When I was a teenager, my mother decided that one of our Christmas gifts would be a goat for a family in Africa. I admit, at the time, I may not have been as excited as I could (or should) have been. However, the idea grew on me. My husband and I asked for charitable donations in lieu of wedding gifts, and now, with two kids, our birthday party invitations contain the phrase: “No gifts please. We hope you will consider making a donation to the following charity.”
There is a growing trend of “charity” birthday parties for children (and adults). There has been some debate about whether this takes the fun away from children (maybe it’s time to redefine “fun”), whether children can handle it (they can), and whether this request is tacky (isn’t the expectation of the pile of gifts tacky?).
Look, I know this post might sound a bit preachy, but I’ve heard too many people say they’d like to do this but can’t figure out how it would work or whether their kids could handle it. So, given this growing trend, and the growing mountain of toys and shrinking storage space faced by many families today, here are some tips if you are considering a charity party as an option:
For host parents:
- Involve the child in researching and choosing the charity if they are old enough. Don’t underestimate their ability to care or understand!
- Consider having the party somewhere related to the charitable request. It makes it more tangible.(For example, many nature centres host birthdays, and you could raise money for conservation. We had one at the humane society.)
- If you think guests would still like to bring something, perhaps they could bring books, toys or food to be directly donated to a local charity instead.
- Be prepared for confusion. For many, this is a new idea, and kids sometimes go to a dozen parties a year, all with piles of gifts. Just keep repeating yourself.
- If someone DOES bring a gift, have your child open it quietly and away from the other guests, so no one feels badly for not bringing something.
- Try to select a charity that isn’t controversial or offer more than one choice. (For example, a secular charity may appeal to a more diverse range of families.)
- If you have a child who actually volunteers to do this on their own without your suggestion, I salute you. You have superior parenting skills. Please share your secrets! On the other hand, typical children might be a bit resistant to the idea. We didn’t find it was a big issue since we started doing this from a very young age. But, just imagine if this became the norm! The expectations could change altogether.
- It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. We request charity donations from friends but have gifts from family (at a separate gathering). For people with large extended families, this makes a lot of sense.
- Of course you can still do traditional birthday things, like pizza, cake, rock climbing,
mini-golf, movies, games, Quidditch tournaments or crafts. But, be prepared with extra activities. Most parties leave a long stretch of time for gift-opening. If you are having this party away from your home, make sure the party planners (at the bowling alley for example) know what you are doing ahead of time.
- Congratulate your child on their maturity and emphasize how they are making a difference in the world. (If possible, contact the charity to let them know about the party. Sometimes, they will send a card to thank the child, or even put their picture in a newsletter.)
For attendee parents:
- Under no circumstances should you bring a gift (no, not even a small one) when this request is on the invitation. This WILL make other children feel badly, and puts the host parents in an extremely awkward situation.
- It is a great idea to give the birthday child a card (possibly homemade?) that indicates that you have made a donation in their honour. Many charities provide e-notifications or cards for this purpose. At the very least, please let the child know that you have made a donation.
- Please understand that the “no gifts” request is not an insult or a comment aimed at your family’s choices. This is a personal choice made by the family involved. It has nothing to do with your child’s party. You are not being judged.
- If possible, make sure your child understands what is going on and won’t be asking where all the presents are (loudly and repeatedly).
- You are always free to select a different charity, or to not donate at all. This is fine.
- Seriously. Don’t bring a gift.
After doing this for a few years, many of our friends are catching on, and I’m doing less explaining. Our older child is excited to select a charity, and everyone has a great time. I’d love to see this idea become more popular.
If you have done something similar, I’d love to hear from you!