My daughter has always been overwhelmed with birthday-party gifts. The annual haul typically includes random craft sets, clothes that may or may not be her size, dolls with lots of tiny accessories and smelly body sprays. Though she appreciates that her friends and family care enough about her to come to her celebration with gifts in hand, most of these items are rarely used and just contribute to clutter.
Last year, after a wildlife-rescue organization visited her school, my daughter became passionate about chimpanzees and decided she wanted a monkey-themed party in their honor. When researching the rescue, I spotted a wish list on its website and suggested she invite her guests to bring donations for the chimps instead of presents for her.
She was instantly enthusiastic about the idea — especially once she learned that Mom and Dad would still buy her gifts as usual. This way, she had a good chance of getting something she really wanted and got to help the chimps at the same time.
She enclosed the wish list and her request in the invitations. Come party time, she collected a big box full of peanut butter, raisins, dried fruit and stuffed animals for the chimpanzees. My daughter felt great — and her guests did, too.
In fact, she's asked for the charitable birthday party to become an annual tradition. (Next year’s collection? Christmas gifts for homeless children.) Once kids get a taste of how good it feels to shift the focus from “What am I getting?” to “What am I giving?” they like to make giving a habit.
Below are five ideas for charitable kids’ birthday parties.
- Back-to-school bash. This is a super theme for late-summer and early fall birthdays. Ask guests to bring school supplies, backpacks or lunchboxes. Donate these unwrapped items to a local nonprofit like Cradles to Crayons or to your child's school nurse, who can in turn pass them on to kids in your school community who most need them.
- Cooks-in-the-kitchen klatch. Do you have an aspiring chef? Invite guests to join you in the kitchen (either in your home or at a party venue/restaurant) for make-your-own pizza or cupcakes. Ask for donations of nonperishable food for your neighborhood food bank or soup kitchen. Click here to find links to local food banks.
- Pets on parade. Have your animal lover encourage friends to bring their own favorite stuffed animal as their plus-one to the party. You’ll get plenty of cute photo ops with the kids and their stuffies. Collect donations of pet food, new chew toys, towels and kitty litter for your neighborhood animal shelter. Click here for a list of local animal shelters.
- Wacky-tacky to-do. Decorate in funky, vibrant patterns and colors. Ask guests to wear their wildest clothes. Have a contest to see who can bring the most colorful (new and unworn) socks, hats and mittens. Donate them to a local foster care agency or homeless shelter.
- Kid-lit club. If your book-obsessed child considers Junie B. Jones, Pinkalicious, wimpy Greg Heffley or perennial fave Harry Potter a personal friend, theme a party around a kid-lit series. Ask guests to bring their own favorite book to donate to a children's hospital, women’s shelter or school.
Whichever theme you choose, work the concept of charity into the party’s fabric. Instead of having guests make a take-home craft, let them design cards for sick kids at CHOP or compile small, pre-bought items into care packages for the troops.
Finally, skip the traditional goodie bag in favor of charitable donations in each guest’s name. Charitygiftcertificates.org lets you pick the beneficiary — organizations from Wounded Warriors to Dogs Deserve Better — in tax-deductible, low-cost increments that start at $5.