Birthdays are such a fun time to celebrate our children and show them how much we love them. It is always a memorable occasion to gather with family and friends, thinking back on the day your child was born and reflecting on how much they have grown over the past year.
However I want to make sure my children recognize the value of birthdays as a celebration of LIFE and not merely a chance to be the center of attention or get more *stuff*. I would also like to see our family and friends give “birthday presents” to a worthy cause versus buy more things my children might play with (for a while) but honestly do not need.
For these reasons our family decided to have service-themed birthdays and, in this way, we give our children one of the most important gifts there is: the gift of giving. Each birthday we choose a cause to support – whether it is a hands-on service project or raising money/materials for a special organization. We invite friends to come to our birthday party with a donation in lieu of a gift (described on the invitation), and we have fun making a difference in the world while celebrating the special day our child was born into it.
You may think kids are “missing out” by not receiving presents. But from my experience and from the experience of my friends, the kids are gaining so much more by learning to give. They are learning that life is not about getting more *stuff* for yourself, but appreciating what you have and being generous whenever you can. True happiness comes from the love we share, and the love of a physical possession can never outweigh that.
For the friends and family who still want to give something (especially grandparents), I suggest needed items such as jackets or shoes of the next size, or specific books I know my kids would love. They also get a present from mom and dad, and one from each sibling – and yes some of these are fun toys or experiences. Once you try it, you will see how a “few” presents are MORE than enough!
As my son’s fifth birthday is coming up, I wanted to brainstorm some ideas for us to consider this year. So I asked some of my friends and blogging buddies to share their experiences with service-themed birthdays and collected these 15 fun ideas for incorporating “the gift of giving” into birthday celebrations. What a fantastic range of ideas they came up with!
Next month I will share what sort of service project my son decides to do for his 5th birthday, as he still has not decided yet. Be sure to join me on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and/or sign up for my monthly newsletter if you don’t want to miss it!
Please note that some of the contributors have websites of their own and posts with more details about their service-themed birthdays. Be sure to click on the website links to find out more!
One year we held a clown themed birthday party where we collected donations for the Clown Doctors who visit the children’s hospital. I wrote a guest post about our party including our clown themed treats, activities, and how we collected donations which was published at Octavia and Vicky here.
The next year my son wanted to collect toothbrushes for a preschool started by his grandparents in Papua New Guinea as these children did not have any. You could also collect school supplies or ask for specific items that a school requests.
Sheila from Pennies of Time shared about their Secret “Service” Agent birthday party which included service in so many fun ways – dressing up as secret agents and service games included! Be sure to check out the post to find out about the fun agent names and awesome mustache wall!
Setting up a card-making station can be a lot of fun. Here the kids made cards for the residents at a nursing home, then delivered them. (Don’t miss the sweet smiles captured on camera in the post.)
Another idea is setting up a Busy Book Station where the kids create fun busy books for patients at the Children’s Medical Center.
Elise shared about her son’s Superhero birthday party where the children dressed up and donated toys to a local domestic abuse shelter, ultimately learning about being True Heroes. Find the story plus more party details in this post.
“For my daughter’s birthday, in the party invites I mentioned “Presents only in blessings.” I added a note saying that guests were welcome to join us in making donations to an NGO we work with and that we would have a donation drop box at the party. The NGO we donated to is in India and is called Divya Deepa.” ~Roopa from Putti’s World
Get your child in on the decoration of the donation box – you may even want to add their picture to it! You can see my example here.
“My son just turned 2 exactly a month ago and we asked for donations to charity in lieu of gifts. The charity is called Global Links and it’s a worldwide medical relief organization that provides medical supplies to areas in dire need (medical beds, sanitary sutures, etc.). One of their departments is called The Nebulizer Campaign, which is an area of the organization that raises funds to provide nebulizers — or breathing treatments — to those in need. I chose this area in particular because Ethan has asthma and having access to a nebulizer has saved him immensely. So many aren’t as lucky, and I wanted to give them the chance.” ~Lindsay from You Are The Roots
Read about the incredible Curious George party Lindsay threw here!
“My kids give up their birthday presents from friends to raise money for Charity:Water.” ~Asia from Fun at Home with Kids
Among many other fun environmental projects, you could also do a park clean-up or gardening for a neighbor as one of your party activities! Think of a way to make it special by adding music, hidden treasures, or prizes for those who gather a certain amount of trash or weeds.
