Gracefully gifting donations?
December 20, 2008 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Please lend a hand in helping me find a gracious way to tell my family members that I am donating to the local foodbank in their names in lieu of physical gifts this year. This will be a written note enclosed in a card, and I just can't seem to find the right words.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"In honor of your generous spirit and big heart, this year I've donated to X Foodbank in your name. This donation will feed X # of hungry people and families [surely the food bank can tell you those numbers]. In this time of economic upheaval, it's more important than ever to help in any way we can. I wish you the Merriest of Christmases [or whichever holiday you're celebrating] and a Joyous New Year! Love, Anonymous"

...or something similar. My best friend just sent me a note saying she wasn't buying my kids gifts this year and was instead donating to St. Jude's Children's Hospital in honor of my kids and because she's so grateful that we haven't had to deal with any serious health concerns with them. I thought it was lovely.

Good for you, and I hope you're able to feed lots of people with your donations.
posted by cooker girl at 10:47 AM on December 20, 2008

If you have any sort of family tradition of sharing big holiday meals, could you reflect on a memorable holiday meal you all shared. Along the lines of: "Do you remember the time Aunt Mabel [did something humorous], and Grandma Betty made a [memorable dish], and we all ate our weight in Uncle Joe's homemade [holiday treat]? I was thinking about how special these holiday meals are, and so for this holiday season, I have donated [$X] to the [foodbank] in your honor, in hopes that another family might be able to make the type of memories we share every year. Love, Anon"
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:47 AM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Maybe one of these?
posted by AV at 10:52 AM on December 20, 2008

"The holidays are a time of togetherness and appreciation for me, and I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful [relation] as you. Your caring, generous, kind spirit has inspired me to do something different this year: rather than buying you an object of dubious utility or necessity, I have decided to make a donation to [organization]. This organization is devoted to providing food to families in need so that they can share in the wonderful holiday spirit without going hungry. Your guidance and friendship to me has made a difference in their lives, and I want to thank you sincerely for being so wonderful and making this possible."

There's no way they can hold it against you/be upset with you if you phrase it like that. If your family includes children, it's a nice lesson to teach them as well.
posted by baphomet at 11:10 AM on December 20, 2008

I just realized I used "wonderful" three times there. Feel free to mix up your superlatives.

Edit window, you can't come soon enough.
posted by baphomet at 11:11 AM on December 20, 2008

If you insist on donating to charity (which is admirable) and pretending it is a gift (for which I share the views of Miss Manners), I think it would come across as more gracious if you made an effort to find individual charities that the "recipients" actually support. You are trying to fulfill your gift giving obligations in one fell swoop while many others may have spent time and effort trying to find a gift you would actually enjoy. It's the equivalent of getting identical ill-thought-out physical gifts for every family member. So don't be surprised if people are a little resentful no matter how you word the card.
posted by grouse at 11:25 AM on December 20, 2008 [23 favorites]

You're doing it wrong.

One polite way to do what you're trying to do would be to tell your family that you really, sincerely and truly want them to donate to charities in your name instead of giving you stuff. This is what you should be doing.

Another polite way to do this would be to tell people, WELL AHEAD OF TIME, that you feel that Christmas has become way too commercial and consumerist, so you're sorry if it makes you seem grinchy but you're going to "give" donations to charities, and you hope that people will do likewise on your behalf.

"Giving" a donation, where it has not been asked for or agreed upon ahead of time, sends a number of impolite messages.

First and foremost is moral condemnation of their arguably less altruistic behavior, which isn't a polite message to send to your family on a day that's supposed to be joyful but carries its own strong stresses. Proclaiming your purity in this context necessarily points a finger at their behavior.

Second, following Miss Manners, unless the recipient has asked for it or unless the family has agreed to it, this isn't really a gift in any real sense. Whatever you write in the card, the message you are sending is "I like this charity, and I didn't want to give you a gift, so I'm pretending my donation is a gift to you." The very best spin I can think to put on it would be "Thank you for $PRESENT, which I enjoy. Here is a card with a donation to a charity, which I also enjoy."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:45 AM on December 20, 2008 [29 favorites]

Is the point of a gift to
A) Produce a brand new object, still in wrapper?
B) Show that you were thinking about the person?

Because if it's B, I'd be perfectly happy for you to do this for me, no matter how you word the card, instead of giving me one more piece of crap that I don't need that has to be either stored or disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.

Throwing a fit about receiving a gift to charity sounds to me like the message is, "Dude, where's my schwag?"

