Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Giving the Gift of Charitable Giving

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:

Merry Christmas!
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
Heifer International
The Nature Conservancy
Direct Relief International
National Public Radio
First Book

If there are any other charities you prefer to support, please let me know!
Madame X

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!


Anonymous said...

Didn't you give to DonorsChoose.org one year? I always give to that charity, and I think it's because you mentioned it one time.

I thought about giving to charity in lieu of gifts for my family, and then thought better of it. Most people like to donate on their own (or pretend to), and would rather receive a crappy gift from someone than have someone choose a charity to give to for them.

I did ask one of my friends to donate to my local SPCA, and he did. I thought that was really cool. I hate crappy gifts and would prefer nothing at all.


Chiot's Run said...

I love the idea and have considered it. I think it's a great way to get back to real message of the holidays. So often we buy small things for others that end up being given to Goodwill. Our cash would be put to better use through a charitable donation.

I say do it, if someone is offended that's their problem. You're not obliged to give gifts anyways.

Anonymous said...

I think people like having donations made in their honor, especially if you tell them exactly why you chose that particular charity for them, so that it's personal, not just "I couldn't think of anything to get you." People want to support charities themselves, but sometimes don't know how to choose one, or feel like they don't have enough disposable income to do it. When you give charity in their names, they feel like they are part of the effort to help the world.

Plus you get a tax deduction!

If you don't have any money, you can still DO something charitable. One year, when I was unemployed, I volunteered at a soup kitchen for a couple of days to honor my friends. They liked that so much, I did it again the next year, when I had a job, and the money to spend on presents.

I do like to let people know what I'm planning to do, so they don't feel like they have to get presents for me. Note: making donations, or volunteering, probably means you don't get stuff either. But we all have too much stuff, anyway.

Don't give ironically, though -- last year someone donated to John McCain's campaign in honor of a friend of mine, who was loudlyy volunteering for Obama!

Anonymous said...

Unless I think somebody is truly in need, I now give "donation" type gifts. My favorite is gift-certificates for Kiva.org.

Instead of a donation, the Kiva gift-certificate enables the recipient to select an third-world entrepreneur's project on the Kiva website to make a loan to. They can follow along with the progress of the project online, and after the loan gets repaid they can either loan out the money to a different project, or withdraw the funds and keep the cash.

I think it's a great idea. This is far more engaging than most of the other charity-gift options.

Anonymous said...

I was going to chime in to say what option unarmed said about Kiva. It's a great idea.

Additionally, while it might be rude to say "I'd prefer you make a donation rather than giving me a crappy gift," I don't think it's at all rude to say, "Look, there's nothing I really need, and I'd prefer that any money spent go to charity in this time of extreme economic hardship for so many people. Or just save your money." Really, who could object to that? Of course, you'd have to be willing to tell all your aunts the same thing, if they asked.

I love the idea of charitable giving in lieu of gifts for people who really don't need anything.
And most people reading this blog probably have their basic needs pretty well covered.


Eli said...

I would also like to recommend DonorsChoose.org and especially Kiva.org. With both you give the gift of participation in donating. As much as I appreciate someone making a donation in my name to a charity, I always feel a bit out of the loop. By using these two options a gift recipient gets to play just as active a role in the donation as well as the gift-giver: two good-feelings for the price of one!

Plus the recipient can choose an organization that is nearest and dearest to their own heart. I'm giving each of my immediate family members certificates to spend at kiva.org this year. One thing I love about kiva is, even though it may be a one-time donation in terms of your budget, it really is a loan, and the money will be paid back and then immediately loaned out again to someone else. Plus you get the satisfaction of one-on-one giving, you can truly see where your money is going.

I've been meaning to give to kiva for a few years now, but always put it off for one reason or another. Giving certificates as gifts will finally be the kick in the butt I need to get more involved!

I'm rambling, but basically I think there is nothing wrong with this type of gift. Especially if all you hear from family is "I don't need anything for Christmas" when we all know it isn't fun to have nothing to open during the holidays!