“Josh asked for donations of children’s books instead of receiving birthday presents for his first birthday. He is donating the books to Buk Bilong Pikinini in PNG. They provide libraries for children unlikely to ever go to school. We want Josh to learn the gift of giving and generosity.” ~Fee
“My daughter asked friends to bring summer fun items for a donation to our Children’s Hospital. Her friends were so great – craft kits, books, coloring items, indoor flying toys, magnetic items and more!” ~Jacquie from KC Edventures. See the post about the Percy Jackson birthday party and donations here.
“My niece loves horses, so for her 10th birthday she asked everyone to donate to a horse rescue. (And when a friend did give her a gift, she returned it and donated the money!).” ~Mara from Migraine Family
Ask your child which animal they would like to help – or call up the local zoo or wildlife reserve to see what initiatives they are currently working on.
“For our sons first birthday last year we did a fresh food collection for a family in need.” ~Christine from Sidewalk Blessings
You could also collect non perishable items for the local homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
Stephanie from InCulture Parent has tons of experience with fundraising during birthday parties – find out some of the organizations her family has supported, including an orphanage and local women’s shelter, in this post.
“For his 9th birthday, my son came up with 9 acts of kindness. We also invited friends to donate books to send to create a reading corner at a children’s hospital in Botswana.” ~Gayatri from Inspiration Station – Education
For more awesome ideas, and a great list of tips to plan your own Service Project Birthday Party, visit this post from Pennies of Time.
Have you or your child had a birthday party or celebration that included service? Please share your experiences and ideas in the comments!
If you liked this post, please spread the love!
Eva @ The Multitasking Mummy
Chelsea this is a wonderful idea and I’m glad someone else feels the same way. For Little E’s 1st Birthday I set up an online donation which went to the Starlight Childrens Foundation. I sent details with his invitation and mentioned to everyone that he already had so many toys, books and clothes that he really didn’t need anymore. Unfortunately though, only a couple of people donated and Little E still received many things he didn’t need which was a bit of a shame. We will be donating for christmas though.
Hi Eva! I guess there’s always a start and it takes a while for people to learn the “new” way; it’s great you tried!! We also found when suggesting monetary donations that some gifts were still given… that was why we went for a physical donation (toothbrushes) our second time around. We were surprised by the generosity – I guess because people were actually buying the donations this time, they didn’t feel like they had to give a gift! Good luck and I hope it goes well next time!
What an amazing post, and so many fantastic party ideas and different ways to give. I will be watching this series with great interest, we are always looking for ways to teach our children to be involved in the community.
Hi Caz glad you are finding the ideas useful! There are so many more, too 🙂 My son has just decided what service project he wants to do and we are getting really excited about preparing for it!
I love this idea. But I’ve found it so hard with my family. I have a few grandparents who “over-give”. I’ve specifically asked them to buy my daughters one present each, and yet they still turn up with dozens (yup, dozens) of presents. It is so hard when I am only giving her one modest thing in an attempt to not make it all about gifts, only to be outdone by attention-seeking self-serving grandparents. Can you tell it annoys me lol?
Ahh yes… I totally understand. Our parents do like to give quite a few gifts as well, especially they all live international so hardly see the kids… but it is not on their birthdays so we haven’t had to deal with that for our parties. Actually because they live international we just discuss a gift they want to give for their birthdays and I buy it for the kids from them LOL. Maybe they could select a larger gift instead of so many small ones?? It’s hard since grandparents really want to show their love and already have ideas about how they want to do it…
Anne Marie Bailey
We love your review of this! If anyone’s interested in solving the gift “problem” check out KidsCanGiveToo.com. Kids choose a charity to split their gifts with. There’s a way to invite your party guests separately from notifying family that you are accepting donations rather than traditional gifts. Your child still gets a portion in a gift card to buy their perfect gift(s) without having a lot of unwanted, unnecessary things! Less stuff more meaning Everybody WINS!
Amy L. Sullivan
Share this? You know it!
Thanks Amy! 🙂
Kate @ The Craft Train
Great post Chelsea, lots of wonderful ideas here!
Thanks Kate! I was so moved by how many ways people thought to serve, truly great ideas.
