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Uncharitable Charity Gifting

A few years ago, my husband and I decided to get his mother what we thought would be a very nice and thoughtful gift – a donation in her name to the Breast Cancer foundation. (Her twin sister is a survivor of breast cancer.) We thought it would be appreciated and sent her the card saying that a donation had been made in her name.

Did she appreciate it? No! In fact, her exact words were,  “I’m so disappointed. I REALLY wanted something for MYSELF.” As in something for her that she could use/have. This was not a “I know I’m a twin but want to be treated as an individual” matter, she was just being extremely selfish. I couldn’t believe how she reacted. Thank goodness my husband agrees with me and thinks that she is being incredibly selfish.

What do you think? 0813-13

Donations to charities can be a very personal, individualized thing.  What you might support, I might not agree is worthy of my money so choosing to “gift” someone with a donation in their name can be presumptuous.  It’s not that this particular breast cancer awareness group is bad but to be honest, there are some well-intentioned charities I would not choose to be associated with due to some flaw in their mission statement or how their donated money is allocated.    For example, there is one charitable organization that advertises heavily on television and upon investigation we found that too great a percentage of every dollar donated went not to intended “victims” but rather administrative costs and advertising.   I found a similar group with a much better ratio of dollars applied to the actual people needing it.

What you did was give a gift that made you happy.  Mom should have been gracious and said nothing but obviously your donation to a charity she is obviously not affiliated with was not viewed as a gift.   If you feel the need to support breast cancer research, by all means donate to your heart’s content but don’t assume others have the same passion to assist in charitable fundraising with their birthdays used as the opportunity.


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  • acr August 14, 2013, 8:42 am

    A donation to a charity is not a gift, unless that person has expressed their support for that charity. While your MiL was rude to say that, your gift was neither nice nor thoughtful. And it wasn’t actually even a gift at all. You chose the charity, and you get the tax write off. She got nothing.

  • lkdrymom August 14, 2013, 8:46 am

    How is that a gift for the MIL? Sorry I wouldn’t be too appreciative of such a gift either. Unless MIL was active in that charity and you KNEW it was what she would want, you were wrong to assume this would be considered a ‘gift’.

  • o_gal August 14, 2013, 8:46 am

    POD to Admin – “What you did was give a gift that made you happy.” Emphasis on “you”. I’ve given to charity in someone’s name in the past, but it was at their request that we do this instead of giving them a gift.

  • Jewel August 14, 2013, 8:49 am

    I agree with Admin. You gave your MIL a gift that made you happy and you got a tax break in the process. I liken your actions to my mothers the year she gave me a club membership for my birthday. While she was a life long member of the club, I had zero interest in joining it (which she very well knew as we had had several conversations over the years on the topic). To add salt to the wound, she was in charge of membership sales that year. So, using the handy excuse of my birthday, she increased her sales numbers by choosing to give this birthday gift to “me”. And, yes, we had a row over it because I just couldn’t let her self serving behavior go unchallenged.

  • yokozbornak August 14, 2013, 8:56 am

    If you want to buy someone a gift, buy them a gift. If you want to give to charity, give to charity. Don’t mix the two and assume that someone who is expecting or hoping to receive a gift is going to be enthusiastic about a donation in their name especially when you have no idea if they actually support this particular charity or not. I am sure your heart was in the right place, but this was really not a gift for your MIL at all but a statement about what you think should be important to her.

    On another note, if this was a happy occasion like Christmas or her birthday, I think the last thing anyone wants to do is get a “gift” that brings back sad memories or reminds them of their own mortality which is exactly what this would have done. I think you and your husband made a major misstep on this one.

  • technobabble August 14, 2013, 9:03 am

    For my grandmother’s 80th birthday, my parents made a donation of a substantial amount of money to a breast cancer charity in her name (along with throwing her a lovely surprise party). My grandmother is a 3-time cancer survivor (once in the mouth, once in the throat, and, most recently, in her breasts, resulting in a full double mastectomy). In this case, Grandma appreciated the sentiment behind the gift.

    The practical part of this present is, because the donation was in her name, she was able to claim the
    donation on her income taxes that year. OP, maybe you could point out to your MIL that she can use the tax refund she gets back on your donation to buy something for herself.

  • Cat August 14, 2013, 9:06 am

    What you gave Mom was essentially a tax write-off for yourself. If she had said, “I really have everything I want for myself. Don’t get me anything. ” The donation would have been all right.
    The fact that you want to lable her as “extremely selfish” because you did what you wanted without asking her before making the donation is both unkind and disrespectful.
    Next time, ask, “Mom, I am stuck in thinking of things to get you for your birthday. Is there anything in particular you would like to have/do?”

  • KarenK August 14, 2013, 9:11 am

    I guess I’m selfish, too, because I agree with the OP’s MIL and the above commentary. I probably would not have said anything, but I’d be thinking it, and I’d be disappointed as well. The OP and her husband essentially forced his mother to donate *her* money to a charity of *their* choice.

    “Gifts” such as this are best avoided unless specifically requested by the recipient.

  • Morticia August 14, 2013, 9:12 am

    Giving to charity is definitely a “know your audience” sort of thing. When asked what I want, I will frequently indicate options which include donations to the charities of my choice, but the point is that they are my choice. I would not presume to give a charitable donation as a gift to someone who has not indicated a desire for it — except for my child, when we were teaching him about charity (he also got other gifts).

  • jd August 14, 2013, 9:13 am

    Let me add to this donating to charity as a gift, please. A friend requested that my husband and I donate to her favorite charity in place of a gift to her, one time. I investigated it, and it was a sound charity with a good purpose, so no problem. I thought! They thanked me and then began to flood me with mail, and were calling the house up to a high of four times a day — you read that right, four times (we were not answering, as we have caller ID). We also received daily emails, until I finally contacted them through email and requested an end to the solicitations. They promptly ended the calls and emails (to their credit), but the snail mail still comes. They are a good organization, but I had clearly stated my donation was a one time gift for someone else — while I do support charities, I already had chosen the ones I wished to give to regularly, and can’t add any others. I wonder if this woman, who received a gift given in her name, will now be contacted by the charity for more donations? Never give to a charity in someone’s name unless you know they support it, and never donate unless you are willing to deal with the possible solicitations that can follow. While the mother’s reaction was certainly not gracious, she told you the truth. Not everyone wants a gift like that, and not everyone wants to be asked to give a gift like that, which is why I hate it when bridal couples ask for gifts to charities in lieu of gifts. Do they know what kind of mailing mess they can start for their guests, who may not care for those charities anyway?

  • NikkiBee August 14, 2013, 9:16 am

    Hmmmm. Part of me thinks the mother is rude to be that blunt about it, but the rest of me thinks that charity giving is a very personal thing, and if you’re buying someone a gift, actually buy them a gift and not some warm fuzzies for yourself on how generous you are by making that choice for your gift’s recipient. Totally agree with admin on this one.

  • Anonymous August 14, 2013, 9:22 am

    Is this more of a “MIL doesn’t support breast cancer research” thing, or a “MIL doesn’t want to be treated like one half of a pair of twins” thing? It sounds like it’s more the latter, because when you grow up as a twin (especially when your parents were expecting a singleton), everything must be split in half. Birthdays and other milestones (first day of school, religious sacraments if you’re religious, graduations), must all be shared, so it’s very seldom that you have “your” moment. I’m not a twin, but I’ve known several pairs of twins over the course of my life, and some of them take all this in stride, but others really hate it, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

    Now, MIL’s twin sister survived breast cancer, which is quite a feat–it’s awesome that she survived it, but horrible that she got it in the first place, and during that time, everyone expects the friends and family of the “cancer warrior” (I don’t like the word “victim”), to be by their side 24/7, and not chafe at making sacrifices for them, and basically stop being who they are, except in relation to the person who’s sick. To do otherwise (or even to want to), is often viewed as “selfish.” I felt this way when my mother had breast cancer in 2009 (she’s fine now–remission since early 2010), because she’d often throw epic fits, and even go as far to say that I was making it worse, and that she got cancer in the first place because I was stressing her out, etc. Now, since then, I’ve participated in Relay for Life, and raised money towards cancer research going forward, but that was my choice, and it came later–I wasn’t ready the first year my mom was in remission. Either way, I still wouldn’t want my birthday, or another similar event in my life, to be co-opted as a cause for cancer research, because they’re two separate things, and also, because I don’t necessarily WANT to remember the bad times of when my mom had cancer.

