The Dos and Don'ts of Charitable Giving  

Posted by Heidi in

(I am interspersing this post with photos of my little home decor store bursting with idols of worldliness and materialism--oh, the irony of it all!)

I don’t wish to sound ungrateful because I’m not. Truly, I’m not! We are so grateful for the times we have been thought of at the holidays and even more grateful in those years that we are able to be the givers instead of the receivers. It’s so much fun to do something for a family in need that it gives truth to the phrase “’tis better to give than to receive.” So, yes, I am grateful.

However, over the years, as both a giver and receiver of holiday charitable giving (plus the “mother” to a World Vision child in Africa who never wore shoes in any of the pictures sent to us causing us to believe, in our incredible naiviete, that it was a style choice until one year we bought her a goat and there was money left over for her to spend on whatever her heart desired and KA-BOOM, in the next photo this child is wearing shoes and the biggest smile I’ve ever seen) I have some experience in this “arena”, if I may refer to it (holiday charitable giving) as such without sounding condescending. (Because the arena of holiday charitable giving is rampant with condescension). (‘Tis true!)

So here are the dos and don’ts as I see them. Please read them in a “loving” voice since my opinions on this matter in no way invalidate my gratitude. Also, remember that I have been the culprit almost as often as the victim (if I may refer to it as such) in these scenarios.

The Dos: Give. Give often and much. You will never be sorry.

The Don'ts (by category):

Anonymous Giving:

Don't choose to give used items with names written in it such as a book or a jacket. This is not the way a child should learn the truth about Santa. Also, it kind of spoils the whole anonymous thing. Yet . . . this happens with alarming frequency.

Don’t assume that an article of clothing with a small stain or a ripped hem or a hole will be welcomed by even the poorest person on the planet. If you are thinking “They’re so poor, they’ll be happy to get anything,”--a line of thinking that is especially easy to fall into when you don’t know the receiver or the receiver doesn’t know it’s you--then you have another think coming. (Just saying.) (I’ll admit I used to be in that boat. Now I’m in another. And then there’s the child in Africa to whom we send money each month so she can have decent clothes to wear, including spanking new blue and yellow shoes, an inalienable right of all people, in my humble opinion.)

Lastly, should the recipients be someone you know, don’t subconciously (or conciously) expect the recipients to be grateful to you or for your charititable act or for it to change your relationship or to invalidate any wrongs you have done said recipients because, you know . . . they don’t know!

Festive Giving:

Don’t wear a cashmere sweater set adorned with sparkly rhinestones to deliver gifts to the less fortunate thinking that it’s fun and festive. (And don’t refer to the less fortunate as “less fortunate”. It’s condescending even if it’s only the less fortunate who think so.)

Don’t focus on one member of the family (perhaps the harried mother or the disabled child) whilst shafting the spouse or the other children. It is wonderful (and by that I mean. Truly. Wonderful.) when someone who is having a difficult time in life is acknowledged in any way, however, Christmas is not the time to play favorites. The reactions of the other children (or even the spouse) can be so bad (and by that I mean. Truly. Bad.) that you wish no one had thought of your family at all. (Truly.) To be fair to the other children, they have had it up to here with special attention given to the one with special needs and they don’t need to be reminded—at Christmas, no less—that they just aren’t as special as their special sibling.

Don’t buy obvious clearance table items (defined by just whatever as long as it’s cheap with multiple price stickers still attached, or worse, just the price sticker goop) for one person whilst giving thoughtful and pointed gifts to the rest of the family. (Sooooooo passive aggressive.) (Actually, this applies to any gift giving scenario, rich or poor, bond or free, black or white . . .)

Gift card giving:

This is a great idea. I mean, really and truly. However. Be sure this is a store where the family shops. A $25 gift card to Nordstrom’s is a white elephant and by that I mean, you can’t buy anything at Nordstrom’s for $25 and the poverty-stricken recipient will need to spend money to get any use from it. (Not good.)

If these gift cards are to provide gifts Christmas morning for the kiddies, don’t leave them on the doorstep after they have gone to bed on Christmas Eve forcing an already beleagured parent out into the cold night to provide wrapped gifts in the quickly dawning A.M. Unless, of course, the gift cards are the gifts for them to open Christmas morning, in which case they all need to be for the same dollar amount. Again, Christmas is not a time to play favorites. (Still, it’s great fun for the doorbell to ring on Christmas Eve, so fun, in fact, that you could leave coal and no one would be terribly devastated except for the paranoid child of the family who just knows Santa has no gifts for him/her and will wake up Christmas morning to a stocking full of the black glittery stuff.) (Paranoia—the gift that keeps on giving.)

