Celebrate both your child and charity with birthday parties that give back

Caleb Sklar collected items for his 7th birthday party to be donated to a local pantry.
Caleb Sklar collected items at his 7th birthday party to be donated to a local pantry.

Birthdays are a wonderful time for celebrating with family and friends, and as parents, we want to make our children’s birthdays as special as possible.

In an era of big parties and numerous gifts, many families are looking for ways to teach their children the value of birthdays beyond “the loot.” A great way to do that is to incorporate giving back into birthday parties.

That doesn’t mean your children have to give their gifts to charity. Giving back should be based on what feels and works best for your family, and it can evolve as your children grow.

It’s important to start with a year-round focus on giving back. Making a sudden announcement just before a birthday that there won’t be as many presents this year probably won’t go over well. However, if you’ve had an ongoing dialogue with your kids about the importance of helping others, and you volunteer as a family, a giving-back birthday conversation will be more natural and successful.

Involve your children in as many aspects of planning as possible. If they’re resistant to the idea at first, don’t push. Giving back should be done from a desire to help others, not because they are being forced to do it.

Work together to think of ideas that are meaningful to your children. Are they animal lovers? Book lovers? Have a friend in the hospital? The more the charity is tied to something children care about, the more interested they will be.

Once you have an idea, call related nonprofits to see what’s most needed. They may even have some great birthday ideas.

For party ideas, consider your child’s age, how much your family has talked about giving and how you’ve given back as a family. Older children who actively volunteer might be ready for a “no-presents” birthday or may come up with ideas on their own. For younger children who are still learning what it means to give back, it’s better to start with something smaller.

Raising a grateful, giving child doesn’t happen overnight. Introducing these values and ideas at an early age and building on them over time will help your child develop a lifelong desire to help others.

Ideas for younger kids

Here are some great ways to include giving back at a birthday party — without sacrificing gifts.

Invite guests to bring a small item to donate. Pair the items to your child’s interests. For a booklover, invite guests to bring a book to donate to a shelter or children’s hospital. Pet lovers can request a new or gently used dog toy for an animal shelter. Deliver the donations as a family, and include photos in the thank-you notes so guests feel part of the experience.

Do a simple volunteer project at the party. Incorporate a fun project, such as making cards for the elderly or putting together activity books for hospital patients. (Find more ideas for at-home projects at familiesgivingback.org.)

Volunteer as a family. Spend time volunteering as a family on or near your child’s birthday.

Have the birthday boy or girl donate gently used toys or books. Children can celebrate their new age by picking the same number of gently used books or toys to donate and delivering them to a nonprofit. Our family’s tradition is to donate one toy or book my sons have outgrown for every birthday present received. It helps others and makes room in our house for the new gifts.

Give meaningful party favors. Replace plastic party-store items with such items as seed packets that families can plant in their neighborhood or cards to color and give to the elderly. Or skip the favors entirely and make a charitable donation in the guests’ names instead.

Ideas for older kids

Does your child want to make giving back a larger focus at the party? Here are a few ideas.

Request a donation in lieu of gifts. Explaining on the invitation why the chosen nonprofit is important to your child will make it more impactful. Some guests still might prefer to give a gift, and that’s OK. The charity can become part of the party theme, such as a pajama party where guests bring a pair of new pajamas to donate to a shelter.

Host a charitable party via such websites as echoage.com and kidscangivetoo.com. Invitations are sent through the website, and guests are invited to make a monetary gift of any size. The donated amount is split evenly between the charity your child selects and a gift card for your child. Guests can save time shopping for a present, and your child gets to pick his or her own gift while giving back at the same time.

Donate some gifts. Your child can donate party gifts to a nonprofit of their choice while keeping presents they get from family members.