Virginia Ironside’s Dilemmas: My daughter is unhappy I'm giving money to charity this Christmas

Dear Virginia,

I'm not going to send any Christmas cards or give people presents this year. Instead I'm sending the money I would have spent to charity, and letting all my friends know by email. A couple of them have been really keen on the idea, but my daughter is unhappy and says she thinks it is a very controlling thing to do. I haven't yet made any donations. Do you think I should stick to my guns, or has my daughter got a point?

Yours sincerely, Nell

If you expect to get any support from me, I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place. I get apoplectic even if I get an email from an anonymous firm saying they're not sending me a card because they're giving their Christmas card budget to charity. How dare they make a decision on my behalf! I've been tempted to write to them and ask if I can opt out of their wretched scheme, or if the money they would have spent on a Christmas card can be sent to me, all 45p's worth or whatever, and then I will decide whether I want to spend it on myself on send it to a charity of my choice.

Recently, as a token of appreciation for a talk I gave to a Jewish organisation – great fun, by the way – I was presented with a certificate that announced that "Trees had been planted in Israel in the name of Virginia Ironside!" But maybe I don't want trees planted in Israel! Maybe I want trees planted somewhere else! Maybe I don't want trees planted anywhere at all! Again, I felt like saying: "Dig them up at once, and I'll plant them in my garden, use them for logs or, perhaps, give them to some other charity. Or I might plant them in Israel! I don't know at the moment. Really sweet of you to give me the trees, but don't plant them in your own garden before I've even had a chance to look at them!"

Nell, if you want to give money to charity, that's your choice. If you then want to write to people saying "I've spent so much on charity I've got nothing left over to buy you a present", then again, that's fine. But to give money that you were going to give to them to charity is so cheeky it's well-nigh irresponsible. You might as well say that instead of buying them presents you were spending all the money on financing your daughter's wedding. The charity is entirely your choice, not theirs. And the warm glow you get from writing the cheque and receiving the grovelling letter of thanks from the charity is something that you get, not the people who have been left empty-handed at Christmas.

And who knows if your friends will agree with your choice of charity anyway? I would be furious if my money was given to any kind of medical research. I wouldn't give to the RSPB. I'd be mightily pissed off if it were given to the Church of England. Charity is not just some vague world of goodness. It's incredibly political, and how are you to know that the charities you think are harmless and noble aren't ones that I don't see as vile and corrupt or just plain pointless? There's nothing wrong with not giving anyone anything. There's nothing wrong with giving people tiny tokens instead of the usual overblown gifts. But don't make your friends feel like dumb tools in a process that is just, in the end, designed to make you feel good...

Readers say...

A donation is no gift

By all means don't give cards or presents if you don't want to. By all means make a donation to charity. Just don't try to link the two, as if the donation is effectively your 'gift' to your friends and family. You can't be charitable on another's behalf, and to try to do so comes across as pious and judgemental. All you're really proposing is that you're not going to give any presents or cards this year. That's fine, if it's what you want, but it may be unrealistic to expect other people to be pleased. Your donation is your own affair, not a sop to those who won't be receiving presents.

Lizzie Coulter

By email


Ask friends to choose

It would be more diplomatic of Nell to request that her friends nominate their preferred charities, possibly from a shortlist of four or five. She could then make a donation to each one, in keeping with her friends' choices, and inform them of the totals (thus avoiding telling people how much they each 'got').

Richard Miller

Ferndown, Hampshire


Charity begins with you

Sorry, but you've got hold of the wrong end of the stick. If you want to be charitable, it's you who should be foregoing presents and cards, not your family and friends. What you're proposing means that you get the gifts and they get a lousy e-mail!

What you should have done is to have sent an email in October saying that this year you don't want any cards and presents, but you would like them all to make a donation to charity instead. Then, unless they tell you they would like you to do the same, you should send them presents and cards as usual. That way the charities will benefit and your friends will again enjoy your generosity.

Anthony Bramley-Harker

By email


Buy a goat instead

I think your plan is commendable, and recipients would have to be rather hard-hearted not to appreciate your gesture. However, just saying you have given a certain amount to charity can feel a little soulless, so why not buy a gift from a charity so that they know exactly what their present has paid for?

Something like the Oxfam Unwrapped catalogue is a really fun way of getting people an individual 'gift', such as a goat or school dinners. They receive a card saying what you have bought so the present becomes more personal – and you don't need to send Christmas cards! You could get things that appeal to different people depending on their hobbies. In this age of over-consumerism, when so few people here really need anything, I think getting a useful gift for someone who can put it to good use is a great idea, and I'm sure you friends will agree!

Fiona Remnant

By email


Be really generous

While your idea in itself is a good one, it does appear that the sacrifices are to be made by your nearest and dearest and not by yourself. The way to perhaps remedy this is to donate twice the amount that you would have otherwise spent. Tell your friends that you wish to donate a particular sum in their name as a gift, make sure it is a very generous 'gift' compared to what you would normally spend. In order to share the goodwill, why not ask friends if they have a favourite charity, or suggest a Christmas-based one? If you manage this graciously you may well inspire them to do the same.


By email

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Arts and Entertainment
As depicted in Disney's Robin Hood, King John was cowardly, cruel, avaricious and incompetent
Life and Style
Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber, is now worth $5.3bn
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

    Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you have the right attitude,...

    Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London ...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn