Better to give? 7 things to know about donating to charity as a holiday gift

  • Rose Kennedy
  • For the AJC
11:17 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 Things to Do in Atlanta

If "Family Feud" featured "the top reasons you donate to charity instead of a Christmas present," these answers might pop up on the board: Ran out of time. Angry at recipient. Too much materialism. Really love the charity.

But would a family member or other loved one really appreciate these (mostly) noble efforts? Possibly if you’ve selected the right gift recipient among other things.

A donation to charity could become a bona fide Christmas present, according to Consumer Reports. "Giving to charity in lieu of, or in addition to, a traditional holiday gift has a lot going for it," the consumer watchdog noted. "It restores the idea that the holidays are about caring for and helping others. And it's a simple and elegant alternative to finding a gift for that person who has everything."

RELATED: The best and worst charities for your donations

Scott Galupo, a writer for The American Conservative, considers the gesture problematic at best.

"I'm not sure these are 'gifts,' properly understood," he wrote. "A gift by its nature is supposed to be selfless." A donation to charity, according to Galupo, "violates this principal virtue of gift-giving. It reflects attention back to the giver. A certain sense of self-righteousness underlies the whole enterprise. 'We all have so much already,' the giver says. 'I want to help the less fortunate.'"

But Galupo agrees with CR and other experts that there are times a charitable gift at the holiday is a good thing, just not for everyone or even most people.

These experts, including nonprofits that benefit from charitable gifts at the holidays, shared seven tips for donating a charitable gift at Christmas:

Make sure the recipient wants a donation. This means no passive donations made because a relative never reciprocates or you've learned they always return your other gifts on Boxing Day. "Not everyone will be happy with a charitable donation made on their behalf, especially if they're expecting a traditional gift," CR noted. "Consider asking in advance, even if it spoils the surprise."

According to experts at The Life You Can Save nonprofit, good indicators that a person might be open to a charitable donation in their name include prior complaints about owning too much stuff and being open to new ideas and charitable giving in general. In other words, if Uncle Mort prides himself on never donating a dime and has worn the same suit for 20 years, he's not a good candidate.

Combine a charity gift with another gift if needed. Sometimes Christmas is one of the very few times a recipient gets a nice or traditional gift. So if you've always given your Aunt Marge a new nightie at Christmas, you might need to continue that tradition or add a personal touch to the charity gift. Add a smaller but related present, like a sleep mask, for example.

Choose the appropriate organization. Start by noting which organizations your recipient already contributes to throughout the year, advised Galupo. "Maybe, instead of those mosquito nets, the intended recipient would appreciate a donation to her local parish; instead of that animal shelter, a battered women's shelter. Agreement, in other words, should not be assumed."

Make sure a donation doesn't involve an automatic rollover. The Life You Can Save blog noted that automatic rollovers are tough to keep up with, and you may inadvertently be giving the same gift for years if you're not careful.

Avoid charity gift cards. It's convenient to pay for a gift card that allows the recipient or loved ones to select from a list of charities they'd like to receive the money. CR criticizes this option in most cases. "We've seen handling fees of as much as $5, which would go to a charity if you donated directly," the media outlet noted. "There also can be mailing fees and additional charges when the recipient designates the group or groups to receive the money. There may be few or no local or regional groups." Last, a charity gift card might expire, returning the money to the issuer, not a charity.

Give a gift that gives back instead. You can also give a charitable Christmas gift that turns the gift-to-donation ratio upside down. There are numerous holiday gifts that involve goodies for your loved one and a little extra for a beneficiary charity.

Just a few recommended by Good Housekeeping include travel-size skin savers that also benefit victims of domestic abuse; a French-inspired tote with all proceeds going to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for women worldwide; and floral rain boots that turn 10 percent of profits to education initiatives.

Always check out any charity you plan to give to. A good place to start is Give.org, the "wise giving alliance" for the Better Business Bureau.

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