I Believe in Teaching Kids About Charity, Just Not on Their Birthdays

I Believe in Teaching Kids About Charity, Just Not on Their Birthdays

My son’s fifth birthday party is fast approaching, and I’m wondering if I’m the only parent who still thinks, in this day and age of politically correct birthdays, that young children should get gifts, and lots of them? You know, the kind that they actually rip open? There are a number of charity-infused birthday invitation platforms, where the e-vite asks for a monetary donation for the birthday kid, and the money they give will be split equally into a charity of the birthday kid’s choice (because all kids five and under really understand that. Sure).  The other half of the money the birthday kid receives will be spent on some toy that the birthday kid has been begging their parents for for the previous 364 days. But, come on, even us adults know what that excitement feels like when you’re handed a gift and can’t wait to open it, don’t we?

So, I’m torn. Are we ruining our kid’s birthday party experience by forcing them to give up half their gift money to charity? Are we robbing them of the joy of ripping open gift after gift to see what’s inside? Or should we expect all children to donate to charity on their birthdays nowadays?

I don’t hate these types of invitations. Far from it. I love them, but for other reasons than charity. Mostly, I like them because, selfishly, they make life easier. I think some parents out there would agree. Give-to-charity invitations make ‘shopping’ for gifts extremely easy. There’s no waking up in a panic and thinking, ‘Crap, it’s Sunday. The birthday party starts at 10:30 am. Do we have enough time to hit the store? Is it even open this early? Quick! Ask Siri!’ All you need to do with these birthday parties is click on the amount you want to give. Done. And you can do it in your underwear.

For the parents of the birthday kid, these invitations also make life easier. There’s no wrapping paper mess to clean up and there’s not a million new toys to clutter your already daycare-looking main floor. There’s no lugging the gifts from the venue to the car and into the house. They track the RSVP’s. Oh, and then there’s the charity aspect—knowing you’re giving back, teaching your kid about charity. But really, let’s be honest—first and foremost, parents (including me) do breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing we don’t have to shop for yet another Lego set that the kid may or may not already own.

See? These charity-infused birthday invites are not only about the kids, but about The Theory of Least Effort when it comes to attending another birthday party, and buying another gift, for another five-year-old, for the umpteenth weekend in a row. In theory and practice, these half gift/half charity invitations are a fabulous idea. What parent wouldn’t want their children to grow up to be socially conscious and the sort of person who gives back to the less fortunate? What parent doesn’t want their kid to be kind, empathetic and caring? And how many of us have ever said in exasperation that our kid has enough toys? But I say that taking away the joy of watching your kid open presents isn’t mutually exclusive to raising kind, empathetic and caring kids.

So let them have their presents on their special day! Teach them about charity, sure, but why not do that on one of the other 364 days of the year? Can’t we just let our kids get gifts on their birthdays?

I’m a pretty philanthropic person. I give a lot of money to different charities and causes. I’m trying to teach my kids to give back, too. I take them to charity walks, performances, and events. For us, giving back and reminding each other how blessed we are happens year round. Last year, my daughter started an initiative at her school for the homeless, which I didn’t even know she was doing until I read about it in her school newsletter. Obviously, the fact that we didn’t send out party invitations asking for charitable donations didn’t stop her from giving back on her own. I don’t use these charity invitations for my children’s birthday parties, and looking at the invites my four-year-old received this year, I feel as if I might be the only one.

Part of the fun of being the birthday kid is that you get presents, for no other reason than it’s the day you were born. Does my son actually NEED any presents? Absolutely not. The kid has so many Lego and Hot Wheels, he could open his own popup store. But when we donated a $500 train set he’d outgrown to his classroom, the kids were thrilled, to say the least, and my four-year-old saw first-hand what happens when you give back and how happy it makes others. After all, it was him who said we could give the toy to his class.

charity e-vites

Another trend I’ve been seeing on invitations is a request for ‘no gifts’. Really? Not one gift for your child to open from their friends? I mean, we get our kids all excited for their birthday party, using the day as a weapon for weeks leading up to their big day if they misbehave (‘I’m going to cancel your birthday party if you don’t stop punching your sister in the ear!’) So what’s wrong with seeing the joy when they get to open present after present from their friends, ripping open paper to see what’s inside? I don’t doubt that parents try and explain to their kids about charity while sending out these e-vites. I don’t doubt many children learn about giving back with these invites. But what’s really so wrong about wanting gifts, on their very special day? It’s their birthday. Let them have their cake and eat it, too.



  1. Louise on May 31, 2017 at 1:00 am

    We welcome gifts from friends at birthday parties til they hit the double digits — cause your’e right. It’s fun for the recipient and the child who goes out and chooses a gift for their friend (and I really try to include my kids in that process as much as possible). As soon as my kids get to 10, when they are most likely getting a lot of gift cards from pals anyway, we have them choose a charity and we collect for that instead. This year, my daughter and friends are collecting for a classmate in need so it’s even more relevant.

  2. Jenn on May 31, 2017 at 2:31 am

    Love this article. I feel the same as you. I have always been of the mindset of ” hey, I’m throwing a party for your kid why not let enjoy their magical day by opening gifts”. Not only is it fun but really allows their friends to pick out heart filled gifts. I know that my kids love buying just the right present for their friends. Charity is a must but there are so many opportunities and teachable moments to impart our kids about charity (ie. giving the dude off the gardiner ramp a coffee and bagel, donating to the local goodwill, $ to a church, mosque or sinagog etc)

    I also feel the same around donation at weddings in lieu of gifts. But that’s another story

  3. Sandi on May 31, 2017 at 2:55 am

    I’ve been the no gift mom. But that doesn’t mean my son doesn’t get tons of presents. One from grandpa, three from aunts and uncles, two or three from family friends, and one from us. and if we say no gifts, invariably there are still a few people who bring them anyhow. There’s only so much spoilage, and so much clutter I can cope with!
    I have never seen the half-and-half invitations, but I tend to feel badly asking people to do anything that isn’t really their choice. We have invited people to bring along the food bank donation if they chose to.

  4. Nadia on May 31, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    I think no gift parties deprive the guest of learning “it’s better to give than to receive”. We tried the “your presence is the only present required” on an invite, but now I just leave any mention of gifts out. We don’t ask for gifts or donations we just people give or not give what they like. When our kids are a little older the big parties will end and they will get a sleepover with 2 or 3 close friends. When we are the guest, I personally love the act of finding the perfect present, wrapping and making a card. When I’m told to give some variation of money or donations it just seems awkward.

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