It’s your birthday. And your Dear Aunt Sally sent you a card with warm wishes. But instead of her normally monetary gift, she enclosed a website address and announced (proudly of course) that she had donated a goat to someone in Uganda on your behalf. Or your parents, trolling around the world during retirement decided that they would donate a fishing net to someone in Asia with your name on it so that an entire village could feed their family. And your high tech, state of the art office staff threw you a party and instead of collaborating on a gift, they donated a $100 check to a charity in your name.
A popular trend is fast becoming giving money to charities in lieu of gifts. In fact, if you contact NASA, you can have a star named after your favourite person, for a small fee of course. And this star will remain forever in the astronomical archives. Sweet gesture, right? After all, so many of us have so much, that we don’t really need gifts or token presents. Wouldn’t anyone with enough appreciate others who are eager to share their philanthropy spirit? Or is this going just a tad too far?
How would the kids in your family if on Christmas every year, rather than giving presents – you bought bricks in their honor to be used in a local Habitat for Humanity project. Would the kids feel ripped off?
Giving is truly an essential part of humanity. In fact, the unwritten rule is that those who can help others, should in some form or another. If you are in a position to improve someone else’s life by giving, or doing, or donating – then it is your duty as part of humanity to do so. However, doing it in someone else’s honor – especially if that someone doesn’t share the same philanthropist spirit, may not be the greatest gift idea.
One organization called Just Give dot org, encourages people who are hosting everything from a birthday party, to a bridal shower – to encourage guests to give to charities rather than give gifts. If this is hat the bride and groom, or parents to be want – then it can be a wonderful gesture. But going out on a limb and donating money or gifts in someone else’s name, isn’t exactly romantic or thoughtful. In fact, it is actually more self serving to the giver to indulge his or her own vision of ‘giving’ upon someone else. And in many cases, no gift at all may be a better option.
This same idea of donating to charities in lieu of gifts is becoming commonplace among corporate America. Many companies feel that investing money in a cause or charity rather than giving out gifts during the holidays is a better way to spend their money. In the corporate world, this type of giving is seemingly being accepted and puts the organization in a position to show its compassion and concern for the world around us. On a more personal level, not everyone is sold on the idea.
For instance, Fox News ran an article about a woman who asked that her friends, family and co-workers gave a donation to the Susan Komen Breast Cancer fund instead of buying her gifts for the holidays or birthdays. As a breast cancer survivor, this was a cause close to her heart, and she felt confident that she already had all she really needed. Most people did so willingly, and lovingly – especially since there was a personal connection between the woman involved and the cause. However, very few of us feel personally connected to the need to give a Ugandan a goat. And furthermore, so many of these charities are unregulated, that you never really know where your money is going. So while the thought is good, it could be a complete waste of time.
Some schools have asked students to collect money and supplies such as jeans or coats to give to homeless shelters during the year. The difference with this type of giving is that the kids are involved in the giving and therefore feel that they are making a difference in the world. However, give those same kids a birthday card with a note that says, “I bought a pair of jeans for you and donated them to a homeless boy,” may not be teaching the same lessons of having a giving heart.
Perhaps a better way to allow people to use their gifts as a donation is to contact an organization such as Charity Gift. With this charity, people can donate funds on a person’s behalf, and then that person can direct and choose the path of how the money is disbursed. This way the recipient plays a part in choosing the charities that they feel are worthwhile.
Most of us can admit that we have more than we need. When holidays or birthdays or special occasions role around, it can be difficult to ascertain what you really need versus what you really want. Certainly, there is room for all of us to donate. However, we should be able to dictate where we donate so that the gifts and donations resonate with whom we are and what is important to us.
Do you think giving money to charities in lieu of gifts is an effective way to engage in gift exchanging?