I don’t know about you, but I am so pleased to see spring. As part of the “Gratitude Journal” I keep to reduce stress (that’s a story for another time), I have written, “I am thankful that I do not live in Boston,” more times this past winter than anything else. I was telling this to my dear friend of 20 years, Karla Curtis, vice president of PIE Technologies (the people who produce MoneyGuidePro).

We agree that all the snow this past winter reminded us of the Christmas holidays, and Karla told me about the firm’s employee holiday benefit, the “1K Pass It On.” I was so intrigued that I decided to share it with you, but I’ve asked Karla to tell it in her own words.

Bob [Curtis] and I began this “program” in 2011. The genesis was a conversation I had with a friend I’ve known since elementary school. She told me that her mother (who was then in her mid-80s and whose only income is Social Security) was trying to decide what expenses she could cut in the coming year, because the upcoming [cost-of-living adjustment] was 0%. She was going to stop her subscription to the weekly local newspaper and her membership at the Y, where she exercised a few times a week.

My friend’s mother wasn’t destitute by any means, but she had very little discretionary income. And she’s a lovely, positive woman and an active, involved citizen. She’d volunteered at the veteran’s nursing home for years and had recently begun volunteering at the local senior center, serving lunch to many people who were younger than she. Bob and I sent her a check for $1,000, telling her that we’d started a tradition of playing Santa at Christmas time, and we thought she’d enjoy having some money that she could spend on whatever she wanted. She sent us a thank you note, explaining that she’d had as much fun “deciding where to spend” as she did spending.

 We realized that many of us know someone who could use extra money, particularly in the December holiday season. The next December, we began “$1K Pass It On” at PIE. It’s a voluntary program for employees with these rules:

• PIE will give you $1,000 (grossed up so PIE pays the taxes).
• You can select someone (an individual or a family, not a charity) to receive the $1,000, or two people/families to each receive $500.
• It’s not tax-deductible for you. We assume you already give to the charities of your choice. And PIE does the same.
• The idea is to choose someone who can use the money and who will appreciate getting a gift.
• You can give the $1,000 to family members (including adult children), friends, neighbors, acquaintances, etc.
• You cannot give the $1,000 to your spouse or dependent children (because that’s the same as giving it to yourself).
• After you give the money, send me an e-mail with a brief note of who you chose and why.

Everyone at PIE have worked hard to build a successful company. And not everyone who works hard is rewarded. There are so many other factors that affect success—e.g., good decision-making, being in the right place at the right time, (metaphorically) dodging bullets and some amount of luck. PIE has an annual charitable contribution budget, and we use almost all of it to support non-profit organizations in our local county. The $1K Pass It On is another way of helping people in our community—defining “community” as those who are connected in some way to PIE’s employees. I think of it as sending ripples of support from PIE out into the world.

In our first year of the $1K program, one recipient, who was going through a particularly contentious and messy divorce and used the money to buy gifts for her grandchildren, wrote a thank you note which said, “I can’t tell you how much it mattered that [the PIE employee] thought of me. The fact that someone cared about me was more valuable than the money itself. You have helped restore my faith in humanity.”

Over the years, employees have given the money to parents, adult siblings, adult children, neighbors, their spouses’ colleagues, acquaintances from their church, acquaintances who are involved with an organization that helps others and members of their extended family. Some of the stories are heartbreaking—many recipients have had extensive or prolonged health issues, which become the tipping point that sends the family into a financial hole.

Sometimes the recipients need the money to survive—because their heat or electricity has been turned off or they’re behind on rent or mortgage payments. Sometimes the money eases a stressful situation or helps the recipient move forward in their life. We’ve had a few recipients who used the money to expand their small business or to pay for college courses. Our rule of giving only to one or two recipients is a bit arbitrary, but we wanted the amounts to be meaningful. We’ve had several cases where the recipient took part of the money and then passed it on to someone else they knew who was also in need.

Particularly when the recipient is a close family member, it makes a difference that the money is coming from PIE. When the recipient has said, “I’m not going to take your money,” our employees have said, “It’s not my money, and I can’t keep it. This is something my company does every year. If you don’t take it, I have to give it to someone else.” We have a number of employees who tell us that the $1K program has become one of their favorite parts of the holiday season.”

Many firms participate in their own charitable events, gifting programs, volunteer programs or other community-based efforts. In fact, many younger people expect to be able to participate in some sort of volunteer event as part of their employment. Former Morningstar CEO Don Phillips once said that many people interviewing for jobs at the company asked what volunteer opportunities they would have as employees.

RegentAtlantic in Morristown, N.J., for example, has participated in Habitat for Humanity, financial literacy programs for inner-city kids in conjunction with Junior Achievement and even planted trees for the Morris Land Conservancy. The firm also has a corporate matching fund of up to $250 per colleague where it matches contributions to 501(c)(3) charities.

Accredited Investors in Edina, Minn., took a week last year and worked on two Habitat houses. Ross Levin, the firm’s president said that the sponsorship cost about $10,000. The firm set up schedules and had staff, partners and clients working throughout the week. Levin explains, “This is the second time in three years that we have done a big Habitat event. We have been involved with Habitat since we brought our company and some clients down to New Orleans to work on post-Katrina.” Each Accredited staff member gets five paid volunteer days off a year and the firm tries to do one company project annually.

So far, I have not found any other firm that uses the “Pass it On” idea. You might ask, “Is this really different than our other charitable efforts?” Well, along with her story, Karla also sent me a link to an article by Carl Richards printed in The New York Times in 2012, “Spending Your Money to Make Someone Else Happy.” (http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/10/spending-your-money-to-make-someone-else-happy/?_r=0). The writer had his own story about sharing $100 with a family in need, then cites research to support the theory that people tend to be happier when they give to someone else, rather than spending on themselves.

This really got me thinking. Our firm sponsors a highly popular charity golf event in Miami, and we have given thousands away to local charities that way. But the “$1K Pass It On” program has an entirely more personal aspect to it. I like that people get to control their own personal gift and use it where they know it is needed most. They experience on a very one-to-one basis the impact that a personal gift of money can bring. For some firms, this might prove to be a big cost, but you can use $100 and still create the impact (and happiness). At our firm, there is one area where we might redirect our funds to impact others’ lives more than impacting our own waistlines: Instead of having an expensive holiday party (which we have done in the past,) it might be wonderful if this year we used that money to institute our own “Pass It On.”

You’ve got a few months to work out if this might work for you. Happier holidays!

Deena Katz is associate professor in the personal financial planning department at Texas Tech University, a partner in Evensky & Katz in Coral Gables, Fla., and the author of several books on planning and practice management.