Miss Manners

Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 1:21 AM

Dear Miss Manners: I have always been a firm believer in donating to worthy causes when income permits; however, does this include using one's tax deductible donation as a Christmas gift to the entire family?

Three years ago, my mother was approached by a nonprofit organization that provides animals and training to assist impoverished families in other countries become more self-reliant. On the surface, this sounds great and also seems to be a wonderful way to assist others in need.

The problem is that instead of Christmas, she has decided that her donation should serve as the gift to each adult child, grandchild, sibling, niece and nephew in the family. Each Christmas day, all members of the family receive a card that talks about the organization that she has donated to.

The card states, "in your honor, a gift has been made." Obviously, she gets the tax deduction, and this serves as her Christmas gift to each family member.

There has never been any discussion with the family or notification that she would no longer be participating in gift exchanges with anyone (especially the grandchildren). She does, however, accept any and all gifts given to her. It seems that if she were trying to set an example for the family, she would insist on no gifts for herself.

It also seems that she would get the idea that after three years, she has not inspired the family to donate to the charity that she has chosen.

Just to get you up to speed, my family donates hundreds of hours to local charities and nonprofit organizations. We also serve on the board of several. In addition, my family hosts a fundraiser for a local nonprofit with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the organization.

We have never thought to use this as an excuse to not exchange Christmas gifts. This is something we have done for 12-plus years, and we understand that our charity and tax deduction is our business, not a gift to the entire family. This is something that we do because we want to, but we do not expect other family members to feel that same way about these organizations. When times are lean, we tend to spend less, but volunteer more.

Are we wrong in feeling this way about Mom's donation-deduction Christmas gift?

You can hardly regard it as something she thought up on the hope that it would delight you and the various children. But it has probably given her a delightful sense of piety. Unlike the rest of you, who are out buying material things - you hopeless consumers, you - including things for her, she is observing the true spirit of Christmas by thinking of Others. Not you who are related to her, but Others.

And maybe just a bit of herself, for having escaped Christmas shopping, with all its hassle and expenditures, and having gained a tax credit. Christmas charity is a fine idea, Miss Manners agrees. But charity in lieu of presents works only if 1) those concerned agree to it as a policy, and 2) the particular charities chosen are those that are of interest to those being honored. Families that feel that presents have become superfluous or burdensome sometimes do this.

It is time for you to have such discussions with your mother. If she wants to substitute charitable donations for presents, you could 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 - it needn't affect your exchanges with other relatives - and add to your own charitable donations.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail questions to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia.com; enter them at http://www.missmanners.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

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