    Throw in the “twin” element with MIL, and you’ve got a double whammy–after having grown up as one half of “the twins,” MIL probably felt a lot of pressure to think of her sister, and only of her sister, while she had cancer. She probably got a lot of sympathy from others, but with that comes the feeling of, “when will I get to live my own life again?”; along with the feeling of “we’re related, so am I going to get it too?” So, with all that in mind, a birthday gift of a donation to cancer research, might not be the best idea. MIL may have reacted badly, but part of that (I think) stems from the widespread expectation that everyone connected with a “cancer warrior” is expected to be a perpetual “cancer cheerleader.” Anyway, I’d give this incident a pass, and get MIL something else as a “do-over.” If you can’t afford anything big, because you spent her birthday gift budget on the donation, just bake her a batch of brownies or something, and apologize for missing the mark. If MIL is habitually rude, then yeah, distance yourself from her, but I’d chalk this up to an emotional reaction over something that’s probably very difficult for her.

  • Lisa August 14, 2013, 9:34 am

    Right on Admin!! I hope the OP ‘gets it’.

  • Princess Buttercup August 14, 2013, 9:36 am

    The only time I see a charity gift being given in someone else’s name as a good idea is if the someone else has died and you want to keep their memory alive.
    My everyday job is for a charity (that’s why I’m so poor, lol) and every year I take a work-cation where I spend my time organizing an auction for another charity. So I’ve seen some “in memory of” donations and we make sure to acknowledge them properly. But a gift in someone else’s name, unless you’ve spoken to the person and they agree they’d like you to do that, is odd to me.
    Mom should have received it more politely but still not the best idea to begin with. Even if you knew this was a charity she for certain supported (just because it has something to do with a family member doesn’t guarantee they like that charity) there should have been a matching gift for her. Example, here’s a donation in your name to breast cancer research foundation and a pretty pink shirt since pink is the beast cancer awareness ribbon color.

  • Pen^2 August 14, 2013, 9:54 am

    Admin is right on the money with this one. Although the mother in this story could have reacted a little better, her feelings are not in the wrong place. The purpose of a gift is to benefit the recipient, and if the recipient is unhappy with the gift, then the giver needs to take it as a lesson in choosing a gift more carefully in the future, rather than writing it off as “recipient was selfish”. The whole purpose of a gift is to be something the recipient wants. That is not selfish, it’s just how it works.

    Donating is a personal thing which should be cleared with someone before it happens (or, if it’s going to be a surprise, then you should know them well enough that something like this won’t occur). It’s like buying someone a pet or a weekend holiday: sure, it’s nice, and many people would love it, but for many others it would be more trouble than it’s worth. Know your audience before giving these kinds of things.

    That said, the mother could have been a little more gracious about it. Although from the way the above is written as “we both agreed she was extremely selfish”, she may have been verbally provoked somehow when she didn’t leap for joy upon receiving her unwanted gift. Who can say.

  • Kathryn Dickinson August 14, 2013, 9:54 am

    While it was ungracious for the MIL to criticize her “gift” , it equally ungracious for the DIL to call her selfish, it stinks of a drama inducing ” got ya”. Both are wrong. Sometime the roads to hell are paved with good intentions. I recently experienced a side ways version of this on an invitation to a child’s 11th birthday party where her parents asked for a donation to the school band program. Having already made a substantial donation before , I chose to send a gift. At the party there were many envelopes and only 2 gifts. The birthday girl was delighted to receive them, the donation aspect not so much. Her birthday presents were co-opted by her do gooder parents to fund an already well funded program.
    My opinion is this if you chose to donate fine, if not , fine also. I find that giving donations as gifts for birthday celebrations as non gifts especially for children. Its disappointing. If you wish to honor someone with a donation a better time would be an anniversary of a death or cure, or another time of year that is not tied into something so personal as a birthday. Your birthday is your most special day, in the case of the MIL , I would of asked her if she welcomed a donation, if not I would of bought her a personal item, and reserved judgement. No one was made happy by the DIL good intention.

  • Allie August 14, 2013, 9:54 am

    “Selfish” is probably a bit strong. Her etiquette crime is in voicing her displeasure at your gift, and that is all I’m prepared to judge her for. We all have our moments of petulance. I choose to view mine as occasional reminders that I am still young at heart : ) It must have been hurtful to have your gift rejected, and I sympathize with you. Try not to dwell on it. If this is the worst thing that has happened to you in a while, you’re doing pretty well.

