How to Throw Parties That Give Back
Show children it can be more fun to give than to get
A child’s birthday ushers in myriad emotions. Birthday parties should be joyful occasions filled with love and nostalgia, but can unfortunately turn stressful when planning the details of how to celebrate. Should you rent a venue or host the party at home? Invite the whole class, or just a few close friends? What kind of entertainment and party favors will you offer? And how will you handle gifts?
Some parents have decided enough is enough, and they’re turning party-planning stress into an opportunity to foster generosity. If your child has not yet been invited to a “giving back” party, chances are he or she will be before long. This trend has grown in recent years as parents realize they don’t want their children to acquire more “stuff,” but do want to teach their kids to make a positive impact on the world.
Less is More
Gabby Amos says a TV commercial inspired a “giving back” party for her 9-year-old son, AJ.
“The premise of the commercial was, if someone offers you more and you don’t take it, something is wrong with you,” Amos recalls. “The idea that more is better is a rabbit hole for us as a society.” An employee of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh, Amos interacts with people in need every day.
“I really wanted to give AJ the opportunity to stop counting what was coming in and instead realize what he already had,” she says. “A real moment of awareness came when I asked how upset he would be if his grandmother didn’t bring his annual handmade, requested-themed, gigantic birthday cake. The hurt of that disappointment far exceeded the pain of not getting another set of Legos.”
With that in mind, AJ asked, in lieu of gifts, for supplies to make “birthday kits” for Catholic Parish Outreach, the largest food bank in Wake County. These kits, which include cake mix, icing, a cake tin, candles and various party favors, are provided to Catholic Parish Outreach visitors when they have an upcoming birthday in the family.
“[AJ] is so lucky to have people in his life that not only can, but want to show their love for him,” Amos says. “I wanted to drive it home that some people, while there is no less love, truly cannot provide those same experiences for their children.”
Amos created a SignUpGenius form to ensure that appropriate amounts of each item were donated. During the party, AJ and his friends put 37 kits together in an assembly-line formation. “I’m not a math whiz, but 37 kids having a birthday cake is way more than one kid with a room full of unopened toys,” Amos says.
Not Without Challenge
Katie and Jason Weeks have always enjoyed hosting parties. When they celebrate their children’s birthdays, they look forward to surrounding their kids with friends. They don’t look forward to adding dozens of new toys to their children’s collection. So, from the beginning, the Weeks decided their children’s parties would evolve around opportunities to give back.
For their son Ian’s third, fourth and fifth birthdays, the Weeks family collected 200 books for Book Harvest and Read and Feed, nearly 2,000 diapers for the Dorothy Mae Hall Women’s Center, and $600 worth of toys and art supplies for the Me Fine Foundation, which provides assistance for critically ill children and their families at North Carolina partner hospitals.
Photos courtesy of the Weeks family
From the start, the Weeks family chose to host giving back parties for their children's birthdays.
Katie Weeks says these have been joyful family experiences. But as Ian reached age 5, pulling off this party concept became a tad more challenging.
“Every year we’d host a birthday party and we’d have this wonderful give-back [theme] and it would be great,” she says. “Usually, a couple people would pick up something small for Ian to open, too.”
This year, however, Ian didn’t have many presents to open, and he started noticing that his party was different from others he had recently attended.
“It is a different conversation, and I think we’re only starting to see how it’s going to be more difficult,” Weeks says.
She has already started thinking about how to balance out the fun of giving and receiving gifts for Ian’s sixth birthday party. “Maybe we’ll let people choose to either donate or give him a gift,” she says. “Or maybe I’ll ‘plant’ a few friends and ask them to bring Ian something to open.”
Weeks may also consider a twist on the giving-back theme by hosting a “50-50” birthday party. The idea here is that guests bring a cash gift. Half of the cash goes to the child for a gift, while the other half goes to a charity of the child’s choosing.
Weeks has learned that sometimes nonprofits can leverage cash more than donated items because of their relationships with vendors.
“Had I gotten every person to give $25 and we gave a cash gift [instead of collecting diapers], we could have given them a lot more diapers,” Weeks says.
Photos courtesy of the Weeks family
For one party, they collected diapers.
This idea isn’t just for kids. Raleigh couple Amy and David Moreau invited friends to a joint birthday celebration during which guests packed meals for Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger relief organization. Their daughter, Allison, enjoyed the party so much she requested the same theme for her Sweet 16. She asked guests to bring $16 instead of a gift to go toward the cost of the food they packed. Her parents served pizza and cake for Allison’s guests to enjoy after completing the project. It was such a success that, of their own volition, Allison’s friends scheduled a time to come back and do it again as a service project.
The day after AJ’s birthday party, he and his mom volunteered together at Catholic Parish Outreach. Amos says her mantra whenever she volunteers is, “We are lucky we aren’t coming in through the front door.”
“When you view life through the paradigm of ‘I am lucky,’ then giving back time, talent and treasure is a natural progression,” she says.
Mandy Howard is a mother of three and a freelance writer in Raleigh.
Do’s and Don’ts for a Successful Give-Back Birthday Party
• Do partner with a nonprofit you and/or your child are passionate about, and that has a purpose your child can understand and appreciate.
• Don’t be upset if people would rather give your child a gift. Remember, charitable giving should come from the heart.
• Do contact the nonprofit ahead of time to ensure you are gifting the organization something it can use.
• Don’t use the cake box as a soapbox. It’s good to praise children for their good deeds in kid‑appropriate language. It’s great to give the nonprofit a shout-out on social media. But don’t use the party to preach to guests.
• Do make it easy on the guests. Be specific about what you are asking them to do or bring. Creating an Amazon Wish List or SignUpGenius form can be especially helpful.
• Do have fun. It’s still a party. You may be surprised by how much fun generosity can be!