So if you're donating on behalf of everyone in your family, one thing you could do is write an individual letter to each person in the family. Because then it's clear you're thinking about them and valuing them. Instead of finding one perfect message for everyone, you can word it perfectly for each individual person.

You could even do it on beautiful handmade paper - more like a handmade gift, you show you're thinking about them and put time into it and personalized it - and if your family is like mine, you've recognized that some of them just don't have the space to put yet another snowman toilet paper holder.
posted by arabelladragon at 12:02 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

I asked my mother what she and my stepdad wanted for Christmas, and they specifically told us to donate to a particular charity, so that's what we're doing. I asked my dad and stepmom the same question, and got a list of physical things, so we're buying them physical gifts. It would be rude to do otherwise.
posted by desjardins at 12:04 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is the point of a gift to
A) Produce a brand new object, still in wrapper?
B) Show that you were thinking about the person?

Neither. It is to give the recipient something they would enjoy, because you value their enjoyment.

Much of what you say in your comment makes the gift about you, the giver. It is about showing that you care, or showing that you thought about the person. About you. About demonstrating some quality in you. It should be about none of this. It need not send any particular message about who you are as a person or what you believe in or anything of the sort. Instead, it should be about what the recipient would like or enjoy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:22 PM on December 20, 2008 [5 favorites]

When you can't seem to find the right words it sometimes means that there are no right words.

Which sometimes means that you're not doing the right thing.
posted by dinger at 12:30 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do you generally explain the reasons and motivations behind the gifts you give to people? A "Merry Christmas!" and an explanation of what you've done isn't enough?
posted by losvedir at 12:34 PM on December 20, 2008

Sorry, Rou-x, should have been more clear - I was trying to solve the question by imagining the POV of the recipient, which is why I answered that way. Also, I'm assuming that the OP has the kind of family where this kind of thing goes over well. If he doesn't, that's a whole 'nuther ball of wax.
posted by arabelladragon at 12:41 PM on December 20, 2008

Perhaps you could think a bit and come up with some charities that are meaningful to each person. If someone loves animals, sponsor a nearby shelter and give them pictures of the animals they have helped along with a description of what the shelter will be able to do with the money. Perhaps you can go with the animal-lover to walk the dogs, if that is something they really enjoy doing. This should be thought out, and not a last-minute thing you do.

You should still donate to the food bank if that is an important cause to you. It's just more of a gift to yourself and to the hungry than it is to your loved ones.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:49 PM on December 20, 2008

Donations area gift to the recipient of the donation. You wouldn't send the food bank a card that says "I've given Aunt Becky a $100 fichus tree in your name for all that she's done for me this year." It's just some kind of weird bragging and 180° from the spirit of donation, charity, and gift giving.

But if you must: Offer them a matching donation. Tell them for every dollar they donate to (one of a list of five charities that you think they'll like) you'll match the donation.

And then give them a real gift too.
posted by Ookseer at 1:03 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am donating to the local foodbank in their names in lieu of physical gifts this year.

Are you actually doing it in there name, or do you just not want to give presents? Are you getting charitable donation tax receipts for them? If yes, tell them. If not, don't pretend that it's a gift to them, it's a gift to yourself and has nothing to do with them.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:53 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

One of my uncles used to donate to various charities in our name every year and pretty much everyone in the family thought he was being a pretentious asshole.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:22 PM on December 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

My family discussed in advance cutting back (not eliminating) gifts for one another--and giving in one another's names to a charity. And we're giving charitable gifts we know one another will be pleased with...i.e. a goat, or two ducks, or 5 baby chicks... to a family in Africa...first, to improve their standard of living...Second, the animals are cute, and we're including a card and pic of the animal(s) for our family member to coo over (admittedly we're silly this way.) ; )

We've also bought some of our gifts from (all-volunteer) charities that give all proceeds to the cause...example, one buying young girls out of the sex-trade in Thailand. In this case the items (hand-knit by the rescued girls---hats, scarves, gloves) are useful/enjoyable for the recipient as well as for the girls who've been rescued.

I concur that gifts should be about and for the one receiving them...however you go about it.
posted by mumstheword at 2:43 PM on December 20, 2008

If you are going to give a donation, one option to consider is a charity where the donor gets to specify how the money is used. DonorsChoose (helps schools), Kiva (microfinance loans internationally) the Heifer Foundation (animals to poor farmers) would all let your family have the fun of picking out a specific project that reflects their own interests. I gave donations to DonorsChoose - one family member used it to buy yoga mats for classroom, another math manipulatives and a third went for puppets to be used as reading buddies in the library. (Note, for us, this was in addition to a traditional gift - the money came from our charity budget, not our gift budget).
posted by metahawk at 3:06 PM on December 20, 2008

I think this is a lovely idea. I think it would be a terrible idea if your family members were quite down on their luck and could use the food or money for food themselves. But instead, you are telling your family that there are people that NEED TO EAT and you want to help that cause by using the money you had set aside for gifts for your family. It's your money to use as you wish and you choose to help feed the hungry instead of inundating your family with what could be useless crap. I wish people would do this for me. I don't want ANYTHING. I don't want any THING.