  • Susan Parkes August 14, 2013, 9:55 am

    I often wonder if the tax deduction is gifted too. 😉

  • Wild Irish Rose August 14, 2013, 9:57 am

    As a breast cancer survivor myself, I have mixed feelings about this. While I appreciate donations to breast cancer research, I too have problems with most charities for the exact reasons that Admin. pointed out, and in the case of one particular well-known charity, for the additional reason that I was compelled to donate to it by a former employer. As in, they took money out of our paychecks for this charity, which left a really bad taste in my mouth and I now refuse to donate ANYTHING to it. But I digress. OP doesn’t really say what the occasion was that prompted the gift, but if it was her MIL’s birthday, then perhaps it would have gone down better if they had given the donation AND a personal gift to MIL. MIL’s response was rude, but then she wasn’t the cancer survivor–her sister was. Perhaps the donation should have been made in the sister’s name, and a gift given to MIL.

  • White Lotus August 14, 2013, 9:58 am

    Never donate to a charity on someone’s “behalf” unless you are absolutely sure — as in, they told you this — it is a charity — not just a cause — the person supports and that it will please them.
    I think it is impolite and inconsiderate to foist one’s charitable intentions on someone else and then tell them it is a gift FOR THEM — complete with email and voice spam and junk mail forever. I understand the recipient’s reaction entirely. She is probably simply so flummoxed that she is not expressing her feelings very well. Maybe she doesn’t want her nose rubbed in her sister’s illness and her own risk all the time. Not everybody wants to be a disease activist and you are forcing it on her. Not everybody thinks “awareness” programs are worthwhile and would rather donate to research or support for people with a disease, or get away from a or any disease entirely. She, I think, is supposed to just bite her lip and say thanks, and mention later that she has her own giving program and The Heifer Project or Kiva (a couple of mine — shameless plug) is her big charity and cause — in case you intend to commit this act again.

  • goddessoftheclassroom August 14, 2013, 10:00 am

    If it were a donation you were making anyway, and you dedicated it to your MIL, I agree she was selfish.

    HOWEVER, if it were a gift-giving occasion, such as her birthday, Christmas/Hanukkah, Mother’s Day, etc., I think she’s entitled to be disappointed that your gift was not about her. Selfish? Well, I guess it is, but there are times when we are supposed to be the one thought of, and it stings when we’re not.

    At least she spoke up instead of seething for years…

  • Angela August 14, 2013, 10:04 am

    A donation is a nice way to honor the person who doesn’t want anything material given to them and is clear about it. You are honoring the person while respecting his or her wishes. That is, IMHO, the only appropriate circumstance for a donation.
    Our best friends have a tiny house and are happy with a minimal lifestyle. They were touched by our donation to The Heifer Project in their name. My own mom would be hurt in the same situation.

  • Kim August 14, 2013, 10:06 am

    I think that was a beautiful gift. And Mom’s reaction is entitled, spoiled and selfish, wanting some good for herself.

    I agree with the admin to the point that giving a charity gift not knowing for sure the recipients’ preferences or affiliations is risky, but in this case her TWIN SISTER had breast cancer and presumably, Mom might be more at risk for developing breast cancer.

    Another point is that there is too much gift-giving these days. We all have anything we could possibly want – most people who are gainfully employed anyway. We live in a consumerist culture and it’s ludicrous how much we buy and give to someone for being born. It’s just too much, too much ending up in landfill and too much entitlement.

  • LEMon August 14, 2013, 10:10 am

    I agree with the admin. Expressing her disappointment was wrong since one should accept gifts with words of appreciation. But what you gave her wasn’t what she saw as a gift. Wanting something for yourself when given a gift that is supposed to celebrate you isn’t selfish.

    There is a book called the Five Love Languages that talks about people that feel loved when receiving gifts. Your mother may be one of these folks. Now you know what she likes, you can give it to her.

  • Shalamar August 14, 2013, 10:12 am

    Totally agree with Admin on this one. OP’s heart was in the right place, definitely, but I think she’s being a bit harsh to say how “selfish” her MIL was.

  • Lo August 14, 2013, 10:14 am

    Her rejection of the gift is extremely ill-mannered. Past a certain age you don’t really get to be disappointed about birthday gifts, you should only be grateful when they happen. Adult birthdays don’t mean a lot to the world at large. People who remember and give should be cherished.

    If she had an issue with the charity she could have accepted graciously and then let you know for future reference what charities she likes best, with the assumption that she’d rather you donated to a cause she personally supports.

    But I don’t think you should have given to charity in her name unless you were sure it was a charity or cause she supported. And I mean 100% certainty.

    One of the nicest things a friend ever did for me was call me up after my wedding and say, “As a wedding gift I’d like to donate to charity in your name. Which one should I donate to?” It showed a lot of good will along with the desire to make the gift personal to me. It was the best gift we got.