Also, make sure you supply the little piece of paper that says it has been properly loaded so that the people you are trying to help don’t get to the cash register with lotsa stuff only to be told that the card doesn't work with no way to prove that they didn’t lift it off the rack whilst waiting in line. (Merry Christmas!)

The White Elephant:

In India white elephants are revered and are to be treated like royalty and fed like a king. This is not something a poor person (that’s condescending, isn’t it? Let’s say “financially challenged person”) can afford to do. Behold, the white elephant gift.(Btw, this is one of those things that falls into the category of my having been the culprit as well as the victim so I’m not judging.) When bringing a bag or box or sleigh full of whatever to the needy person or family, do not, and I repeat, DO NOT be tempted to dig through your cupboards and drawers for any old thing just to make it look more abundant or to enjoy your newly clean pantry or to make yourself feel like a good person or for any other reason whatsoever. Those cookies that were so gaggy that you only ate a few and left the rest to get stale? Nobody will appreciate those. That laundry detergent that was too strong smelling for you? It will probably be too strong smelling for them, as well. That dog food that gave your dog diarrhea? It will most likely (so likely in fact that I would be willing to bet copious amounts of money on it) give their dog diarrhea, as well, and then they will have to spend money to take the horribly sick dog to the vet and pay someone to clean their hideously besmirched carpet. Or perhaps they will be forced to live with the besmirched carpet (which is easier to do when it is already heavily stained with paint from your painted furniture business). (Just saying.)

The Dos (again): Give. Give often and much. You won't be sorry. Giving is better than receiving, a truth I am glad to know.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 5, 2011 at Monday, December 05, 2011 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

6 wise, witty and wonderful comments

Excellent tips. This is why I try to do things like pick something off the Angel tree so I can remove myself from the situation and not personalize it.

December 5, 2011 at 8:39 AM

The points you made are why I appreciate our Ward's Families Helping Families program. We pick a cardboard ornament with an item specified by the potential receiver as a gift they need written on it. No names---all anonymous. It has to be store-bought and gift receipts recommended and turned over to the RS presidency. You can get as many cardboard ornaments/gift ideas as you want depending on how generous you want to be. You don't know who they're going to and they don't know it's from you, so it takes out all the personal drama-condecension attached to gift-giving:-) Outside of church, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a community services center sorting donations and I AGREE with you about being mindful of the quality of donations. I lot of the donated stuff we sorted ended up in the garbage bin because they were just really trash. I was embarrassed for the donors even if I didn't know who they are. It's rarely ever true that somebody's trash is somebody else's treasure.

December 5, 2011 at 11:14 AM

Totally agree with everything you've said. It's hard to pick for strangers, but thinking helps. Those Christmas angel ornament thingies were invented by brilliant peace-loving angels.

December 5, 2011 at 8:02 PM

This was very informative and I appreciate that advice. Sounds like your truly spoke form "experience" with knowledge of such things.

I remember reading a book by the author Sue Bender....she spoke of a family that was in need, and a neighbor gave her dish set (or some dish item, can't really remember) was a set THE GIVING neighbor hated and was glad to be rid of.
The THAT neighbor had a terrible house fire, and so HER fellow neighbors wanted to help them out.
Well....guess what, SHE GOT BACK the very dish set she tried to give away.
There is a good lesson there.

I love your store, so wish I could take a strole though it.

December 6, 2011 at 3:09 PM

Wisdom and beauty in spades, Heids. You've got them in spades. And you're right about the giving always being better. Nothing warms my heart like just doing for someone else. It makes me forget myself.

December 7, 2011 at 3:37 PM

Someone once left moldy clothing and fabric on our doorstep along with all their old canned and bottled food. We were in need of clothing and food at that time and it was an insult to our entire family. My mother and I talked in great length about the rules of the gift giver and gift receiving this holiday. It was nice to see your insight on the topic. I'm sure there must be a million personal stories out there - shh! you should write a book! Merry Christmas late and a Happy New Year!

December 29, 2011 at 6:52 AM

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