Over at FFL, Lisa Hendey is talking about Confirmation gifts (we are at that time of year again already). She shares a story of a girl who gave all her cash received for Confirmation to an Alzheimer’s organization in honor of her grandmother who suffers from the disease. I find it admirable this young girl wanted to help and give back but her donation raises for me a larger question: Is it always okay to give cash and/or gifts to charity?
I actually did receive some Confirmation gifts from non-Catholics like a teacher at my school who overheard me talking about it with another student from my parish and knew it was a big deal and surprised us both with small Christian gifts discreetly to honor what she knew was “a big deal” in our faith. I was touched and a little embarrassed too. I wrote a little thank you note thanking her for her generosity and emphasized living a Christian life with this little reminder. I don’t remember receiving any cash for my Confirmation, but I think of that little gift when I think of donating Confirmation cash. Would this teacher have understood my desire to give back? Or would she have wanted me to use it on myself to grow as a Christian by purchasing a Bible or religious music cd, etc. In her case, she probably would have, but I’ve come to notice that when it comes to gifts and cash for all occasions, it doesn’t always make the giver happy to know their gift was giving twice by becoming charitable.
I’ve mostly observed this trend from older people who tend to view extending their gifts in this way as a lack of gratitude by the person who was the intended recipient. And this is especially true of gifts given to children. Recently, one of my neighbors shared the story of receiving a duplicate gift (duplicate to a toy her children already owned for some time) from a relative on her husband’s side of the family. They did not include a receipt so she did not know where the item was purchased or who might exchange it for other merchandise with no receipt. Feeling awkward about asking this relative where they purchased the item, she and her husband decided to donate the new item in its original packaging to a local charity that gives toys to needy children for birthdays and Christmas. They felt great knowing that a child would get a brand new (instead of previously loved) toy who might not otherwise get that experience. Until this relative found out when they came over and noticed the toy the kids were playing with was much older and more beat up than the new one would have been and my neighbor’s husband explained what had happened. This relative was immediately insulted that their gift was not appreciated and said next time, they wouldn’t bother.
So how do you decide what gets donated, what gets returned, what gets kept? Whose gifts are more critical? I don’t have an easy answer for that one. We try, as do most of our friends, to clean out old toys for donations prior to our kids getting them for birthdays, Christmas etc. And we try to keep friends and family abreast of what the kids are interested in and what they don’t need more of, but even those best laid plans can go astray. I recently read on Celebrity Baby Blog where the singer Pink felt that her unborn child had gotten a lot of unnecessary gifts at her baby shower, despite her telling people what she felt was warranted. People were outraged that she never mentioned donating them to a pregnancy outreach center or Goodwill. I felt bad for Pink because even if she felt that a wipe warmer was frivolous (and I’m making up that example, she said no such thing) if her grandmother gave it to her and was proud of her gift, she’s probably going to look for it when she visits the new baby and if she doesn’t see it, ask about it. I know my grandparents would. What then?
My policy has evolved to, if I am going to use a gift as a charitable donation (which is most likely to happen with cash), I let people know in advance. Any generous gifts of cash will be donated to XYZ charity we appreciate the chance to make your gift go further, is the note I would include in any type of invitation. This sets up the reasonable expectation for the gift giver of what would happen with their gift and give people who might not like that idea an out to actually purchase a gift with their cash. I know my mother-in-law actually frowns upon cash as a gift (and gift cards too) because she has certain expectations as to what the cash will be used for. For example, she would like my husband to buy shoes with cash but he may feel his old shoes are fine and put the money toward groceries which would bother her. And a Wal-Mart gift card is definitely going toward food, dog food or kids’ clothes vs clothes for ourselves. So, I don’t see anything wrong with letting people know. It can certainly help avoid any implications of insult or ingratitude.
And for those of us giving gifts, I believe we should give generously what we can and feel is appropriate and not get our feelings hurt if the recipient doesn’t use it the way we originally intended. This is not cash given to someone because they said they needed something and it is for that purpose at all. A gift is a gift and it is ultimately up to the recipient to decide the best usage.