Image by Eduardo Deboni via Flickr
When Charity is not Charitable
In lieu of holiday gifts to employees, vendors, customers or even family members, you opt to donate to a charity in their name. You feel good that you have given a meaningful gift. After all helping the sick, needy, homeless or starving child is much better than a box of chocolate, holiday basket or scarf. Right? While your insides may be warm and mushy from your charitable act the recipient may not be feeling your vibe.
At my old job, someone had the great idea one year to give to a charity in lieu of gifts to clients. Our Marketing Department (I had not made the move to Marketing yet and was a Sales Manager.) worked with vendors and ordered customized holiday cards that wished our customers Happy Holidays and proudly declared the gift that was given in their name. It was a disaster. It turns out that our customers preferred calendars and calorie laden gifts to a gift in their name.
My region negotiated a discount with See’s Candies and used our expense budget to make our customers happy with chocolate. The company went back to tradition the following year.
This was a noble idea that went horribly wrong. My company did a great thing for the charity by giving them exactly what they needed – money. However, they did a disservice to their customers by failing to remember the primary reason for giving – the recipient.
A gift should make the recipient feel valued. A donation in their name, unless expressly requested, can look like a “cheap” way out of putting thought and money into a “real gift.” Customers who have spent their dollars with you, vendors who have served you or employees who have contributed to your success appreciate knowing that their support was meaningful. It would have been far better to send a holiday card with a sincere message than a “donation in your name” message.
The recipient may not agree with your choice of charity. While giving a goat to a family in a third world country seems like a perfect gift to you, your recipient may not share your belief. Remember this is your gift to them not to yourself.
Instead of a donation in lieu of a gift, consider the following alternatives:
- Many charities sell gift items. A portion of your purchase supports the charity. This is a great way to benefit the charity and give a wonderful gift.
- Buy your holiday cards from a charity. For many years, I bought cards from one of my favorite charities instead of retail stores.
- Volunteer or raise money for charity as a group. Ask colleagues and family members if they’d prefer to skip the gift exchange in favor of a charitable pursuit (more on this later in the week).
- If you are a business owner, give a gift to charity and announce it to customers. You can still share the joy with customers by putting a blurb in your newsletter or website.
I am a firm believer in charitable giving but when it comes to gifts, do consider the receiver. If the cause is not meaningful to them you may want to opt for the box of chocolates instead.
Have you ever received a gift that left you feeling giftless? How do you feel about cause related gift giving? Join the discussion and let’s learn and laugh together.
- Great tips and ideas when cause related giving fits the receiver. Charitable Holiday Gift Ideas
- Holiday Gift Guide for Social Entrepreneurs
- Shop for Charity – Find causes to support and charitable gifts to to give
- Scarves for Sofia – Handmade scarves, proceeds will help a family with their international donation.
- Lillie Amman’s Christmas Giving Tips and Suggestions
Karen Swim says
Hi Renae! I don’t think that’s odd at all! I really wish more families would follow your lead. The gift giving has gotten so out of control. I think it’s good for kids to get involved as well.
Hi Karen! Great post.
I guess I’m a little odd. The favorite gift I’ve ever received, I think, was when someone gave specific items (socks, food items, etc.) to a shelter which was helping Katrina victims at the time. I appreciated that the person didn’t waste money buying me a pot-holder or scented soap or chocolate, and the gift still leaves a smile on my face.
However, it someone donated to a cause I didn’t agree with or believe in, I’d probably feel kind of yucky. So, good points!
I think next year, the adults in my extended family may decide together on a cause we’d like to support, and just buy gifts for the kids.
Thanks for a thoughtful post!
Karen Swim says
Hanna, “All I’ve really been given is a guilt trip.” Yes! Though not intended, these gifts can make you feel guilty. A beautifully written card, or handmade gift (learned how to turn baby jars into tea candles this morning!) is indeed a wonderful and heartfelt gift. By all means give to the charity but also give (or not) gifts from the heart to the people you love.
I really hate it when people make donations in my name. Even if its a charity that I feel good about supporting, the gift backfires. I can’t help but feel disappointed that I received a giftless gift. And then that makes me feel selfish and down on myself. All I’ve really been given is a guilt trip.
I would much rather receive nothing at all, or something tiny but heartfelt like a beautifully written card, than to have even a substantial gift given in my name.
Karen Swim says
Melissa, it was tough to write! I support so many charities personally that I definitely did not want to discourage people from charitable giving but simply to extend that thoughtfulness to the gift recipient. Honestly, I’d rather we all donated this time of year and skip the “obligatory” gifts altogether.
