Tired of gift overload? This year, consider asking your child's friends to skip the gifts and donate to a worthy cause instead.
Paige Turley of Devon, PA, wanted to celebrate her eighth birthday with friends, but presents weren't a part of her party plan. She told her parents that she "didn't need any more toys and wanted to do something to help people instead." Her party invitations let guests know that presents weren't expected but that donations of grocery store gift cards for Tredyffrin & Easttown Cares, a Philadelphia-area charity that provides financial and material assistance to families in need, in any amount would be welcome.
Paige's guests enthusiastically supported the effort. Tredyffrin & Easttown Cares Board Member Sandi Gorman reported that Paige collected over $200 in gift cards and even inspired several other children to throw similar no-gift parties.
Parents have been throwing "no gift" birthday parties for years with mixed results. While The New York Times praised this trend as "the first hyper-parenting trend that doesn't reek of wanton excess," Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) frowned on the idea, telling the New York Times that "People seem to forget that you can't spend other people's money, even for a good cause. "
So is the give-back party the next big thing in birthdays, or an etiquette no-no? Party expert Martie Duncan has suggestions for parents looking to throw a "no-gift" party that would meet even Miss Manners' exacting etiquette standards.
According to Duncan, "Guests should never feel obligated to donate to a charity." Invitations set the tone for a party, and wording is important. She praises the Turley's for taking a classy approach by making it clear that neither donations nor gifts were expected.
Forcing a child to forgo gifts or to donate birthday money to a cause does not effectively teach children about charity. Little children may not be ready for a "no gift" party, particularly if peers received birthday presents during their parties.
Even if you are throwing a traditional present-filled party, it is still possible to give back. Duncan suggested planning the party activities around a charity such as The Great American Bake Sale for Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America. Even young children can participate by decorating cookies or cupcakes to sell at a school or neighborhood bake sale. Not up for selling? You can donate the goodies to a shelter or soup kitchen.
Another fun option is making mini-stand collection containers to raise funds for Alex's Lemonade Stand, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for childhood cancers. Serve lemonade, hand out the craft supplies, and let the kids go wild. Each child can assemble a mini-stand or work in teams with a parent helper. After the party, the birthday child can deliver the mini-stands to local stores to collect donations.
Parents can get involved in birthday giving too. As part of her son's birthday celebrations, Kim Bloom, owner of online toy store RosieHippo, donates a percentage of store revenue. For her son's 5th birthday in September, Bloom will be participating in a MyCharity: Water fundraiser.
MyCharity: Water provides a free Web site to assist with and track birthday donations. Sites like this make it easier and easier to ask friends to skip the gift and make a donation -- and many are hopping on the bandwagon. According to MyCharity: Water, "In September of 2008, over 800 people gave up birthday gifts and asked for donations from friends, family and strangers. Together with matching gifts, almost $1,000,000 was raised to bring clean water to people in Ethiopia." With such great results, birthday charitable giving is one trend that I foresee getting hotter and hotter.
Your turn: Would you skip gifts and ask your child's friends to make a donation instead? Why or why not?
Debbie Bookstaber is a working mother and active community volunteer. She holds a BA and MA from Yale University and serves on the Tredyffrin & Easttown School Board, Parks & Recreation Board and Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust Board. You can find her online launching charitable projects at Bloganthropy and reviewing parenting products on Mamanista.