No lumps of coal
October 27, 2011 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions for non-partisan charities that I can tell my siblings to donate to in lieu of a a Christmas present and advice on telling them I'll be doing the same for their presents?

We're all in our 40s, some married with kids, some not and we all live in different cities in the United States. It's unlikely that any of my siblings will be together for Christmas this year.

Usually what happens is that one of us (not always me) suggests that gift exchanging is unnecessary among us and the others protest and then we all exchange by mail or in person anyway. It's kind of a hassle, I usually get gifts that I don't want, and I'm not ever sure what to get my siblings either. This year, the madness must end.

So rather than suggest no gifts, I'm planning on suggesting that my siblings donate to a charity in my name AND I'm going to tell them that I plan on doing the same for them. Giving to a charity is good in two ways, I think. First of all, I like to support organizations I believe in, and beyond that, I'm hoping to avoid the conversation of "you're just a cheapskate" which has been the contention in previous attempts.

One potential roadblock is that one of my siblings is rather conservative and the rest of us are not and I don't want to be asked to donate to the NRA nor do I think my conservative sibling would be comfortable being asked to donate to Planned Parenthood. So, first of all, I need suggestions for charities that I can offer as options to all siblings without making them feel like they are compromising their values.

And second, I'd like some help in crafting my message to them telling them this is my intention.

(And I'm planning on suggesting that nieces and nephews will still get gifts.I'm not a total scrooge).
posted by otherwordlyglow to Human Relations (36 answers total)
Do you have anyone in your nuclear or extended family with a disease for which you could all support research (American Cancer Society), an ethnic group or educational interest whose scholarship fund you could support (Knights of Columbus scholarships or research money for medievalists), local ASPCA, meals on wheels? There are a million non-partisan ways to do good.

As for communicating this, maybe something along the lines of "Hey sibs--I am blessed to have everything I want this year, and my thoughts are turning to those who could use a bit more. Rather than go through all the expense and hassle of exchanging gifts (and then regifting them--I'm looking at you, sis! har har), what do you say we each give $100 to a charity of each other's choice? Let's keep this all easy to digest ideologically--maybe something like the ASPCA or mom's alma mater or the ALS group in name of Uncle Steve?"
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:16 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Heifer International --- provides a wide assortment of animals and poultry; the recepients raise them, promising to pass on one or more future beasties to someone else in need. Sort of a pull-yourself-up-with-your-bootstraps deal: the person gets a free animal (providing their family with meat, milk, eggs and/or wool, for instance), but they also have to put in 'sweat equity' of their own.

Habitat for Humanity --- as with Heifer, the recepient receives something, but has to put in work of their own, too.

One of the groups that fight a disease --- for instance, did anyone in the family have cancer? then donate to a group helping people with that cancer. Anybody you know have epilepsy? Then give to the Epilepsy Foundation.
posted by easily confused at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Heifer International!
posted by jabes at 3:19 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I donate to Direct Relief International they show up at disaster sites with medical supplies (domestic and international). Their overhead is basically a warehouse, they don't waste money on big fundraisers. Per charity navigator 98.8% of all money goes towards programs.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:22 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Make-a-Wish Foundation or the March of Dimes?
posted by LaurenIpsum at 3:25 PM on October 27, 2011

I support the Admiral's suggestion about a personal connection if you have an ill family member or something, and if not I think Heifer International is a great option, or something else fairly politically neutral like the American Red Cross.

As far as discussing it, I think it might be good to start with yourself. Tell your Sibs that given the current economic climate, and the fact that you have everything you need and most of what you want, you would prefer not to receive gifts this year. Then ask if others would be interested in doing the same. Perhaps you could mention that it would be good to show the children in the family that Christmas is about more than gifts, or just that it gets out of hand to give gifts to each other and the kids every year when you all know you don't really need anything.

Also, as someone who is still into marking occasions even without gifts, I'd suggest you could make it a point to mark the holiday in another way - call your siblings on the day of or send a personalized card to them individually with the gifts you send to your nieces and nephews. That way no one feels that your suggestion is simply a way to make the holidays easier or to avoid acknowledging that Christmas is a special day.
posted by moshimosh at 3:32 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

There was a thread about this a couple years back that had some ideas, but mostly people thought (as I do) that there's no point- it isn't a gift for them- it's a tax write off and a bit of holier-than-thou for you, so why pretend? Just send a card and skip the whole thing!

