Charity or Deduction?

I have a question about Christmas Gifts.  Now that we’re well past the recent “gift-giving season”, and far enough away from the next one, I think this is a good time to bring this up.

What is your stance on making a charitable donation in someone else’s name, and giving that as a gift?

This is what prompted my question.  It’s a question/answer from the “Dear Prudence” column of the website Slate.com:

Dear Prudence: I have a family member who sends a gift of some animal to the Heifer fund as a Christmas present to us every year. Every year I get more and more offended, as this is not a “gift” to anyone except themselves, as they get a tax deduction. My kids understand about giving to charity, but I cannot explain how this is a “gift” to us. I would like to tell this person to please stop sending these donations as “gifts” and only a card is fine.

D.C. Metro (response): What a good lesson for the kids! A family member makes a contribution in your family’s name to a wonderful cause, and you want your children to understand this isn’t really a gift but a tax deduction, and you want to demand a refund from the giver. Unless you have some moral objection to helping the poorest people in the world obtain farm animals, be a good example to your kids and tell them this is a generously spirited gift and have them help you write a thank-you note.

On one hand, I completely agree with Prudence’s response.  Accept the gift graciously, and explain to your children what Heifer International is, what they stand for, and what they do.  It’s a wonderful thing that your name is attached to helping others who are in dire need.

But my question is this:  If you donate to a charity in another’s name, how do you decide where to give?

Perhaps your recipient doesn’t believe in Heifer International.  Or Unicef, or the Red Cross, or whomever else it is that you passionately support and make a donation to, “in their name”.  Frankly, I wouldn’t want any donations to be made in my name to the United Way.  Why?  Because I don’t agree with the way they work.  I’d rather give directly to a particular charity, than go through the “clearinghouse” that is the United Way.

But would I gripe if someone made a contribution to them in my name, as a gift to me?  I don’t think that I would… I would be disappointed, of course, but manners would prevent me from saying anything but, “thank you, that’s very generous.”  But on the inside, I may be reacting exactly as “D.C.Metro” did in the above letter.  I would prefer a simple greeting card than to have my name attached to a ‘tax deduction’ to a charity that I do not support.

Does that make me a bad person?  No, I don’t think so.  But it does place me in the minority, I think, of people who give to charities in another’s name, and then expect the same standard to be applied when doing the same in return.

My dad is the kind of person who tells everyone, “don’t buy me ANYTHING for Christmas.  I have everything I want.  If you must spend money, donate it to someone who needs it.”

So we do.  One year, my brothers and I donated to a local church group that my dad works with.  He goes around “alley junking” bike parts, and assembles them into really nice bikes, then gives them to this church who, in turn, either sells them for a very low price, or gives them for free, to kids/adults who need a bike.  After that group folded, I made donations to Wounded Warriors in his name.  (I’ve since quit, because I really believe they are spending more money sending me pens, pads of paper, pennies and stamps, in an effort to get more donations from me).  But each time I’ve made a donation in my dad’s name, it’s been to a charity that closely mirrors his personality and beliefs.  I would NEVER consider, for example, donating to the NAACP in his name.  Why?  Because he doesn’t believe in the work that they do.  His opinion, and I respect it.

So why would I be thankful when someone makes blanket contributions to their pet charity in my name?  That situation becomes what D.C.Metro is talking about: a tax deduction for the giver, and frankly, nothing but headache for the recipient.

It’s a weird position to be placed in, and I think that “Prudence’s” response was the appropriate one:  say thank you and move on.  Perhaps, if you feel passionately enough about it, talk to the gift-giver and say, in a very respectful way, “I appreciate you making a donation in my name, but, in future, I prefer these charities that are different from yours.” (Although I don’t know if there is any ‘respectful way’ to say that, now that I go back and re-read it.)

And then, in your own gift-giving, don’t be so narrow as to consider a charitable donation as a “tax deduction”.  So what if it is?  Give to the charity because it’s the right thing to do, AND because it’s the place that your recipient can feel proud to be a part of, not because it’s the PC thing to do, or worst of all, a way to excuse yourself from giving a “real” gift while roping in a nice tax deduction for yourself.

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9 Responses to Charity or Deduction?

  1. Tasneem R says:

    Hi..I’m glad I happened to stumble across your blog . It is completely different to other blogs I have seen so far . The topic which you have brought up is disputable . But I agree with the response which you’ve got . Forget about ‘tax deduction’ , think about the intention behind it. Nothing is more nobler than giving charity .

    Left or Right Thinker- Which side of the brain do you think from?
    http://www.3smartcubes.com/pages/tests/leftorright/leftorright_instructions.asp

  2. Joy says:

    I guess I feel if someone wants to give something in my name, it should be of my choice as to where it goes. I mean we all have our charities and pet places we like to donate to and we don’t always know what’s close to someone else’s heart.