  • gramma dishes August 14, 2013, 10:15 am

    You know, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I can honestly see her point.

    As a twin, she has probably ALWAYS been associated with her sister. You know. As when people talked about them when they were children, they were probably referred to as “the twins” instead of by their individual names. I can see why she feels that the ‘gift’ was more about her sister’s life experience than about her as an individual and as a mother.

    Not only that, but parents often really cherish gifts chosen specifically for them from their children. This particular ‘gift’ isn’t something she can save, show her friends, or even talk about (as in “They took me out to eat at this fantastic restaurant and then we all went to that play I’d been so wanting to see.”)

    I don’t think their gift was “thoughtful”. I think it was “easy” and required no real thought at all. I don’t think she’s selfish, although the way the story is described here it sort of sounds like that. I think her feelings are hurt that they didn’t seem to think of her as an individual person.

  • L.J. August 14, 2013, 10:24 am

    I hope your mother-in-law learns from your example and makes donations in your and your husband’s names for all future holidays and birthdays. Perhaps she’ll even become so unselfish that she’ll leave her entire estate to a charitable organization.

  • Bahahahahahaha August 14, 2013, 10:27 am

    I think these sorts of “presentations” are lovely, and am always glad when someone says “I gave such- and- such- in your name to so-and-so organization” –even if the organization was one I didn’t necessarily agree with, because ultimately it was NOT my money, but YOUR money–so you can do with it as you choose. But when people give charity donations in someone else’s name, basically they are saying” I took the money I would have used on your present and gave it elsewhere”. Now alot of us are just fine with that, because we really don’t want or need anything–but there are some who really like to get stuff for their birthdays! 🙂 Or maybe even could really use stuff like new clothes, sweaters, etc. Or maybe just feel like on a birthday, it’s a special day for you, and it would be nice to have someone think of YOU in some way. Maybe their love language is gift giving and they know how much you love them when you give them a gift. So even while I think Mom showed some real immaturity with her reaction, OP should just give to a charity out of her own heart, and not by using birthday gifting money to do it.

  • lakey August 14, 2013, 10:36 am

    My suspicion is that the OP and her mother in law might not have a very good relationship. There seems to be a lot of negativity on both sides.

  • Kate August 14, 2013, 10:42 am

    While I agree with the fact that giving to charities in other people’s name can be a tricky business – I myself am quite fussy about which organizations I support, and there are numerous high profile and popular charities that I refuse to donate to – the mother’s reaction isn’t just ‘you’ve given money to an organization I dislike’ in this case. It’s that she wanted an actual gift given to her, which does have a touch more gimme pig to it.

  • Redneck Gravy August 14, 2013, 10:42 am

    I agree that Mom should have accepted graciously.

    The truth is I no longer give to charities “in honor of” because I agree with Admin’s comments. Just because I believe my charity is a worthy one doesn’t mean you do or that you SHOULD because I do.

    I don’t think anyone in our family has had breast cancer, however, we have plenty of other cancers in our family. I do think breast cancer research is a worthy charity but our family donates to the American Heart Association, MD Anderson, Leukemia Foundation and others. If you gave a gift in my honor to another organization I would be thankful and gracious – doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have preferred you do something else.

    I would, however, keep my mouth shut about it.

  • E August 14, 2013, 10:50 am

    I think it’s true that donations to charity can be less appreciated or misguided gift. However, LOTS of gifts are not that well appreciated. I hate smelly candles and lotions, but every holiday season someone manages to give me one. The proper response to any gift is “thank you!” Even if you are disappointed by a gift (and this can happen if it’s physical or ephemeral, like a donation) it is never ever appropriate to express your disappointment. I also find it weird that the mom in this scenario put so much stock into the gift, really wanting something “for her.” Personally, everything I really want or need “for me” I buy myself. I would never put so much expectation on a gift, that’s just odd.

  • Tina August 14, 2013, 11:03 am

    I actually read this as the OP being frustrated by an adult acting like a child and demanding physical presents, probably because my inlaws are like this. They are adults and rather well off, and they buy everything they want or need for themselves, yet they demand that every Christmas my husband and I give them ‘things’, rather than donations. They are very picky, and don’t need anything, but the one time we tried to give to a charity instead, we got the cold shoulder.

    I see the admin’s point about one person’s charity not being your own, but it’s very offputting to have adults be so greedy and demanding of presents!

