Once you get someone to a small thing (register, enter their credit card info, add to shopping cart, etc), it is much easier for you to get them to do a slightly bigger thing (buy a small item, sign up for a newsletter, etc) and eventually big things (become a loyal customer, refer new customers, etc).

The very fact that Google got me to register, browse, and actually select a charity on this site is a wonderful (and ethically positive!) use of escalation of commitment. The chances are now much higher that I might add $100 more to my account with my own money and continue to support this charity. If you assume Google sent this card to 100,000 customers, and you assume that only 1% of these customers end up ‘falling for’ this escalation of commitment, that’s still 1000 people who have become new members of this charity. Big numbers for any charity.

The second reason I liked this gift was because of the sheer amount of charitable donations involved. If Google gives 100,000 advertisers $100 each to donate to charity, that’s $10 million dollars. And when you consider that most Google advertisers are already middle class or above, and would probably throw any Google-branded gift in a far corner of their office, I would much rather have Google give that $10 million to worthy charities than waste it on junk I don’t need.

Imagine what would happen if this level of ‘charity as a gift’ became the norm in our society. Instead of a dozen ‘crackers and cheese spread’ gift baskets lying around the office, there were a dozen $100 donations to charities. It could really make the holidays meaningful for a lot of needy organizations (and would also reduce holiday weight gain . . . ).

Moreover, once the novelty of the concept wore off, people like me would become jaded again and start to complain about the size of the donation vis-a-vis the amount I spent with the company. So in the future I might write a post thanking Google for its $100 donation, but also chastising them for the smallness of their donation versus the $500 Yahoo gave on my behave. I would love nothing more than to see a “charity donations arms race” emerge between my vendors!

Wishful thinking for now. And for now, I’m perfectly happy with the $100 Google enabled me to give to a few public schools. It makes me feel great, and it helps the community. That’s what I call a great gift.