Friday, December 10, 2010

How Do You Feel About the Charity Gift?

Beth of Fake Plastic Fish has a brilliant post up about charitable gift cards where she calculates exactly how much of your money is going to said charity versus to the intermediary company, because she's mathtastic like that. Go read it and then bookmark it for later.

But her post made me wonder ... how do you all feel about the charity contribution gift?

In some ways, I like it ... especially if it is a thoughtful one. For instance, if I know my friend is very involved in a particular non-profit organization, I think it's a very nice gift to support said non-profit in their honor.

I also love how many brides and grooms these days are registering for charity donations in lieu of yet another crystal vase.

That being said, I still very very rarely get people charitable contributions as gifts.

It's not that I don't love supporting charity. I do. And it's not that I feel the need to get people THINGS, because I totally don't. But I guess when I'm getting a gift, I want it to register longer than the millisecond it takes someone to read that I paid X dollars to a charity in honor of them and think, "Oh, that's nice."

Which is why I sort of think the charity gift card or a gift certificate to an organization like Donor's Choose is preferable ... at least in those situations the recipient gets to be an active participant in the charity process.

Still, there's something that sits wrong there for me. Maybe it's because in my mind a gift is a gift and charity is charity and I'm not sure there's a need to conflate the two. Give a gift to someone because you love them, give to charity because you support the organization, but a gift of charity feels ... I dunno, a little 'moralistic' maybe. As much as I believe that we as a society are over materialistic, it breaks my heart just a teeny tiny bit when I read about parents who request no gifts for kids birthday parties or ask for charitable donations instead. As a kid, I *loved* picking out gifts for my friends. I guess I still love picking out gifts, when I'm not super pressed for time and stressed out, that is.

But maybe I'm being a charity curmudgeon. Maybe so much of gift giving has turned out into an obligatory hassle that, frankly, a charity gift is just as good as the Starbucks gift card, and is probably more helpful to the world to boot.

What do you all think?


Anonymous said...

I believe that gifts should show some kind of thought about the person who is receiving them. Donating to the charity you mention that your friend is involved with counts here; it reflects thought about that person and what (s)he would like. Similarly, a coffee fiend I know might get a Starbucks card; it reflects (some) thought about that person. Donating to charity in lieu of thinking carefully about a person and choosing an appropriate gift for them is a cop-out, just like a gift card to Target. It's wrapped in a shiny box that says "I'm Helping!," but it doesn't necessarily reflect the spirit of giving from one person to another to show that you care about that person enough to choose something specifically for them.

On the other hand, I feel that giving a donation to a charity instead of giving a trinket as a "thanks for coming to the wedding" gift is totally appropriate and respectable.

ruchi said...

Yeah, that's a great distinction, Tika. I think I'm with you. Giving to charity that friend is involved in = good gift. Giving to random charity that you like but that you don't know that friend feels passionately about = not very thoughtful gift.

knutty knitter said...

I mostly only give gifts when the person is close to me and then we have rules about that which do make it fun. The rest of the family and friends may get a phonecall or a visit (with cake) and thats about it.

I do prefer the spontaneous type of gift myself rather than one tied to any special occasion so my friends may get a 'Christmas' present in July just because. After 50 odd years, I think they've got used to it :)

viv in nz

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Speaking from a parent's point of view regarding the "no gifts" policy for kids' parties...before we started requesting no gifts at birthday parties, the presents my kids got were always cheap plastic crap (often dollar store junk), and then it became my responsibility to teach my kids to take care of something that was designed to break and to figure out how to responsibly dispose of it when it does. And even when people got us something my kids actually liked, there's only so much space to store toys in their small rooms. It just works so much better for us if their only gifts are from us and relatives.

ruchi said...

Viv, a visit WITH CAKE is the best present ever. Seriously, all I ever want as a present is quality time with a loved one. Through in some baked goods, and we're in heaven. :)

Erin, yeah, I TOTALLY get it from a parent's perspective. And honestly, there are probably tons of kids who don't care about giving presents and whose moms buy all the gifts anyway. BUT, I do think that, as a kid, buying gifts for your friends is a useful exercise in becoming a grown up. But maybe this is more for older kids ... like I have a lot of fond memories of buying gifts for my friends, but we were all probably tweens and teens.

Then again, most of my relatives growing up were in India, so I didn't always get a ton of presents each birthday.

heidi said...

Oof. I'm a no-present person. Most people get me crap with birds (bird ornament, bird shirt, bird mug, bird...) because my life-long love is [you guessed it!] birds. But I hate bird related crap.

So I was still rather dismayed when my sister did the Heifer International thing one year - sure, I guess the chickens were egg producers, but I lost sleep over whether or not the chickens would be eaten before their time.

My preference? The Nature Conservancy. But I wasn't asked. So yeah, ask or skip it.

Rosa said...

Since my not-in-laws demand a list, I always put charitable donations on it. Because I don't want more stuff but they won't NOT give me things if I request that (I've tried.)

There are a lot of times when gifts are just to show you got the person a gift - one of my uncles and his sister and brother-in-law used to literally pass around the same $5 bill, in a card, because over time it had become a joke - and for stuff like that a charitable donation is perfect.

Personally, most of the people I know don't need anything, so the symbolic gift is a really good idea - whether it's a gift card or a homemade card or a charitable donation, just to have given them something. It's different if people are on tight enough budgets that they have wants they can't fulfill themselves - but that's not where any of my close friends or family are right now, thankfully.

ruchi said...

Heidi, that's a good point. The charitable gift can sometimes involve a donation to an organization that doesn't exactly comport with your values ... can you say awkward.

Rosa, I see what you mean about the symbolic gift. How do your in laws feel about a request for dinner with them and some cake? ;)

Rosa said...

They would LOVE that - but it's actually a request for a six hour drive each way, since that's how far it is. We do it about once every 8 weeks.

Plus they'd buy my son some plastic crap anyway, and if it was a holiday they'd buy me a bunch of stuff too.

cbb said...

I would love people to give me charitable donations as my gift! But I have a pretty strict "no-gift" relationship with most of my friends, which works out because then I can give to the charity of my choice.

The hard part for me is that I really want to give certain materialistic kids some sort of charitable gift experience but I totally cringe at the thought of someone feeling that I am being moralistic. (probably because I know I am!).

Good discussion!

ruchi said...

Cbb, what about a gift to something like Donor's Choose or Kiva so the kids can pick out their own project to give to? They might surprise you....

charity car donation said...

More than an unusual and alternative gifts,charity gifts can be the most wonderful gift a friend can provide especially if the charity is his/her charity of choice.

Aaron said...

My friends gifted me last year with the most amazing gift I could ever ask for they contacted a local vehicle donations to charity group and donated an old car I had sitting in the garage to a dog shelter who now use it to drive the shelter dogs to homes, vets etc'. I'm a huge animal lover and it really moved me. I didn't even knew there's such thing as car donation!