This op-ed was originally published in the Dec. 24, 2009 edition of the Los Angeles Daily Journal.
Nothing. Well, not exactly nothing--just nothing for me. What I really want for Christmas is for more holiday gift-givers to honor their family, friends and business contacts by making charitable contributions on their behalf instead of buying them material gifts. Members of my family recently exchanged the names of our favorite charities and agreed to make charitable contributions this year, in lieu of our usual Christmas gifts. Now I have started to think about how this could happen on a much larger scale.
Societal norms currently favor material gifts over charitable contributions to honor someone. A gift-giver often has no way of knowing whether friends, family, and business contacts would prefer a material gift or a charitable gift in their honor. Also, a gift-giver might be concerned about appearing cheap and selfish if she substitutes a tax deductible donation for a non-deductible material gift. When in doubt, gift-givers make the "safe" gift choice and give material presents. On the gift recipient's side, there typically is no easy, socially acceptable way of communicating to gift-givers a preference for a charitable contribution. This is especially true with respect to gifts for business associates, clients and professionals such as doctors.
The solution to these obstacles is an online charitable donation gift registry on which individuals and businesses could express their desire for donations to their preferred charities, in lieu of material gifts, by registering on the website. The registry would maintain a searchable list of the parties who have registered, with their preferred charities, and a list of charities, organized alphabetically by name and subject area and searchable by name or keyword. Gift-givers could search the registry to make donations honoring their friends, family, and business contacts. A fitting name for the registry would be the Gifts for Good Registry.