Saturday, December 20, 2008

Charitable holiday gifts: a great solution for those awkward gifting situations

We all occasionally (or more than occasionally!) have those gift-giving situations we can't figure out how to handle-- do we give this person a gift or not? Often the biggest part of the awkwardness is not wanting the other person to feel obligated to reciprocate. Sometimes this translates into no gift at all, even if you really want the person to know you're thinking of them; sometimes it means you give a small gift so as not to overwhelm, which often leads to a cycle of exchanging little trinkets that neither of you really want or will use. But this year in just such a situation, I think I've hit upon a great solution-- charity-related gifting!

There are some big benefits:

  • Shows you're thinking of them. Giving a gift to a charitable organization in someone's name definitely shows them that you care and that you took the time to think about them during the holiday season. And if you can find an organization that's a good fit for their interests, it's especially thoughtful.
  • Less likely to make them feel awkward or obligated about giving back to you. Because you're not sending them an actual gift, but instead making a donation in their name, there's less of a sense of "Oh, so we're gift-exchangers now." At worst, it creates a cycle of charitable giving, which is the best kind of giving cycle!
  • Keeps the "stuff" to a minimum. These gifts typically do come with some kind of tangible recognition, often a certificate and/or nice photograph. To me that seems just about right-- often you want the person to have something to hold in their hands, but "a little something" is less wasteful than the kind of stuff that you might otherwise buy in this situation.
  • Giving to a good cause. And then there's the fact that your money is going to a worthy cause. That's wonderful in and of itself, and it also could mean that if you consider it part of your "giving budget" then you have little or no extra expense. (Or if you don't have a giving budget and it is an extra expense, at least it's a tax-deductible one.)

As for me, I'd been struggling with how to approach giving gifts to my boyfriend's family. I haven't spent the holidays with them in person yet, so we haven't exchanged gifts so far, but after getting to know them better this year I wanted to show them I was thinking of them. Yet I also didn't want them to feel obligated to reciprocate (or embarrassed that they hadn't.) But once I started to think along the lines of charitable gifts, it all fell into place. I adopted half an acre in the Northern Rockies for his father, who really enjoys nature in general and that area of the country in particular, and I sponsored an animal for his sister, who's a real animal-lover. (There are a lot of other great choices, too; Oxfam America Unwrapped is one of my personal favorites, but there's a ton of options of all sorts listed at Changing the Present.) I think everyone wins-- I get to show them I'm thinking of them, they feel cared for, and more money goes towards conserving nature and protecting animals.

What's your take on giving to charity as a gift to others? And how else do you approach these awkward "do I or don't I?" gift-giving situations?

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