Nothing fancy to think of .. said...

For me, donating money in someone's name, Meh ... I cannot take the tax credit (since technically you did not donate the money, the IRS has very strict rules on it), so to me it is something to ease the giver's conscience. I am a big fan of charity, but not organize philanthropy (as in organizations that run them). So at the end of the day, I treat it like I never got a gift (or in your case, the Botswana bracelet) and not hing more.

Of course I am a guy .. so my opinion matters little here, as you are talking about 5 aunts.

guinness416 said...

There was a long thread on this subject over at ask.metafilter.com (a pretty thoughtful and mature bunch, for the most part) recently and the overwhelming consensus there was that these are bad gifts, in fact not gifts at all, and not to do it, just give in your own name as at other times of the year. I was surprised by this because I don't mind getting donations made by other people but I suppose I can see that there may be a holier-than-thou interpretation or that one could be upset by the choice of charity. I guess "discuss first" is the best approach.

Anonymous said...

Who gets the tax deduction?

Budget Save Buy said...

While I think it's a great idea, I've never done and probably won't. My friends are charitable but they all seem to donate to a different charity, one that means something special to them. I also know a lot of people who don't share the thought that "a donation in their name" is really "a gift for them". I went to a wedding where instead of giving favors to each guest, the bride and groom had a note at each table informing everyone that they made a donation to a charity they feel strongly about on behalf of all the guests. Even though wedding favors are usually something small, and possibly meaningless, I definitely heard several guests grumbling about a donation on their behalf did not constitute a gift. I think you just need to be sure that the "recipient" will be appreciative of the gesture.

Anonymous said...

That is what my husband and I did this year. Our parents didn't really want us to get them anything at all (but they were still going to get us things, despite our protests) so we decided to split up a pig from Heifer International between my father, stepmother, mother, stepfather, his mother, his father, grandmother, grandfather, and my brother. I then hand drew a card explaining the gift, and as they opened it we explained how Heifer worked, etc. Everyone thought it was a wonderful idea, and our parents were happy we didn't break the bank for their sake.

I think next year I will change it up a bit and try to match up people to charities and make it a bit more personal.

Anonymous said...

Oh heavens no! If you want to give, then give from your heart. Attaching my name to any size donation does not make it a gift for me.

Anonymous said...

I think donations should be made on a personal basis rather than made on another person's behalf. I think there is still sentimental value receiving a gift that our family members, especially children and elders, appreciates.

Anonymous said...

Good post, glad to see a plug for Charity Navigator, using that site has really made me more certain that my money is going to the best place possible within my criteria.

Anonymous said...

Christmas is the only time I buy gifts for most of the people on my list. It's a way to tell them that I appreciate and love them. Sure, we all get and give gifts that aren't the greatest. We can be appreciative of the effort, though. Even the heinous knee-high socks I got when I was twelve turned out to be warm and cuddly.

I'm very particular about the charities I support. There are causes that 99% of the population applaud that I would NEVER give to for various reasons. My point? Make sure the recipient would give to that charity in the first place. I think the only thing worse than no gift is a donation to a charity the person objects to.

Anny said...

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?

If they've donated for me in the past its definitely ok. If they actively support a personal cause its ok too.

If its someone who usually gifts a thoughtful item it becomes trickier as they could see the donation as a gift to someone they don't know instead of to them.

Miss M said...

Last year I gave out a few Kiva gift certificates along with other presents. Since the recipient can chose who to lend to, it feels less preachy. If your friend or family is passionate about a particular charity or cause this could be a great gift.

Anonymous said...

Charitable giving is a great way to substitute a lot of the money you would normally spend on gifts, and instead direct the money to organizations in need, in honor of the person you would normally be giving the gift to. I have been doing this for the last three Christmas holidays, and the recipients have been pleasantly surprised, and seemed quite grateful for the thought. I think it is a win-win for everyone involved!

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree. The past couple of years, I have given charity donations as gifts and I think I'll be continuing this each Christmas.