  • JC August 14, 2013, 11:09 am

    Mom’s response to it was rude, no question, and shame on her.

    However, I don’t think a donation made in another person’s name is really a gift to said person unless you know it’s a charity they support. Part (heck, most) of what makes a gift appreciated is a sign that some thought was given to the recipient’s needs/wishes/desires. Simply donating to a charity in another’s name as a gift without knowing if that person supports it shows no consideration to that person, which quite literally makes it a thoughtless gift to them.

  • Harley Granny August 14, 2013, 11:13 am

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around those who are obsessing about the tax deduction. Show how soon a story can turn into a fable.

    I did the donation thing once….just once….because it went over like a lead balloon like this one.

    Luckily my young niece was politer about it than this MIL.

    So while I think your heart was in the right place you need to accept the fact that it was a gift bomb that shouldn’t be repeated.

    If it was “years ago” you need to get over it by now.

  • XH August 14, 2013, 11:16 am

    L.J. has it completely right in my opinion.

    A gift should be something that benefits the person receiving it more than the person giving it. OP gave this gift not to benefit her MIL, but for her MIL’s twin and OP’s own happiness. That was unkind, and a poor choice.

  • The Elf August 14, 2013, 11:23 am

    While I agree with the Admin on the questionable aspects of giving the gift of charity, MIL does come off as both selfish and rude. First, the response to any gift is “Thank you”, not complaints. It’s pretty simple. Get a gift, give thanks. Second, unless the charity is fundamentally opposed to what she supports (i.e. donations to Planned Parenthood in the name of a person who does abortion protests) or is fraudulent in some way, you know the charity is going to help someone or something in some way. It’s hard to be peeved that instead of getting a gift, a child gets supper or a dog has a spot at a shelter or a museum can stay open or an oyster bed is planted or new research avenues can be explored.

  • The Elf August 14, 2013, 11:26 am

    Lo, I agree that charitable gifts – given like how you describe – are great. A relative of ours is a bachelor in his golden years. He has two cats he absolutely is devoted to, and not much in the way of needs and wants. For Christmas last year, we donated money in his name to the shelter where he got the cats and where he volunteers. We made sure it was okay first, and he seemed to be delighted.

  • kingsrings August 14, 2013, 11:31 am

    Both sides are rude in this situation. The gift recipient is rude because no matter what someone gives you as a present, the only acceptable response is saying thank you to them. The gift givers were rude because they didn’t do their research into finding out if this was indeed a present that Mom would definitely like. Like others have said, if the birthday person requests (after being asked) donations to charity instead of gifts then go ahead and do that, but if not, then gift them with something that benefits them personally. I don’t think it’s being selfish or bratty to prefer that a birthday gift be something that one can use for themselves. It is also wrong of any adult to expect birthday gifts. Adults should be beyond the point of that by now. My friends get a birthday card at the most from me, and only occasionally do I buy birthday gifts for family members.

  • Library Diva August 14, 2013, 11:32 am

    I agree with the general drift of the comments: both parties were in the wrong. The only time it’s ever appropriate to take issue with a gift is when it’s a blatant and obvious insult (and even then, it might be better to write a lovely thank-you note for the thoughtful gift of the scale and the beautiful card that accompanied it, without ever referencing the fact that the giver had written in the card that this is because you clearly need help staying in shape and by making good use of the gift, you’ll be able to compete with all the younger, thinner women who’ve set their sights on your husband now that you’re so out of shape).

    At the same time, though, there are some rules to follow when you’re giving a gift. It’s not supposed to be any sort of corrective lesson (like my scale or the story of the dollar store soaps posted here around the holidays), but at the same time, it’s wise not to undermine a goal that the recipient has with your gift (if someone you know is making a major effort to lose weight, for god’s sake, don’t get them chocolates!). You should always think of the recipient, try to project what he or she might enjoy and use. And as such, I do think that charity gifts aren’t the best unless they’re specifically requested. If it’s a membership where the person receives something they might enjoy (open admissions to a museum, a magazine, etc.) that’s a different story. But simply giving money in someone’s name is not much of a gift. I suggest that OP rethink her gifting strategy.

    I do want to touch on one thing: as someone who works in nonprofits, administrative dollars are useful and essential. In order for an organization like the Red Cross to mobilize effectively when there’s a disaster, they need someone in the office every day answering the phone. They need the training, they need the commitment of volunteers, they need the funding — and that takes dollars allocated to marketing and fundraising. Your donation may not go directly to helping a victim in that case, but it goes to indirect support that allows the organization to move from good intentions to action. Everyone has to make their own choices when it comes to where they allocate their charitable gifts, just something to consider.

