What is your opinion on giving people a donation to a charity in lieu of a personal gift? If they didn't ask you to do it, is it still ok? Does it matter if they have ever done it for you? Check out some other people's opinions in this discussion at Reddit.
I've been agonizing over this topic quite a bit. Last year, I did a donation as a gift for one relative (see "I Gave My Great-Aunt a Water Buffalo") and it went over well. So this year, I decided I would give all my aunts (5 of them) and my great aunt a small token gift (inexpensive items purchased on my trip to Africa) and include a card saying that I was making charitable donations in honor of our family instead of larger gifts. But in the past week or so, I started to have second thoughts.
My aunts tend to all give me a small gift every Christmas. Some of them have better taste than others (see "Gifts Gone Wrong") and the spending range seems to be all over the place. I had a back-and-forth email with one of the aunts last year as to whether we'd exchange presents at all. I'd already bought her something small and told her so, but said she didn't have to give me anything, though she still did. I would never be so rude as to say this directly, but I'd love to tell my aunts that I would be thrilled if they'd give money to charities rather than giving me crappy cheap gifts. Of course, one person's idea of a crappy cheap gift might be someone else's idea of something really nifty! And maybe my aunts like getting presents, and would think it was presumptuous and preachy of me to give donations in their name instead!
So the other night I had a moment where I thought I'd ditch the charity idea, just do my own donations for my own sake and then run out to some holiday market and find some other inexpensive trinkets to give along with the Botswanan bracelets, etc. But I think I've just changed my mind once again. I am going to stick with the donation idea. Two people in my family are dealing with serious forms of cancer and it just seems worth acknowledging that with a bigger donation. And with the economy the way it is, yes, one could argue that I should be buying more consumer goods, but I'd rather try to make an impact by supporting charities whose donations will be affected. So here's the note I'm going to enclose with the token gifts:
I hope you like this token gift, brought back from my trip to Africa. Instead of giving larger gifts to extended family this year, I thought it would be a good time to donate to these organizations instead, and if you ever want to give to these charities instead of giving me a present, I'd be honored.
Dana Farber Cancer Institute
The Nature Conservancy
Direct Relief International
National Public Radio
If there are any other charities you prefer to support, please let me know!
I hope they'll be pleased-- I don't think any of my aunts are particularly materialistic and I'm sure they like supporting charities and won't miss the crappy little gifts I might have given them! Actually, the amount of money I'm donating to these charities would have bought them much nicer gifts than I usually give-- I guess I won't make that clear in the card!
By the way, all these organizations get good ratings at Charity Navigator.
Happy Holidays, everyone!