However, if you do go ahead with it, at least tailor the charities to the person, instead picking a one-size-fits-all charity, which will just show that you thought figuring out gifts for them was too much bother. Where do they live? What needs money in their town? The SPCA? Does your NRA relative love Llasa Apsos? Is there a Llasa Apso rescue organization? How about the soup kitchen? The local veterans organization?
posted by small_ruminant at 3:36 PM on October 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

The kids will love Heifer. Just don't buy a rabbit.
posted by bq at 3:40 PM on October 27, 2011

Food banks, Oxfam, and Doctors Without Borders are my go-tos for
this type of thing.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:40 PM on October 27, 2011

Are you going to tell them you're not getting them gifts and donating to charity instead , or ask them if a charity would be an appropriate option? Because the former is not a super cool thing to do. You're basically deciding whether or not they want a present for them, and generally a gift-giver should have the desires of the person they're giving it to in mind.
posted by schroedinger at 3:41 PM on October 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

Good luck. I've never succeeded at this.

The idea I've been pushing for years (in part due to small_ruminant's point of "it's a tax write off and a bit of holier-than-thou") is to pay to a "kitty" that we collectively use for something cool down the road. Every sib's birthday, the other sibs throw, say, $50 each into the kitty, and at X-mas everyone throws in $100.

After a few years, you have enough to rent a house in Aspen for a ski week with family (or something like that).

I'm not having any luck on this one either.
posted by etc. at 3:43 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Doctors Without Borders, local animal shelters, local library, soup kitchen.
posted by mermayd at 3:44 PM on October 27, 2011

Modest Needs is interesting. Here's a CNN article about it and its connection to Metafilter:
Taylor decided to set aside $350 to help one individual per month get through a crisis. He created a crude Web site inviting requests, expecting his effort to remain small, personal and obscure -- "on the millionth page of Google."

But this was the Internet. A well-meaning friend posted a link on the widely read blog, and the next day Taylor was swamped with 1,100 e-mails. Many were asking for help, some were skeptical of Taylor's motives, and a surprising number of people wanted to contribute, he said.

At first he fended off would-be donors, because his vision for the project was limited, he said. But the e-mails and offers to donate kept coming, along with more requests for help. Taylor soon incorporated Modest Needs as a nonprofit organization.

Modest Needs' first grant saved a woman's life: It paid for a mammogram that found a tumor, Taylor said.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:50 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are tons of great suggestions already in here, but I wanted to add Donors Choose. It's a pretty amazing feeling when you hear back from the teachers or get thank you notes from the kids! Plus people can pick subjects that are special to them.
posted by brilliantine at 3:53 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here's what I'd do: tell you siblings that you're opting out of adult gift exchange this year (emphasizing that kids will still be getting gifts) and will be putting that money towards a charity instead. Then leave it open for any of them to join you. That way, your money is going to charity, you won't be getting unwanted gifts, and your rest of your siblings can open presents from each other without feeling jerked over by you.
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:54 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm with schroedinger: it's fine to ask that others' gifts to you be a donation to a charity, and maybe even OK to gently bring up whether they'd like that as their gift, but it's crass to just decide you're going to make a donation to a charity in their name, if that's not what they want. (How, exactly, is that a gift to them???)

But as for a suitable charity, I would like to plug charity: water.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:55 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could give them each a $25 gift card for -- so they can loan that money to whomever they choose, and when the loan is paid back they can choose to either cash out or loan it again to someone else.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:12 PM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

The tax thing hadn't occurred to me since I never have enough to deduct more than the standard deduction. I don't think donating benefits me directly.

So I guess I don't understand why my believing that a donation to a charity that the recipient would support is any different than believing that the perfume I send my sister is what she wants. In both cases I'm attempting to guess what they might be supportive of, right? In either case do I really know what she wants but I'm doing my best to figure it out. A sweater has just as much chance of being a crappy idea as the donation does, as far as I'm concerned.

I do love the idea of pooling our money into a fund for a family vacation.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:34 PM on October 27, 2011

I was successful in convincing my siblings that we would all concentrate on the kids. They have kids, I don't, but I live in a very tiny apartment and have everything I need. It helps that none of us are particularly sentimental.

So my vote goes toward trying once again to stop exchanging gifts with your adult siblings. Even if they continue, you can stop and maybe the gifts will taper after a year or two.
posted by valeries at 4:37 PM on October 27, 2011

So I guess I don't understand why my believing that a donation to a charity that the recipient would support is any different than believing that the perfume I send my sister is what she wants.