  • TeamBhakta August 14, 2013, 11:36 am

    ” but in this case her TWIN SISTER had breast cancer and presumably, Mom might be more at risk for developing breast cancer.”

    Kim, I don’t think anyone wants a birthday gift that reminds them “Oh hey, studies prove that you’re genetically likely to have the same killer disease as your twin.” Let’s be fair to the surviving twin. I mean, for pete’s sake, my grandfather died from lung cancer, but I don’t want someone telling me on my birthay “You should be grateful I donated to (whatever charity), you might die the same way as him!”

  • Jinx August 14, 2013, 11:39 am

    I can understand why a donation isn’t a good gift. I mean, it would be like someone telling you that instead of an actual gift, they bought lunch for a man they saw on the street.

    I think charity can be great, but even the “good feeling” pretty much stops at the person who donated and really doesn’t flow to the person who “received” the knowledge that the charity was done while thinking of them. The except would be someone who specifically says “Oh, I already have enough, if you must think of me during this gift-giving time, please consider donating the money”. I really feel it should be put as an option in that manner, too… because you really shouldn’t tell people they have to donate to a certain charity.

    That’s kind of the inverse of giving it as a gift without the recipient’s knowledge… you’ve told them exactly what charity they’re donating to and they don’t have a choice.

    Nevertheless, one should always accept any well-intentioned gift with grace. The OP did honestly believe the recipient would be touched and happy about the gift, which is in the right spirit. Upside, you (and all of us) know for the future that charitable gifts aren’t always well-received. It seems like a good think, but I think it’s something we need to do on our own.

  • Gen Xer August 14, 2013, 12:16 pm

    Charity is a very personal thing and to be honest I think that donating in another’s name can come across as trying to push an agenda and maybe a little holier than thou. It may be well intentioned but it is very presumptuous.

    Donate your own money to your own charities and allow others to do the same.

  • Huh August 14, 2013, 12:21 pm

    My former mother-in-law (whom I’m still close to) had one sister die from cancer, another battling cancer as we speak and is very involved in Relay for Life. And I usually get her a gift card to go out to eat so she doesn’t have to cook after a long day at work, taking care of elderly parents and helping take other sister to her doctor’s appointments. I wouldn’t do the “make a donation in her name” thing as a birthday present either.

    IMHO, as someone else said above, unless someone specifically asks for a charity donation when you ask for gift ideas, that seems like such a non-gift. I agree with admin, those kind of gifts seem given by the giver to make THEM happy that they gave to an organization instead of buying some sort of “material possession” for their friend/relative.

  • Kimierin August 14, 2013, 12:29 pm

    I read the story twice. And my reaction is still the same. I agree with the OP.

    The MIL sounds like a child. No one has to get you anything for your birthday. True, she didn’t like the gift. But don’t be a brat about it. I think the MIL could have handled herself a lot more maturely. After that outburst, I would never want to get her anything ever again.

    My Mom has always said to me, don’t spend your money on me, I get myself whatever I need. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever buy her something, but I know if I do and she doesn’t like it, I am never going to know that she didn’t like it.

    Gifts are not expected and based on the reaction from the MIL she EXPECTED to be given one. I disagree for what her problem is, the gift itself. What if it had been something for her that she didn’t like either? Would she have also reacted badly?

    Has everyone always gotten what they wanted in gifts? There are lots of times I have received gifts that I thought were a waste of money, not for me, or just cheap. But I always said thank you and moved on.

    I think this digs way deeper than an unwanted charity donation.

  • SweetPea August 14, 2013, 12:31 pm

    I straight up disagree with the Admin, and many of my fellow commenters. Many of us are all making assumptions that the OP chose to donate to this particular charity because they felt passionate about it, but s/he never says that. All S/he says is that they chose it because the MIL’s twin died from it. One might assume the MIL cared quite a bit about her twin, and about this charity. Perhaps she’s relatively active with it still.

    Regardless of how any one of us feels about donation to a charity as a gift to another, the rudeness does not rest with the OP. She and her husband made a clear choice to find what they believed to be a thoughtful gift, and not only were they not given a polite thank you from the MIL, but the MIL clearly expressed that she didn’t want it! And yet, here we are, blaming the OP for her gift, and not calling out the MIL for what she is – A gimmiepig.