    One of Paul’s cousins died a few years ago and we were directed to donate money in lieu of flower to the Mayo Clinic. I would NEVER donate to them again because in my opinion, they really waste money. We get brochures and “donate more” kinds of letters and catalogs that are a huge waste of money and it makes me really wonder just what the money goes for that you donate than I can even tell you. I don’t want to donate my money for things to be made to mail people. I’d rather give it to “people” who need it or research. If I ever have to do that again, I’d give it to the person and let them give it in their name and let them get those annoying things in the mail. Every single time one comes, I get highly annoyed.

    I think the whole donating thing is really nice but I feel if you aren’t close enough to the person to know “who” they want to donate money to, you should ask them or give them a check and have them make it out to who they want to donate to.

    I really like what you did with your dad Laura. I like keeping things close to home like that.

    • Laura says:

      That’s what happened to me with the Wounded Warriors, Joy. When I donated to them, they were a fledgling group, and their mission was simple: to provide backpacks full of necessities – toiletries, etc. – to soldiers on the front lines who were wounded and didn’t yet have all their gear. But man, the CRAP I get in the mail from them! Bulging envelopes that contain pens, pads of paper, stickers, lapel pins, even stamps and pennies. It’s because of this that I no longer donate to them. I’m sick of getting their packets of crap.

      I get that these organizations must market themselves – the Non-Profit World is as competitive as any corporate market. But it’s a hard line to walk, and easy to fall off the virtuous path.

  3. SKL says:

    I rarely do the “charity in your name” thing. I feel charity is very personal. If I know for sure that the other person is, or is likely to be, interested in the cause, and I know they really don’t want any material gifts, then I might do it. As for receiving, I agree – I’d rather just get a card, for the most part. But on the other hand, if people feel obligated to do more than just a card, this seems to be a reasonable middle ground.

    I could see using this as a way to let people know about a cause you care about. But if that were my goal, I’d provide a lot of information along with the “gift” notice – and make sure the recipient understands why I’m passionate about it. And I’d listen for any feedback that might suggest they don’t like that particular charity or cause. For example, I will never donate to UNICEF or United Way because they use donated money to support abortion over adoption. If someone wanted to donate money to them in my name, I hope they would at least check out my feelings about it.

    I also wouldn’t do the same thing year after year (unless the recipient wanted me to). After letting them know about the charity, it should be up to them to decide if this reflects their beliefs/priorities and give a donation of their own.

    I must say that it bugs me when people imply that donors give to charity just to get a tax deduction. No matter how high their tax rate is, they are still paying a significant net sum out of their pockets, and often taking significant time to figure out where it should go. They could have done plenty of other, selfish things with that money, many of them also tax-advantaged. I could have spent the money I donated in the past month on getting new, energy efficient windows, doors, and roof, and probably got a bigger tax benefit. But there is a good reason why charity is deductible. It is much more effective/efficient to have private individuals form, manage, investigate, and monitor transfers of wealth (voluntary or involuntary) than to have the government do it. As someone who has always pinched pennies to give to charity – including during years when I could not itemize deductions – it is a real kick in the face to be told that I do it for my own benefit. Not that I need the public’s approval, but still.

  4. Joy says:

    I would also like to add the the whole “tax” thing would never occur to me. My mind doesn’t think like that. “If I give this, I get this back.” That kind of thinking would never enter my head.

  5. Lucy says:

    I have never given or received a charitable donation as a gift. I do agree that it is thoughtful, but I also agree that you really have to know the person whose name you are using to do the donation. I definitely think it can be a very inappropriate gift if the person does not support the charity of choice.

  6. Nikki says:

    I would never mind having someone donate in my name as a gift. I would like to pick that charity though. If I were to do this as a gift myself, I would ask everyone to let me know what charity they’d like to have their name associated with.
    The tax deduction thing would never occur to me either. I donate to the goodwill a couple times a year and they always ask if I want a receipt. I always say no, it’s no big deal to me. Saying that though, I have no idea what kind of money we’d be getting back, maybe it’d be worth it but I just never do. I think it’s important for our kids to know that there are less fortunate kids out there, hurting animals that needs care. Not only does it humble you/them, but hopefully you are raising them to do the same when they get older. Make a difference, little or big.

  7. Dana says:

    I guess I think about it as any other gift. If I don’t like it, I thank the other person graciously. It’s not a big deal or like my lifestyle has been compromised by an “inappropriate” gift being given to me. I suppose if the charity were totally offensive to me, it would be hard for me to swallow a gift given to them in my name. But, otherwise, it’s a gift– something I didn’t need or ask for, but was given to (or on my behalf) anyway. Graciousness is in order. Even when I don’t like it. It’s hard for me to imagine being offended by the thoughtfulness, even if it doesn’t exactly “hit the spot”.

  8. Gary says:

    I don’t believe I would like somone to donate anything in my name. If they feel that they HAVE too, then I would want them to ask where I would like the donation to go to.

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