Chances are you’ve heard about fiver parties— the latest birthday party trend. If you haven’t, here’s the gist: Instead of each guest bringing a trinket for the birthday kid, the guests bring $5 so the birthday child can combine the money to purchase something they really want. It’s pretty genius and parents have been applauding it for the past few years. Well, if you love the fiver party trend, let me introduce you to this no-gift birthday party alternative: the giving party.
We’ve been doing giving parties in our family for several years now and they are downright magical. Here’s how they work: Instead of asking guests to bring a five spot or not mentioning gifts at all, you ask guests to give to an organization or cause chosen by the birthday child.
Our family first started doing this when my youngest was in about kindergarten. He wanted a big party with all his friends and I didn’t want anyone to feel excluded, so we decided to invite the entire class of about 20 or so kids. What I didn’t want, however, was 20 gifts. My kids have very generous grandparents, aunts and uncles; they definitely didn’t need more gifts and I worried that showering them with a mountain of toys would cause them all to lose their luster a bit.
So instead of reducing the size of the party, we asked our son to choose a charity to give back to. We asked guests to not bring a gift, but knowing that this request often gets ignored, we told them that if they really felt compelled to bring a gift, they could instead make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund (my son’s chosen charitable organization).
It was a huge success. My son had a great birthday with his friends, we avoided that mountain of presents to wade through and the guests' parents could either skip the gift entirely or make a donation with a click of a button.
It was such a success that we did the same thing with my younger son. He chose the local homeless shelter to give back to. We again told guests that no gifts were necessary, but if they really felt compelled to please bring items for the local homeless shelter (my son’s chosen organization), such as socks, backpacks, toothpaste, toothbrushes and umbrellas.
Why you should consider a giving party
- It’s less stressful for parents. There are no last-minute runs to Target for some trinket you aren’t sure the birthday child will like. Parents of the birthday kid don’t have a mountain of toys to find a home for. It’s a win-win.
- Children learn about giving back. When they are asked to donate to a cause or charity they care about, they learn from an early age that it is important to give back to the world around us.
- Children learn that experiences matter more than things. We reinforced to our children that spending time with their friends was the real gift of their birthday, not whatever toys they unwrapped (and then quickly tossed aside).
- It’s better for the environment. Fewer cheap toys means fewer toys to take up space in a landfill.
- No post-birthday clutter. I don’t know about you, but after nearly every big birthday celebration comes the post-birthday anxiety fueled by all the toy-clutter taking up space in our home. You can avoid this all together with a giving party.
How to throw a giving party
- Talk to your child about the reasons for doing a giving party. They may resist at first, but once they understand that they will still have their special day (and get a few gifts from Grandma and Grandpa), chances are they’ll be on board.
- Have your child choose the charitable organization they want to support. Some options include: a local animal rescue, a local homeless shelter, a local women’s shelter, CASA (court-appointed special advocate program for foster care), a children’s hospital, the zoo, World Wildlife Fund, or a book drive.
- Call the organization in advance to ask if they have specific needs. Don’t make assumptions about what an organization needs; ask them instead. When my son donated to the local homeless shelter, I was surprised to learn that they needed umbrellas and backpacks. Cash is always welcome, but confirm how to best make the donation (i.e. would they prefer individual donations from guests or one lump-sum donation).
- Communicate with guests and their parents. We used a simple statement like, “Your presence is gift enough, but if you want to bring something, Teddy has requested donations to the local homeless shelter.”
- Celebrate your contributions. If you receive a thank you from the organization that received the donations, share it with the guests.
Birthdays are great. All those presents? Not so much. With a “give it away” party, you avoid all those unnecessary gifts and can share the fun of the birthday celebration with others in your community.