  • Ellex August 14, 2013, 12:41 pm

    No. No charity gift giving unless the giftee specifically requests it.
    No choosing for the giftee. If you must give a charitable gift then ASK THEM BEFOREHAND. “I’d like to donate to a charity in your name, do you have a charitable donation that you give to?”
    Otherwise you are making yourself feel warm and snuggly on behalf of someone else’s special occasion. The OP was *extremely* tone deaf in this manner – as others have pointed out the issue with MIL being a twin and having her sister be the one with cancer.
    And – to stand up for the selfish – there is nothing wrong with wanting your birthday or Christmas or other gifting occasion acknowledged with something that clearly shows that someone thought of *you.* Not your sister, and not your sister’s illness. Even a sweet letter or bouquet of gerber daisies would be better in this regard. Unless MIL was out there being the fundraising warrior while her sister battled cancer, then there is no indication that she would have appreciated this.

    I would be *pissed* if someone donated to a number of breast cancer charities in my name. Those are not my charities – and some for a very good reason. There are three charities I give to every year (one political, one mostly domestic, and one international). If you wanted me to be happy about a charity donation made in my name it had better be one of those three charities and no others. Because then you are showing that you care enough about me (my interests, what I do, and what I believe in) to make *me* feel warm and fuzzy. Donate to the Red Cross and Humane Society and it shows that you really don’t care about me because those are not my charities, and that’s not a good message to send. (And it is not that hard to find out what my preferred three charities are. I talk about them and post about them on FB every year as Christmas approaches to encourage people to give).

    As for MIL’s statement? I’m inclined to cut her a little bit of slack. I *hope* she didn’t say it completely unprompted and did it as a response to a question like “how did you like your gift?”. But even then . . . . when a gift is as tone-deaf as this is, you really do need to say something at some point. Otherwise it’s another ten years of birthday and Christmas “hey, we donated in your name because your sister fought a horrible illness” and resentment building.
    Yeah, it’s rude, but it certainly clears the air of future miscommunications. And if you can’t tell your kids when they’ve hurt your feelings then who can you tell. It would have been better by far if the MIL could have sat down the OP and her husband and said “Look, this really hurt my feelings because XYZ. It’s really important to me that I get something I can use on my for my birthday.” But it’s hard to have conversations like that, only slightly less likely to be perceived as rude, just as ‘selfish’, and ultimately the message is the same anyway.

    I suspect that she’s not saying “Give me stuff.” I think MIL’s message is “Show that you’re thinking about me.”
    Yeah, maybe I have some personal bitterness over this issue.

  • C August 14, 2013, 12:43 pm

    I’m with the majority on this; yeah, MIL should have smiled politely and thanked you, but on the other hand, you do not donate to a charity in someone else’s name unless you know for a fact it is a charity that said person would support.

    You just need to know the person you’re giving the gift to and their preferences. One of mine and DH’s good friends volunteers regularly for Habitat for Humanity, so one year for her birthday we made a donation in her name and she was thrilled we did so because it’s so close to her heart. Another friend of ours does not support any charities and would be offended if we gave in her name, and hurt we didn’t consider her feelings on her birthday.

    This reminds me of when I was younger and really struggling; I was 22, barely making end meet, and eating rice and beans every night for dinner. My birthday was coming up and I was looking forward to meeting with my friends and having a good time. When it came time to open cards from everyone, I was touched that most had a $10 Wal-Mart giftcard included so I could get some basic things that I needed. Except when I opened one. Lo and behold, my friend “Dave” donated $75 in my name….to PETA. An organization I do not support nor want anything to do with, and all my friends know this, but it’s one that he loves. You could have heard a pin drop at that table.

    I didn’t say anything (except thanks), but I believe he got chewed out later by some of our more outspoken friends.

  • Heather August 14, 2013, 12:51 pm

    Years ago I gave a donation to a local Greyhound Rescue charity in my father’s name as a Christmas gift. My father supports this charity… is an avid dog lover… and has often told us all not to give him anything for gifts (although we always do). Everyone in my family told me I was wrong… they wanted to give him a year’s subscription to television cable. I insisted. When he opened the gift, he simply left the room… and came back to show me that he had clipped out an ad that talked about donating to this very same charity… because it had been his intention to do so. Win win for everyone. But I agree with Admin and everyone else… this was a gift to make you happy… not the receiver. My father had expressed his wishes to not receive gifts multiple times… and it was a charity I knew he supported for a cause he felt strongly about.