By Cathy Lynn Grossman
"In lieu of . . . please donate to . . ."
The phrase calls to mind funeral flowers and memorial gifts to charity. But today its taking a celebratory twist.
Enclosed in Holly Atkinson and Galen Guengerichs 500 Tiffany-engraved invitations to their wedding Nov. 17 in Washington, D.C., was a card asking "in lieu of gifts, please consider a donation" to two human rights organizations.
Five years ago, Tiffany & Co. had never heard of such a thing.
Now they get monthly requests for similar enclosures. The same is true for other shops that sell wedding invitations.
Do-good giving is a growing movement. Americans donations to charitable causes rose 41 percent between 1990 and 1995, reaching a record $190 billion last year.
They dont need anything
The link between giving and good times is ancient, and todays boom economy makes it feasible for more people than ever. Philanthropy experts also credit the trend to later marriages and successful singlehood: More people already have the goodies that once were gift list staples. They feel freer to focus beyond themselves.
"Its a wonderful act of generosity and vision to link the most personal commitment with a commitment to people of the world," says Atkinsons friend and wedding guest Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), one of their designated charities.
Jill Rapier of Lafayette, Calif., used Charitygift.coms personalized gift certificates, which fold up into festive gold paper gift boxes, as party favors for 27 guests at a recent baby shower for her sister-in-law. Each certificate tells guests how to activate a $10 donation, given by Rapier in the babys name, to a local crisis nursery or one of 600,000 charities of their choice.
A happy alternative
Anne Bradley, a member of All Souls Unitarian Church where Guengerich, the co-minister, married Atkinson, was delighted to write checks to their charities.
"Usually, for my peers who all have their households up to par already, I just get them something really nice from a place they can easily get to exchange it. I like this better. Its terrific in this day and age that we can do more for others," Bradley says.
Brides typically list four or five charities along with traditional choices, says Hans Hsu, president of Felicite.com, an online registry.
He expects 7.2 percent of customers to register a donation to charity this year, up from 4.3 percent in 1999. Randi Shade, founder of Charitygift.com, says 10 percent of the sites gift and event registrations have been for personal celebrations.
Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones asked their wedding guests to give to a philanthropic foundation established in the name of their infant son, Dylan. And the trend extends beyond the too-much-is-not-enough crowd.
Bill and Heidi Higgins of San Francisco, marrying in their 30s "with no need for four more salad bowls," decided to theyd rather share their joy with four charities dear to their personal experience, he says. This led to more than $8,200 in donations in honor of their August wedding in Carmel Valley, Calif.
"We picked a few programs that strike a chord with us, places we may give to all our lives. And checks are coming in still," she says. Bill Higgins said most of those who attended the wedding made donations, following click-by-click instructions for Charitygift.com on their invitations. Still, 25 percent to 30 percent of those invited sent traditional gifts anyway, mostly friends of his parents.
Atkinson, a physician, journalist and vice president of PHR, and Guengerich, whose church supports social justice efforts by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, chose causes that expressed their values.
A week after the wedding, the total contributions surpassed $25,000, and more checks come in daily.
However noble the purpose, the doyennes of do-right social behavior object to celebrants dictating gift choices.
"Brides Book of Etiquette" does suggest passing the word through friends and relatives but cautions: "Remember, dont print your gift preference on your invitation. Some guests will prefer to give you a present anyway. Accept it graciously."
Registering with charities is "a great option for honoring a new beginning," says Brides magazine editor in chief Millie Bratten, author of the book. "But you dont solicit party guests in the invitation. Even if your intentions are good, you are still telling guests you expect them to give me something. People want the gift to be their own idea."
Hsu read an online discussion in which one person called a brides charity choice distasteful. Another "thought it was presumptuous of the bride to assume she wanted to make a donation and instead bought a toaster for the couple."
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