March 14, 2023

68. Is a donation a good gift?

Are you thinking about what to get your friend, relative or colleague for their special occasion this year? Today's discussion is whether a donation is a good gift or not. What do you think? Email the show anytime at !

Support the show

Hey! Welcome to Spend Donate Invest! I’m your host, I go by GG, that’s short for Genet Gimja. And here we talk about our money and how we can align our personal values with what we’re doing with our money. This isn’t your typical personal finance podcast, I’m not going to share hot tips on making more money. But I do hope to help with questions like “help, my 401K has a bunch of climate destroyers in it” or “help, I feel weird shopping at this store, because they donate to politicians who are working against my rights.” So these are big questions, and on this podcast, I hope to share realistic, practical suggestions to get you started on answering those questions in a way that makes sense for you. Episodes tend to be short and I will always include links so you can continue your exploration after the episode. The topics for each episode come from your emails! So you can reach me at spend donate invest at gmail dot com. What have YOU been thinking about?

Today we’re going to be talking about a topic that came up a long long time ago, back when I was doing a trial run for this podcast. If you are new to the show, the idea for this show came up in 2020 and before launching publicly, I did a trial run with a small group of test listeners and asked them to send in questions and one question that came in at that time was whether a donation is, in fact a good gift. Instead of buying someone a boxed set of DVDs of Girlfriends, should you give a donation in someone’s name instead?

So here’s what I think. It completely depends on the friend. There’s not going to be a good one size fits all solution here. Everyone’s opinion on whether or not something was a good gift is going to be very personal, and it is going to depend on a lot of things like what’s the occasion, what do they like? What’s the nature of your relationship to them?

And in today’s quick episode, I want to suggest some clues you might look for to answer this question.

Best case scenario, your friend has actually indicated that they’re open to receiving donations. For example, someone has gotten married, or someone has passed, and they have publicly stated that they are open to receiving donations in lieu of a gift or flowers. So yes, I believe, if your friend has asked for a donation in lieu of a gift, yes it is a great gift to that friend! They’re not trying to trick you!

If your friend sent you a gift registry with all of the goodies they’d like for their special occasion, then no, I wouldn’t count on a donation in their name being received well. 

But most of the time though, people don’t really specify what they’d like for their birthday or anniversary or whatever other milestone or celebration. And in those cases, you’re going to have to guess based on your observation of your friend. 

If they have ever asked you to donate to something in the past, that’s a good sign! If they have literally never talked about giving, donations, fundraisers, or anything like that. I would say it might NOT be a good gift for that specific friend.

So let’s say you’ve assessed the situation- you’ve thought about whether or not this person has ever talked about charitable giving before, you’ve checked to make sure they didn’t send you a wishlist of gifts that they want, you’ve thought about the gifts they’ve given you in the past. Not because we are keeping score here, but because sometimes the way a person loves on you is how they want to be loved on. Read Gary Chapman’s book on the five love languages if you want a more thorough explanation of that concept.

So you’ve scoped out the situation and you’ve concluded that yes, a donation would be a good gift for this person on this occasion. Awesome! Let’s talk about how to decide where to donate!
Does this person volunteer anywhere? That is a GREAT option for where to donate. Dog shelter, their religious institution. Or maybe they’ve talked about benefiting from an organization in the past. I come from a family of war refugees, and I benefited from volunteers who helped new arrivals like us get our bearings in figuring out how to do basic stuff like go grocery shopping or learn basic English. I would love if someone gave them a donation in lieu of giving me a gift.

Maybe they don’t volunteer anywhere that you know of, and they haven’t spoken with you about organizations that have benefited them or their communities in the past.

There may be other clues, like their field of work. If they work in education, you might donate to their school or an afterschool program that serves the same students.

If they work in STEM, you might donate to something related to increasing accessibility to STEM resources for young people.

I would look for some sort of connection between the person and the place where you donate. Don’t let it come out of left field. I care about animals, but I would be completely surprised if someone said they made a donation related to that in my name. Not that I wouldn’t think the donation will do good in the world, but because I would wonder if the person was thinking about me.

Because that’s ultimately what makes a good gift, right? Really seeing a person. What’s important to them. What really lights their fire. What THEY value. 

So these are a few thoughts that might help jumpstart your thinking on whether to donate in honor of a friend and how to choose where to donate.

Maybe you’ve been thinking through a question that has to do with your money and your values, could be a big question or a smaller question like the one from today’s episode. Don’t hesitate to reach out. The email address for the show is spend donate invest at gmail dot com.

If you are curious about past episodes, check out spend donate invest dot world, that is the show’s website, and it is also a great place to sign up for the monthlyish newsletter that I send out.

That wraps things up for today, I hope you have a good one, and let’s talk again soon!