A press release found its way into my inbox the other day. It declared that the majority of Canadians would like a charitable donation made in their name as a Christmas gift. It was, of course, from a charity – World Vision, specifically – and they were promoting some of their own efforts in the process. I’m not going to say they’re wrong, maybe the majority of Canadians would appreciate that kind of gift. But I will say that if you’re getting me a gift, do not donate to a charity in my name.
It’s not because I’m against charity, I’d encourage anyone to donate to any causes they see as worthy. The problem with a gift donation is that it takes away the choice. Donating to a charity has two components, one is the monetary support, of course, but the other is the statement of approval. If you’re donating to someone, you’re saying that you believe that what they’re doing matters. Donate enough, and you often have the chance to put your name on permanent display as someone who supports whatever cause you’re giving money to. Even if you donate a little it’s still an expression of support.
I think that charitable donations are a personal thing and to make them a gift takes that personal touch away. If I’m donating to a charity, it’s because I believe in what they do. As a gift, it becomes someone else’s personal statement using my own name. In the same way that I would be horrified if someone voted on my behalf, I could not be happy if someone donated to charity in my name without letting me choose where it goes.
Christmas is a time of giving, and it’s also a time when people are generous to their charity of choice, and that’s great. It’s also a time when families get together. So if families want to replace gifts with charity – which makes sense, actually, since as people get older gifts are harder to choose – there are ways to do it that don’t remove that choice. If the family all agrees on what they like to support, they can go together to do a big donation to that cause – if the family is big enough, it could be something that gets their family name associated with it forever. If it’s small, instead of a donation to a specific charity, it could instead be the plan for a donation, make the donation to whatever choice the person makes. Allow them to make their own personal statement in the process.
A gift donation does show that someone has their heart in the right place, and in a lot of cases the gift is going to be to a charity someone appreciates anyway, because people know who they’re giving gifts to.
But, personally, if a donation is being made in my name, I want to be the one who decides who gets that donation.