In a reply to a comment on the What My Christmas List Says About Me post, I mentioned the idea of asking family members to donate to charity instead of buying me gifts. Unfortunately this isn't something that I think is practical in my situation, as I suspect that most of my family would continue to purchase gifts. However, it is an intriguing concept, so I've been giving it more thought and doing a bit of research on the topic.
It seems that the overwhelming majority of people believe asking for charitable donations instead of a gift is, at the very least, in poor test, and may even be considered outright rude. Several arguments were used for why this is a bad idea, the most common of which was that one should not tell another how to spend his/her money. My view is that, if I'm asked what I would like to receive as a gift, suggesting a donation to one of my preferred charities is no different than asking for a particular book or for a gift card to a specific store. It doesn't seem, however, that most people see those things as being at all similar.
Another common argument I saw against asking for charitable donations is that the gift giver may not agree with cause the charity supports, and may therefore feel uncomfortable or be unwilling to give money to that charity. I think this is easily avoided by providing multiple options, which focus on different causes. If I were to request a donation to the Sierra Club, for example, I suspect that the majority of my family would be unwilling to donate due to the perception that the Sierra Club is the enemy of the coal industry, which most of my family firmly supports. However, if in addition to the Sierra Club, I also suggested donations to KET (Kentucky Educational Television) and the Sheltowee Trace Association I suspect that one of the options would be acceptable.
The last reason I saw given for my asking for charitable donations is unacceptable is related to how it will make others feel about requesting and/or enjoying more material gifts. The idea is that, others who were clearly pleased with receiving a new sweater or iTunes gift card will feel bad about themselves when they see a family member open a gift and announce it is the donation to the charity that he/she suggested. I do think there is some validity to this concern. I believe, however, that if such a situation makes a person feel guilty, it gives him/her a chance to think about the root cause of such feelings.
I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that asking for charitable donations instead of gifts is viewed so negatively. Its really a sad commentary on the values of our society that requesting a frivolous gift is perfectly acceptable, but requesting a donation to an organization that supports a good cause is frowned upon.