‘Tis the Season

I received a holiday card the other day from my accountant’s office. It said:

All of us at the [redacted] Group would like to take this opportunity to wish you a joyous holiday season and a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

We are grateful to all our clients and friends who have made our continued success possible.

We have chosen to forego our annual holiday parties in recognition of the uncertain economic times we are all facing and instead have chosen to make a charitable contribution on your behalf.

I am well accustomed to the “charitable contribution on your behalf” message — not that I’m expecting a gift from my accountant — but the “uncertain economic times” has a real, well, depressing ring to it. At the very least, I admire the firm’s getting out in front of the bad news by sending out its card in early November. I have a feeling this isn’t the last of its kind I’ll see this year.


At the risk of sounding like the Grinch, personally I view the whole "donation in your name" game as a manipulative sociopsychological trick. What these companies are essentially doing is asking you to uphold your half of a "social contract" (a common topic here on Freakonomics...) even though they didn't really uphold their half. The subtext to "We made a donation..." is "...and now you owe us reciprocal social equity."

IMO, it wasn't my money to begin with, and I didn't choose the amount or the cause, so it's not my donation, and I have no interest in hearing about.

science minded

Depression is a bit of a state of mind. Now is the time to be creative. Get out of it. this is a call from experience. Ever compare flee market items during depressed and good times. One finds the most creative items during the latter.

Bobby G

Lynn, if trying to maximize the efficiency of money to be donated to charity, shouldn't there be a little bit more transparency? A set amount for each client to a single charity is probably not optimizing the net amount being donated in terms of the utility desired and/or gained by the "on behalf of" clients.

I know that if I were one of said clients, I'd want to know which charity it was going to, probably as well as the dollar amount (I wouldn't give them much credit if it was $10, but if it was $500 I'd be pretty impressed).


To #10, Mike,

You might want to check the Journal of Marriage and Family, available through JSTOR.

Good luck

Bobby G

Did they make the donation to the Human Fund? Happy Festivus!



Does anyone really enjoy the holiday party anyhow? I'd think a lot of people would be breathing a sigh of relief that they don't have to go.


Not a bad idea... charities are hurting right now. On the other hand, with all the retirements and going-away parties, caterers seem to be getting a lot of business.


I think some of you commenting on this need a reality check. It is wonderful that they are taking money that would otherwise be spent on people who could have their own parties and they are giving it to those who need it much more. Kudos to them and to anyone else going with a little less this year to help those who could use a little more.


My holiday card from a headhunter who placed me contained this bit of hyperbole:

"High-caliber engineers such as yourself are the backbone of our society and architects of the future."


It ends, of course, with the implicit question: Are you looking for a new job yet?


Having a party after layoffs might not be good for morale, but how morale-boosting is it to receive cards ONLY for holidays you don't celebrate?

My company's "holiday party" comes about 2 months after my major holidays are over. I'd much rather they make a charitable donation at ANY time of the year than ask me to attend a poorly timed party.


I'm pretty late on my "a donation has been made in your name to the human fund. The human fund: money for people" joke. Maybe their employees could have used a nice distraction from the economy...maybe a social gathering of some sort...what a novel idea!

Mike Ralls

Hey Freakanomics crew,

This is off-topic for this post, but I was really hoping to use your collective brain-power to help me with something;

I'm trying to find out, what % of children who are born outside of marriage then go on to have children who are born outside of marriage?

Anyone know or know where I can find out?




I think this represents trying to not look like the free spending idiots at places like AIG and Lehman, as well as showing the (presumably) shared compassion for those really suffering; if you are one of the ones now really suffering, you likely won't be their client anymore anyway.

I do agree with some of the commentors, that it seems a bit shady that they then pocket the deduction. Maybe they should note that they upped the donation to cover the deduction.


Having a Christmas party shortly after a massive round of layoffs isn't real great for morale either.


Were you regularly invited to their holiday party? If not, how strange to inform you of its cancellation and replacement by charitable gifts on behalf of clients.


People seem pretty skeptical, but I think this is actually kind of nice. I mean, sure, the company is trying to "spin" it in a good way, but it's a nice sentiment and I think a nice way for the company to save money (which you, as a client, would presumably prefer it to do rather than going out of business over a big holiday bash!)


#10 BP

I've heard good things about The Human Fund. I'll probably get my firm to match your contribution. Can you post their address and 501(3)(c) info here? You know, it's just for the guys in accounting.


I was going to do the same with some of our clients. I've already picked out The Human Fund as the recipient.

Joe Smith

And so the downward spiral goes. They should have kept the party.

My law firm is inviting as many people to this year's party as last years (we invite about 400 clients of whom about 200 will show up). Now more than ever is the time to try to cement relationships with clients and perhaps get a little extra business from them. Plus, everyone needs a party.

spelling nerd

Your accountants don't know how to spell "forgo." :)