The thought of my kids being given yet more stuff at their birthday parties fills me with dread. It’s one thing to be gifted thoughtful and carefully monitored (read, overbearingly controlled by moi) gifts by family members and like-minded friends, it’s another to be given the inevitable surplus clutter that comes from your little one’s 25 fellow schoolmates, no matter how well intended it is. What if there was another way? Turns out, there IS! And what’s more, it’s an important, educative and quite brilliant way of showing our children how they can make a meaningful difference to the world.

Requesting charitable donations in lieu of gifts is an enduring trend amongst adults that has crossed into the child’s arena at full tilt. It is a valuable means of fostering the idea of giving to those in need, building a social awareness and nurturing kindness and altruism at a time when both consumption and self-absorption seem to be at a depressing peak. Not to mention, you get less crap in your house.

How so, you ask? Some philanthropic pointers, below.


Daymaker is an innovative online kid-to-kid giving platform designed to help parents “create habits of compassion and generosity in their children.” Partnering with non-profits including The Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Communities in Schools, the website enables children to give to others their own age year-round, with targeted projects. May’s focus is named Summer Swing and provides opportunity to deliver books to low-income children. Come July the Back to School drive will enable young humanitarians to fulfill individual wish lists for the new school year. We love Daymaker’s ability to overcome the limits of seasonal giving and its smart format for children to proactively direct their generosity in a modern and very tangible way.


With an alarming amount of natural disasters happening on US soil, gift cards are a well-practiced way to help child victims of hurricanes, floods and the like, closer to home. Donated via the usual suspects -- Amazon,Target et al -- your child can then take on the ultimate challenge (and, one hopes, pleasure) of purchasing items not for themselves, but for children in real need. Have goods mailed directly to charities on the ground, including Save the Children and Portlight or contact local community organizations who are living it daily. Alternatively, some groups have registries set up that you can employ; Sheltering Arms NY is just one example, with its registry on Amazon. We’ve encountered this idea often, most recently in support of child hurricane victims in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico.


If a particular charity is close to your family’s heart, request that donations be made in your child’s name. The downside here of course is the lack of physical affirmation, although some organizations will provide a letter of thanks, or similar. Regardless, monetary gifts are not to be sniffed at and the model of generosity still upholds. Choose something meaningful to your child (like Art Start or Free Arts for your creatives, or a local animal shelter for your pet lover) or simply keep it closer to home - and more relatable - by opting to help a group who’s good work your family can see in action (local food banks, community groups). Good opportunities also arise with those who’s causes are currently in the news and hence top-of-mind, such as UNIDOS or CFVI.


When a child is particularly privileged or simply lucky enough to attend a well-funded school, here’s a sure way to show them just how fortunate they are. Another monetary led option, this one is much more interactive than a simple donation. Here, your child can use their birthday cash to fulfill specific requests made by teachers – whether it be for basic materials or a specific upcoming project - and later, see exactly how their donations have helped other children in the classroom. Every donor gets a thank-you letter from the teacher, photos from the classroom and a report of how each dollar was spent. Top marks to Donors Choose for simultaneously cultivating an appreciation of just how important our schools are.


It’s an oldie but a goodie -- instead of passing a gift along to someone else on the birthday schedule, take these items to a local homeless shelter or charitable group. Even better, make your intent known to your party attendees beforehand, so that their gifts can be bought with purpose. New York-based charities like Toys for Tots and Room to Grow are excellent resources to help facilitate donation drives. You can take it one step further and give your (older) child a reality check with a trip to the shelter to hand over said gifts in person. In the same vein, I have some California friends whose accidental order of an oversized cake became a lesson in giving when they took it and their children to LA’s Skid Row. Handing out slices of your birthday cake to the homeless, alongside food trucks donating their own surplus, is what you call a stellar teaching moment. Happy birthday, kid!

Fay Cantor-Stephens; a Brit by birth but NY-er at heart, is a former fashion editor and PR gal who now juggles three children, a dog and her old sense of self. There’s a husband in the mix there too and a strange, unrelenting desire to increase her child army tenfold.

Photography via Daymaker.