The practice of giving charitable contributions instead of material gifts has grown in popularity in recent years. Circumstances in which this practice is especially popular include memorial situations, second weddings and any other circumstance in which the recipient may not need new material possessions; older people, for example, can be hard to buy gifts for because they already own so many things.
There’s a certain etiquette attached to giving — or requesting — charitable donations instead of material gifts. While it might be tempting to request charitable contributions instead of traditional gifts, many people may find it rude that you’re specifically requesting any type of gift at all.
When giving a charitable contribution in lieu of a traditional gift, it’s important to keep the recipient’s favorite causes in mind, and make sure you notify them of your contribution in their name. In some circumstances, it may not be appropriate to give a charitable contribution in lieu of a traditional gift.
Asking for Charitable Gifts in Your Name
In some circumstances where you’d traditionally receive a gift, you may prefer instead to have contributions made to a favorite charity in your name. Whether you’re getting married or celebrating a wedding anniversary, a birthday or a holiday, you may feel tempted to ask to your guests to donate to a specific charity in your name.
Many people will consider it rude if you make this request on your invitations or otherwise state it directly to your guests. Asking for a charitable contribution in your name is the same as asking for any other gift, and directly soliciting specific gifts is considered impolite. Furthermore, some people may get the impression that you’re showing off what a good person you are by asking for charitable contributions instead of traditional gifts.
That doesn’t mean you can’t request charitable contributions in lieu of gifts. The polite thing to do is to ask a close relative or friend to spread the word among your guests that you’d like charitable donations made to a specific charity. This way, you aren’t directly soliciting gifts.
The exception to this is in a memorial situation, where you’d like to ask for charitable contributions on behalf of someone close to you who has passed away. In this case, you may directly solicit these donations in the funeral announcement.
When someone gives a charitable gift in your name, respond as you would to any other gift. Send a thank you note or at least verbally thank the person for their gift.
Knowing When Charitable Gifts Are Appropriate
While you may think that a charitable donation in someone else’s name is a nice gesture, the other person may not always see it that way. Before giving a charitable donation instead of a gift, make sure that the person on whose behalf you’re donating will be okay with not receiving a traditional gift. The person may be looking forward to receiving a specific gift, or they may simply like getting gifts. You could hurt their feelings if they were looking forward to getting a material gift instead.
If you do decide to give a charitable gift in someone’s name, choose a charity that person supports or would support. Do this even if you don’t believe in or support the same causes they do. Giving to charity on someone’s behalf is a type of gift to that person, so you should honor the causes that person believes in. Sometimes parents will donate a boat in the name of their children. This is permitted as long as the value of the boat is not in excess of $14,000 per parent giving or if two parents are giving away the boat not to exceed $28,000.
Notify the person that you’ve given to charity in their name. Though many charities will also notify people of contributions made in their name, you should also send a personal note. There’s no need to specify how much you donated; you should keep that information to yourself to avoid looking either cheap or extravagant.
Giving Charitable Gifts in a Child’s Name
Be careful when donating to charity in the name of a child. While this might be fine gesture to parents of very young infants, most small children really look forward to getting gifts for birthdays, holidays and other occasions. They may not understand the concept of charitable giving, and in any case, they will almost certainly be disappointed not to receive a gift. Making a donation in a child’s name creates the opportunity for a dialogue about the importance of giving. It can be educational and a good way to get children into the habit of giving. However, you should always combine a charitable gift in a child’s name with a traditional gift for the child, so they are not disappointed or upset.
Giving charitable gifts instead of material gifts is a popular way to honor the spirit of giving without contributing to consumerism or cluttering up people’s homes with things they don’t need. Just remember the etiquette that goes along with giving these types of gifts, and your gesture is sure to be appreciated.
About the Author: Contributing blogger Polly Tuggends is a certified etiquette and civility specialist. She regularly makes charitable donations to organizations on behalf of hard-to-shop-for family and friends. For more information about donating gifts go to boatangel.org