However, how about in addition to a note letting your family members know that you are donating to a charity you also write up a small memory of each particular family member - like that time you and Johnny broke old man's window and how you peed your pants because you were so scared but Johnny covered for you . . . and it was all good. Go down memory lane. It's fun to jog up old memories and it shows some thought and effort and could be considered the gift.

Go with the charity gift idea. People need to eat more than your family needs a "real gift." The "real gift" here is that some person will get something to eat.
posted by Sassyfras at 4:38 PM on December 20, 2008

I'm gonna buck the trend and suggest that this may cause more problems than it's worth. Gift-giving is something many people put a lot of store in, for good or ill, and failing to get someone a present who expects one can create unnecessary relationship issues. Granted, if this does cause a problem it shows immaturity on others' parts, but deliberately doing something you have a pretty good idea will upset someone shows immaturity on your part.

But more than that, I think this is the wrong approach here. This sounds like something you want to do. But gift-giving is about giving others' things that they will like, not things that you like or things you think they ought to like. Giving someone a football because you like football completely fails to take into account whether or not they like football. In the same vein, making a charitable donation in someone's name without finding out whether that's something they'd appreciate is thoughtless.

If you can't overcome your feelings of anti-consumerism long enough to participate in what can be a truly meaningful exchange of affection, the problem is yours, not theirs. You don't have to buy meaningless crap to give someone a gift. You can give something that doesn't cost you anything and that doesn't use up any natural resources that haven't already been consumed. If there are still small children in the house, offer to babysit. Offer to clean the house once or twice. Offer to make dinner a few times. Anything, really. Just something to engage in the normal rituals that make up relationship with other people. It's as meaningful as you make it.

If you must insist on this charity idea, a much better approach would be to request that others donate to charity instead of giving you a gift. That way everyone's happy: you get them something they appreciate, they get you something you appreciate.
posted by valkyryn at 5:03 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Donate to somewhere the recipient would care about, and in your note sing the praises of them and the generous qualities they clearly possess that meant you knew it would be possible for you to make this gesture with their blessing. The protestations above all serve to make it clear just how much room there is for misunderstanding when you make such a gesture. You need to make abundantly clear that this isn't about you* and how generous you are, but rather that it's all about them and how generous they are. Don't get brown-nosey, just be down-to-earth and speak from the heart. Write something different for each recipient, appealing to their own unique positive qualities. The only thing they're going to get out of this gift is the compliment you give them (ie, they don't even get to feel good about having made the choice to donate the money) so you need to make that genuine for this to work.

I'd think too about including a memento of their donation. In my family at least (because we're mercenary f*ckers) that would probably something that they can display if they wish so they can get full props from their friends for being so generous. ;) Does the charity you're donating to in their name offer a Christmas tree ornament to donors, or some other physical item they're selling that can be displayed by your giftee around their home? Whether displaying it's cheesy, or whether they would want to display it at all, should be irrelevant -- it's their prerogative as donators now to feel good about having done it in whatever way they ordinarily would when making a donation. Signing over all rights to the act to the giftee, in any actual and symbolic way that exists, should - I think - only help in communicating that you feel they deserve to take pride in and feel pleasure because of their generosity.

* If it IS about you - because you disagree with consumerist culture's takeover of Christmas, or because you don't know your family well enough to know what to get them etc etc - then that's a different post. I'm not being critical, btw; these are valid problems many have that also need solutions found for them, though gifting a donation may not be it.
posted by springbound at 5:34 PM on December 20, 2008

You can't find the right words because there are none. I'm sorry, but giving to a charity is not a substitute for giving a gift to a person. Give to the charity by all means but don't pretend it is anything more than it is.

We don't spend every Christmas in France (my wife is French) but when we do one is expected to have a small gift for every person at Christmas eve dinner. This does, at times, include complete strangers. No one receives anything extravagant (unless you count the small bowls I made last year) and everyone has a grand time with the exchange and the unwrapping and the kissing etc. I wrote about one experience with this on my website some years ago; I will never forget the fuzzy feeling. Although a lot of wine had something to do with that, no doubt.
posted by Dick Paris at 6:21 PM on December 20, 2008

You can't find the right words because there are none. I'm sorry, but giving to a charity is not a substitute for giving a gift to a person. Give to the charity by all means but don't pretend it is anything more than it is.

