When my oldest daughter was in sixth grade she received a birthday invitation that read “Absolutely No Gifts!!!” This was not the first time I had seen this request on a party invite. One other time when my youngest was in second grade, she was invited to a birthday party and the invitation specified “donations in lieu of gifts” be given to a specific charity. In this instance the birthday boy had a life-threatening allergy and wanted to use the birthday gifts he would have gotten to be given as dollars to a charity that was created to help kids like him deal with this allergy.
So, as our children get to middle school and beyond, and as the party roster gets larger, (the sixth grade party had 75 attendees!), it might be a great time to introduce your child to real live philanthropy and the power of gathering others to benefit a cause. If your child is interested, foregoing birthday gifts and donating the money to charity is a great way to do it. Start by having a talk with your kids about what charities are important to them. Ask them what they would like to do to help others. Then tie it to an organized charity. The Better Business Bureau Website (give.org) has a number of great organizations that you and your children can research and choose from.
If you choose the birthday party approach, here are some ideas on how to organize it. Pick the charity or charities that your child wishes to sponsor. On the birthday invitation let the guests know that in lieu of gifts a free will offering will be taken at the party to support specific charitable causes. Decorate a fish bowl with the charity information and have it in a prominent location at the party so that guests may leave their donations at the party. This still leaves the “choice” to participate or not up to the attendees — no pressure and a fairly anonymous way of taking the donations.
Here’s another idea that is appropriate for certain charities. Some organizations sincerely want gently used items like books, clothes and toys. Instead of asking your guests to contribute money, ask them to bring some gently used items that you specify.
The fun really starts when you and your child get to give the donation to the charity. It will undoubtedly be an amazing experience for all, and could possibly spark a sense of empowerment, philanthropy and stewardship in your child that is separate from your own parental giving.
After you have made the donation, have your child indicate in their thank you letters to the guests some of the positive “results” that their donations did or will likely bring. Let everyone know about the amount gathered and a note or two about the charity for future interest.
One last thought as you think about ways for your children to donate to charity: Philanthropy does not always need to involve money. Our company philosophy has always been to teach children to put the “DO” in Donate, and that time and talent are equally as good a gift as money!