Miss Manners on Charitable Gift Giving

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December 17, 2010; Source: Oakland Tribune | It’s hard to imagine that an act of charity would offend other family members. But when her mother decided to make a donation for Christmas (in lieu of presents) in the name of all her children, grandchildren, nephews, and so on, one child was so outraged that she penned a letter to advice columnist Miss Manners.

At issue: that the mother is giving to her favorite charity, not one that other family members—many who themselves are charitably minded—have any interest in supporting; she gets a personal tax deduction for her gift; and while she’s not giving presents to other family members beyond letting them know about the donation in their names, she’s happily accepting (or perhaps expects) gifts from family members.

In her letter, the aggrieved child asks Miss Manners: “Are we wrong in feeling this way about Mom’s donation-deduction Christmas gift?” In her response, Miss Manners writes: “Charity in lieu of presents works only if 1) those concerned agree to it as a policy, and 2) the particular charities chosen are of interest to those being honored. Families that feel that presents have become superfluous or burdensome sometimes do this.”

Miss Manners suggests that the family let their mother know how they feel and “suggest that either the recipients be allowed to choose their own charities or that you use the occasion to forgo an exchange of presents with her.”—Bruce Trachtenberg