Please, please take Dick Paris's articulate statement to heart.

Despite what you may think, your "gift" is pretty freakin' self-serving.

(Unless of course, the recipients specifically requested this.)
posted by uxo at 7:21 PM on December 20, 2008

I'm really surprised by all these comments. Why assume that the giver is self-centered or that the family members will resent it?

In our family the kids are all over 18 and nobody in the family needs anything, especially a gift chosen by somebody who is only guessing at what they'd like. A few years ago I told adult family members I wanted to make a donation in their names at Christmas in lieu of a gift to each person. Each year I ask which charity they want the donation sent to. I learn a little bit about what's important to them.

The suggestion above, of linking this donation to the generous spirit of family members, is excellent.

I hope your family is a generous and loving bunch who will appreciate this and I hope it spreads throughout the family.
posted by sevenstars at 7:49 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

The right words are:

"You're not getting a gift this year. Sorry."
posted by roger ackroyd at 7:50 PM on December 20, 2008

I seriously just received this email from my sister. It is beautiful. Perhaps I am not getting a gift this year, but someone much more worthy is and I'm not selfish enough to resent her beautiful gesture. Yeah, she's not getting ME a gift. I don't care. For me, it's about giving to someone in need and doing the best with what little you may blessed with.

"Dear family,
As you probably already know, Hubby was laid off in June and our local economy has been hit very hard, especially in his trade category. We have been been living on unemployment checks since. As a result we have had to turn the house and 2 vehicles over to the banks and have subsided on the random odd jobs that Hubby gets and any miniscule funds left over from my business expenses or items that we have been able to sell.

We have been very blessed, however with a beautiful townhouse to live in at the grace of a friend who accepts a work trade for part of the rent, rent which our friend has dramatically reduced for us anyway. In addition, this new home is only one block from my work and is less than 1 mile from a great shopping district, the P.O., etc. We are also grateful to Pres. Bush for extending unemployment benefits, without which Hubby would have received his last check last week.

Hubby was able to buy a cheap truck at auction (it is truly a redneck wonder!) in order to travel greater distances for inspection jobs that he gets from time to time. Most other times, he rides his bike. I have made a little bit of money at the studio that I can use for personal stuff, like Christmas gifts, but it is hardly enough to spread around to everyone or even pay for shipping for homemade gifts, so I wanted to spend it in a way that would be at least meaningful and to acknowledge that we still have so much despite it all.

To show our gratitude for the generosity of our friends, for the roof that we have over our head, for the food we have to eat, for having been well-educated, and for the blessing of living in America and in this family where we do not have the serious survival concerns that so many others have, we have donated that small sum of money to serve someone less fortunate. Our donation will provide a bicycle to a child in Sri Lanka who cannot get to school otherwise. Below is the description.

"With no school bus service, many children in Sri Lanka have a very long walk to school, making it difficult for them to get an education. Many more children would be able to attend school on a regular basis if they had bicycles to ride to school."

We hope you will all understand our not be able to provide individual gifts to you all and perhaps help your children understand that, while they are opening great gifts and have a belly full of yummy Christmas treats, someone who has never had as much to play with or to eat is finally getting a great gift too, one that will help them go to school and create a better future for themselves and their family. We donated through a very reputable humanitarian agency and feel good about making a difference to someone in real need.

Happy Christmas to all! We send our love and good intentions. May you feel loved, may you be happy, may you have peace of mind, and may you be safe.

Sassyfras's sister and Hubby"
posted by Sassyfras at 8:27 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

You need to make abundantly clear that this isn't about you* and how generous you are, but rather that it's all about them and how generous they are.

This would only be true if the "recipient" had indicated some desire for such a thing to happen. But anonymous's question makes it plain that (s)he is looking for some sort of language to explain it to people who didn't want such a thing to happen -- (s)he understands that it will not be gracious, and is looking for the magic words to make it gracious.

Why assume that the giver is self-centered or that the family members will resent it?