Karen Swim says
Joanna, I agree! I loved your quote so much I added a portion of it to today’s post. I am guilty of giving away gift baskets. I receive thoughtful food baskets but often they contain loads of things I don’t eat. On the other hand, the re-gift was gratefully received. 🙂
Melissa Donovan says
This is a tough one but I agree that most gift recipients will feel slighted if you’re giving to them by not giving to them at all. I’d love it if someone donated to my favorite charity (it’s the No Kill Advocacy Center) in my name as some kind of gift or thank you but most people just don’t feel that way.
Joanna Young says
Karen, what a fascinating discussion, and thank you for broaching such a difficult issue.
I’ve never known a company give on my behalf – then again i don’t know companies that send chocolates either. Must be mixing in the wrong company!
Seriously though my own preference would be to cut down on unnecessary gift-giving. Who needs more chocolates? I always end up with more sweet stuff I can eat at Christmas, and no-one I can give it to because everyone else is in the same boat.
Billions of pounds worth of presents are returned each year, often the day after Christmas. At least people are starting to donate unwanted gifts to charity shops here so they can sell them on but really, you have to ask why we’re all buying so much unneccessary stuff. (Of course it might be different this year when folk are feeling the pinch)
I’d rather we focus on meaningful thoughtful personal gifts which can’t be done on a mass scale.
If you want to thank your customers, send them an e-card.
If you want to give the money you’ve save on gifts, do it quietly, without fanfare.
Karen Swim says
Friar, I agree. I don’t think people mean to be presumptuous but it can definitely appear that way. Clothes are a tough thing to give unless it’s a spouse or someone really close, and even then it can be dicey! I still like toys! I’d take a Wii or Ipod over a sweater any day! Of course if you gave a goat to a family on my behalf I’d like that too. 🙂
Karen Swim says
Hi Lillie! Ooh, I should have linked to you! I’m going to go in and modify my post. I don’t think it’s a bad idea just should not be a blanket one. 🙂 Great minds think alike, eh? 🙂
Hmmm…donations in lieu of a gift…I’ve never had it happen to me, but to be honest, this dosen’t impress me. I’m with Andrew…I think it’s presumptious.
Someone can chose NOT to give me a gift, and that’s perfectly okay.
But when they DON’T give me a gift, and then they go out of their way of letting me know why, really, what is the POINT of all that?
(Except to make the donator feel good about themselves?)
” I didn’t get you anything, but lookit me…I donated to charity….see? See how nice I am?”
I think there’s a bit of vanity there. Why not just be modest, and donate quietly, without announcing it to the world?
“Have you ever received a gift that left you feeling giftless?”
(I realize that’s a vestige of my years as a little kid, when all I wanted to get was toys!) 😉
Lillie Ammann says
Yikes, Karen! You snagged me. I just posted today about gift-giving and gave the opposite side of the argument as a suggestion. However, I did mention Charity Checks, which allow the recipient to donate the gift to any of 800,000 IRS-qualified charities specifically to avoid the conflict you mention.
I’m going to modify my post and link to yours.
Karen Swim says
@Andrew, your brother must have felt pretty awful! Your story is a perfect example of good intentions gone wrong. Bless his heart though for he truly did mean well. 🙂
@Robert, I see so many articles suggesting donation in lieu of as a great gift idea and I would have agreed years ago. The person who receives it may not agree and then also feels guilty for not “liking” the gift. There is also just a landmine of potential conflict, what if you support a charity that someone else morally oppose? I give generously to charity but unless the person indicates a preference for a charity donation instead of gift, I separate the two.
Robert Hruzek says
Yeah, I think there’s a tree planted somewhere in my name too… yawn.
I agree wholeheartedly, Karen; if the “recipient” doesn’t know about it (and agree to it) ahead of time, well, it’s not a good idea – you never know if they have a problem with the chosen charity or not.
Your suggested solutions are good, too – certainly better than the alternative!
Although gifts to charities should are most worthwhile, they should never be given in the name of external parties without prior consent – to do so is presumptious and may be interpreted as being disrepectful by the party concerned.
Your suggestion about buying merchandise from respectable charities does sound like a good idea, though.
I’ll never forget the time my brother (with the best of intentions) subscribed in my name (without asking me) for shares in a company which was about to be listed on the stock exchange.
Essentially, he said “I applied for these shares in your name – you can pay me back for the investment value later. Don’t worry, they’re going to the top?”
After the company lost about three quarters of its value in a matter of months, dear old brother offered to take the losses for me.
Good old brother, he meant well and I love him dearly.