For one thing, she can return the perfume.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:39 PM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would argue that unless you know a lot about what their EXACT likes and dislikes are, both charities and perfumes are too personal to buy for other people.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:05 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm all for Heifer International- it's a great charity that really doesn't have the chance of offending anybody. My mom saves all her change the year round and at christmastime has enough to buy chickens and rabbits for the poor. It's also nice to know that eventually your donation will help more than just the person who originally receives the animal.
But, I know this wouldn't fly in my family. We're a little too sentimental and it would go over more as "I think you're too superficial and like things too much. I don't think you need a gift so I gave it to a poor person instead."
What we do is every Christmas all the adults sit down and pull someone's name out of a hat. You only pull one person's name so you only buy a present for that person. Usually the person tells you something like "I've really been needing a birdbath" or "there's this sweater I really like online..." so we have some sort of idea what they want. It saves a lot of money and time and everyone still gets a present that means something to them. No one is left out and if you don't pull Grandma's name this year, you'll still give her a Christmas card so she knows you care.
The children, of course, get swamped with presents. But that's part of the fun of being three.
posted by shesaysgo at 5:08 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where I live the Salvation Army has an "Angel Tree" program where families in need list their kids' ages and families can "adopt" them by getting gifts for the kids for Christmas. I'm not a fan of the Salvos but that particular program seems to be proselytizing-free, and local kids benefit directly.

So I'd suggest choosing something like that and asking your family to buy gifts for them. That way your family can still enjoy the process of shopping, wrapping, sending, and feeling festive. You get to feel non-wasteful and generous. And needy kids get Christmas presents.
posted by headnsouth at 5:09 PM on October 27, 2011

Are you all incredibly well off? If not, what about savings bonds for the kids or something?
posted by small_ruminant at 5:31 PM on October 27, 2011

So I guess I don't understand why my
believing that a donation to a charity that
the recipient would support is any
different than believing that the perfume I
send my sister is what she wants.

Then why not just give cash? The recipient can decide whether they'd rather have the perfume or make a donation to charity; plus, if they do make a donation, the tax deduction is theirs rather than yours.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:58 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Then why not just give cash?
Because cash is vulgar.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:01 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Because cash is vulgar.

Less so than making a donation to a charity and trying to pretend it is a "gift" to a third party.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:06 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've gotten Donors Choose and Kiva gift cards and think it's a lot better than a "I donated $20 in your name" because it's an experience, I can give to the classrooms in my neighborhood, or groups that need art supplies because I like art, etc. I love Modest Needs as well.

I think it's awesome that you want to forgo gifts. I've actually done this by saying, "If you feel like you want to give a gift, donate to a charity you believe strongly in and write me a note telling why it matters to you so I can fully appreciate it." That sentiment was well received.

Now, if someone asked me which "charity" I would like, I'd say Kickstarter or Modest Needs.

With kids, I've "adopted an animal" in their name and they get a stuffed animal and a certificate that still feels like a gift. My husband, I planted a tree with his name on it so I could point to something. I think just a "Hey, I gave your gift to the national association of questionable fundraising" note is fine. It just doesn't "feel" gifty.
posted by Gucky at 10:21 PM on October 27, 2011

I once came across (perhaps here on Metafilter, come to think of it) a comment that I thought was a pretty good rule of thumb: if something shows up as a central plot point in a wacky sitcom episode, it's probably not the greatest thing to do in real life. Cf. the Seinfeld episode where George gives donations to "the Human Fund" in the names of his coworkers for Xmas (okay, so you probably weren't planning on making up a fake charity ... I think there's still a case to be made).

Your heart is in the right place, but I have to agree that just telling your siblings you've decided not to give them anything but a charitable donation card isn't the best approach to take, especially if your goal is to avoid the "you're a cheapskate" conversation with them. You could give as big of a donation to any charity you want, but someone who is liable to read a request for "no presents this year" as being cheap is probably also likely to read "I gave money to a charity instead" as cheap, too, although perhaps more in terms of expenditure of effort rather than cash. Even if nobody objected I'm not sure you could count your donations as a hit - who wants to be the one to admit they'd rather have gotten a present than help Cure Cancer/Save Kittens/Promote World Peace?