Because doing it randomly out of the blue is a rude thing to do to your family. Because it implicitly (or explicitly) criticizes the behavior of his/her relatives who were not so "generous." Because unless your family has asked you to, or you otherwise have some very good reason to think they'd actually like you to do this, doing so out of the blue tells your family that you don't even pretend to care what they like or want or enjoy or about their wishes or feelings, you're just going to do what you want, which is pretty fucking far from any spirit of generosity or gift-giving. It's especially galling if anonymous is going to receive actual gifts from others, gifts that actually do reflect things that anonymous wants or needs or enjoys, and will return the favor by giving them.... something that anonymous enjoys. Why anonymous isn't simply telling his/her relatives that (s)he'd like to receive charitable donations is beyond me.

Ever see the episode of The Simpsons where Homer gives Marge a custom bowling ball with "HOMER" engraved on it? Doing this out of the blue is that bowling ball.

Again, none of this applies if you do something crazy like talk about it ahead of time, where you can gauge reactions ahead of time. But again, if anonymous had talked about this with his/her family ahead of time (s)he wouldn't be looking for ways to let them down gently.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:29 PM on December 20, 2008

I donate to charities, and it was still weird when an uncle gave "in our name" to a charity. For one thing, the charity was one he likes (one that appealed to me somewhat after I heard of it, but still, clearly his thing) so it felt kind of like Person A giving Person B two tickets to something Person A would enjoy. Second, I never got any of their newsletters, not even an email newsletter, so I never did feel connected with the charity or like I had supported that cause, and it once crossed my mind that if it was made in my name, it was obviously not made in my address. Bottom line here is that -- even though I personally enjoy charitable giving and kinda supported the cause, and even though I certainly didn't want any schwag -- it still came off as lame.
posted by salvia at 8:32 PM on December 20, 2008

Sassyfrass, that situation, where hardship means that they essentially can't give gifts so they've done something symbolic "for" everyone at once instead of playing favorites, seems far removed from what anonymous is describing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:34 PM on December 20, 2008

seems far removed from what anonymous is describing

Maybe this is why I feel such irritation about this post . . . is because anonymous didn't describe much of anything - just simply asked how to word a note. We don't know his/her reason for donating to a charity - hell, perhaps anonymous is actually my sister and the reason for the charitable donation is because of hard economic times.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:44 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Then the right answer is just "I'm sorry that I can't give everyone gifts, but like many I'm in dire financial straits this year." Or just do something dramatically inexpensive. Many was the year in graduate school when Mrs. The First and I gave plates of homemade (=cheap) cookies to almost everyone in our families, or when the only gift I could offer was to do the cooking and cleaning for Christmas dinner. Any halfway-normal family will understand that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:16 PM on December 20, 2008

I'm surprised by how this thread blew up... Can't we all agree that we don't know Anon's exact circumstances, but:

1. If the family has an arrangement to donate in each other's names, or if the family members in question said "Don't get me anything--I don't have room for more stuff!" but Anonymous still wanted to make a gift-giving gesture, then the question is, "I've chosen a food bank as the recipient of my family's donation-in-lieu-of-presents, how do I word the card specifically for this choice of donation?" And, if that's the case, then there are some useful suggestions interspersed with judgmental comments.

2. If the family is expecting a standard gift exchange with physical presents, Anonymous may offend some of his/her relatives and is well-served by seeing some of the strong reactions against his/her choice by strangers on the internet before getting them from relatives, even if s/he chooses to stick with that planned donations.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:40 PM on December 20, 2008

"We have so much, and so many people have nothing. Because of that, I decided to donate to $foodbank so that some other people could have something. The money I gave them will feed X people for Y days [get info from the foodbank on this]."

If it's possible to donate in other peoples' names to this foodbank, and they give tax receipts, it might be nice to include the receipt in the card. That way they see what was given, and they can get an extra 'gift' when they claim the donation on their 2008 taxes.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:14 PM on December 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

My boyfriend's parents sent us an email saying that they've decided to donate $DOLLARS in our names to the charity of our choice in lieu of gifts. We wrote back with the name and info for charity of our choice, he wrote back saying it had been done, and I'm going to write them a thank-you note. If you let your gift-recipients pick a charity they feel is worthy rather than picking the one you like best, it's more of an actual gift. If you're giving to a local foodbank, as you say, is that actually their local food bank, or is it local to you? It's important to consider things like this that can make even a charitable contribution it more gift-y if you're calling it a gift.

In my particular situation, I realllllyyy could have used any number of $DOLLARS myself right now, but the fact that I was able to pick a charity in Africa, run by trustworthy-seeming people, where the money I'm hoping will go further than buying some overpriced food in my own expensive city, made it a little more gift-like. Hopefully your potential gift-recipients aren't also struggling for cash at the moment and are charitable enough to appreciate what you're doing.
posted by booknerd at 12:12 PM on December 22, 2008

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