If you're set on doing this as a new tradition, maybe you could ease people into it by taking a two-pronged approach this year: still get presents for all your sibs, but get them ones that cost half as much as what you'd normally buy and include the other half as your donation to a charity of their choice? That way you're not misinterpreted as the one who just doesn't want to bother putting thought into anybody's gifts, and you're not imposing giftlessness on anybody who really relishes the whole present-opening aspect of Xmas, but you're still getting the idea on everyone's radar in a way that lets you gauge how successful it could be on a longer-term basis. Who knows, maybe some of your siblings will even ask for the whole amount to be given as a donation next time around (or maybe not)...
posted by DingoMutt at 10:45 PM on October 27, 2011

Heifer International would not be a good choice if your "recipient" is a vegetarian or vegan. There are people who object to the Red Cross because of their strict nonpartisan stance, which apparently leads to them doing stuff like giving first aid kits to the Taliban. Medical charities could raise someone's hackles if they support animal testing or stem cell research. In fact, there's pretty much no charity out there that won't clash with someone's values - which is why giving to a charity on someone else's behalf is a bad idea, unless you know for a fact that that particular charity is dear to their hearts.

There's another reason why using a charity donation as a gift is a bad idea, and Miss Manners hit it on the head years ago. It amounts to expecting credit twice for the same good deed - first for making the donation, and then for claiming that this donation is somehow also a "gift" to a person not directly involved.

(Since you're concerned about being "vulgar" by giving cash, you might also be interested to know that Miss Manners considers any indication that you expect others to give you a gift to be vulgar - and that includes saying "Donate to charity instead of buying me something.")

I've had relatives "give" me a donation before, and despite being an enthusiastic supporter of many charities, I did not respond by thinking, "How wonderful of them to include me in this selfless act!" No, instead I thought, "This person could not be bothered to put any consideration into what I might like, and so they just gave to a cause they were going to support anyway. "

Having said that, there are ways you can support a charity as part of your gift-giving routine. An obvious way is to do your shopping from charity catalogues. Here in the UK, at least, there are fairtrade catalogues that sell beautiful handicrafts and upscale food items, and you could probably find something for anyone in there, while also supporting the producers in developing countries.

Another way is through an "adoption" scheme - adopting an animal through a zoo or conservation charity is most popular, but I think there are also schemes where you can "adopt" a rare book, work of art, etc. This is better than a straightforward donation because the person in whose name you adopt will generally receive something - a cuddly toy, a newsletter or whatever. Make sure you adopt something your recipient is actually interested in, of course.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 12:21 AM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

I say absolutely just do it. I think it's a great idea- especially the cancer societies/affiliated hospitals because almost everyone's family has had a brush with illness. Why worry about the 'cheapskate' angle- you don't want money wasted on gifts that people, especially you, don't want or need. Why should you be guilted into participating?? Disclaimer- my family stopped years ago. The gifts are basically for kids- the adults don't need them. Especially when it is a complicated and potentially expensive logistical issue. Start a new tradition!
posted by bquarters at 4:13 AM on October 28, 2011

oh, hey, another solution would be to give them gifts that are also donations, i.e. buy them an elephant painting or a piece of nature art or whatever that raises money for a cause but still results in a tangible thing that goes on a mantelpiece (because we all need more of those).

In terms of 'too much stuff' I have found magazine subscriptions to be popular gifts.
posted by bq at 12:04 PM on October 28, 2011

Yeah giving to charity in lieu of gifts, unless the person requested it, really is vulgar with some patronizing on the side. It would be one thing if they were particularly devoted to some charity, but clearly they aren't. You really don't know that your siblings don't enjoy your gifts. In fact they probably do since they've all been so adamant to continue the tradition. If you want to give more to charity, great, do that, but you're basically taking away other people's gifts to fund your charitable urges instead of making that sacrifice yourself. If you really dont want to participate, send a card and tell them to please not give you gifts this year.
posted by whoaali at 3:56 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

To deal with gift giving at christmas, I combine donating to charity with making something. In the past I've made fruitcake and pierogis, and this year I'm planning on making mix CDs (inspired by metafilter's mixtape trade). This means gift selection is easy (everyone gets the same gift) and charity selection is personalized where I'm not a cheapskate.
posted by garlic at 8:07 PM on October 28, 2011

I like the land trusts. But if they're the sort who carry expectations about gift giving, your plan may not work so well.

("You're a cheapskate" accusations, in response to gift giving, would probably be the last conversation I had with someone.)
posted by ead at 3:29 PM on October 30, 2011

To echo the kiva suggestion - that money can be spent on themselves later, or reinvested, and is a little more active/giftlike than a plain old donation. Plus, I don't think that it's very politically loaded, and everyone can choose exactly who/what to support.
posted by R a c h e l at 12:54 PM on November 3, 2011

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