Bek @ Just For Daisy
Chelsea I truly love this post. We are very minimal when it comes to gift giving. Gifts are usually handmade, second hand or a ‘needed’ item for a new stage in development. We do similar gift giving at Christmas time amongst family and friends but never thought to do this for birthdays. I will certainly be keeping something tangible like this in mind for next year and am off to visit the blogs mentioned above now! 🙂
That’s another great way for celebrations not to get too materialistic… making sure the gifts you do give are thoughtful, used, or created out of love. Thanks for mentioning that for people considering how to make birthdays less about presents, who don’t necessarily want to involve a service project 🙂
Hannah @ Paint on the Ceiling
This is a wonderful post chelsea! I constantly struggle with gifts and would love for presents not to be the focus of birthdays at our house. This may just be what I was looking for. Thank you so much 🙂
Glad you liked it Hannah! It is a bit crazy how many gifts kids get these days. If we just look back one, two, three generations ago we would see that kids don’t really need so much.
Alicia - One Mother Hen
Thanks for this list, they are all awesome ideas for charitable parties.
Thanks for the comment Alicia! Another idea mentioned on my Facebook page was collecting dog toys/collars for a local rescue shelter 🙂 So many options!!
Wow these ideas are inspiring. I get overwhelmed with the amount of stuff my children receive at birthdays and Christmas. It is given with love from friends and family but there is only so much stuff any child can have. I am sure I can get family involved in some of these fabulous ideas.
Best wishes Ali I hope you find a theme and cause you love! Thanks for commenting 🙂
Bizarre but true, I was putting together a similar article for my school newsletter. And Lo! I come across this entry on your site 🙂 thank you so very much for sharing.
Yay I hope the list helped! Love it when that happens 🙂 Feel free to share any more ideas you find!
What a fab post with so many ideas!
We have a tradition of first birthdays being about giving back and in the past we have donated to the NICU where our twins were as babies, planted trees and sponsored an animal at the zoo!
Love your ideas Kate!! Thanks for sharing!
Aww, what an awesome post. Very inspirational. Thanks for getting together such a great collection of ideas.
Thanks Debs I do hope it inspires a few more fundraising parties – there are sooo many ideas! I heard a new one today: “A friend of mine just mentioned to me that her granddaughter had a “crafting and birthday box party” where she and 11 other girls made bracelets and other fun items to add to birthday boxes they put together… and then donated to the local hospital for kids that have a birthday while hospitalized.”
Ness @ One Perfect Day
These are all great ideas and such an important life lesson.
Thanks Ness… I am partial of course but I do hope the boys learn a little bit from their experience fundraising on birthdays, that the world is so much bigger than one person.
wow, I love this idea so much!
Thanks for the comment Karen and I hope you have fun putting it into action one day! 🙂
Kate - Laughing Kids Learn
What an amazing collection of ideas. This list should be in every home because teaching our children the importance of giving is vital. Love this post. Thank you.
I can’t wait to try some of the ideas you have listed here! We have recently done this with our two boys as well. The first year we started simple and told everyone that they could buy gifts for any age and either sex because we planned to donate them all to the Salvation Army for their Christmas drive. Our sons Birthday is Dec. 11 so it was perfect. He was sooo excited to take all of the toys into the Salvation Army. They were wonderful in how they accepted the gifts and took us in to see some of the volunteers wrapping gifts. They explained to our son how many children would be receiving only that one gift.
Our younger son was born Oct. 25 and that has proven to be great for timely collecting as well. Our church fills shoe boxes to send to other countries with children in need. We asked all of our guest to bring things that are on the list of acceptable things to put into the shoe boxes. This enabled the boys to fill several boxes and made them happy to provide a little something to help out other children.
Now our boys are thinking of things on their own that have nothing to do with Holidays i.e. twice now they have voluntarily gone through their toys and donated to the Share A Blessing our church holds every Spring and Fall, Our oldest (7yrs) looks after the hens we have at our house. I told him that he could spend the money that he earns from the sale of the eggs on anything he wanted once the feed cost etc. was covered. He asked if he could start to pay for the little girl we sponsor with World Vision. Needless to say I was floored when he offered to do that and he was only 6 at the time. Recently a family near by had a house fire and lost everything (home, and all contents, home based job, vehicle) They still have 4 children at home so our boys offered on their own to go through their toys and donate some so their younger children would have something to play with.
This year we are combining their Birthdays (in November) We are having a car theme party and we will paint wooden cars, trains etc. that my husband will cut out and then they will be donated for children’s Christmas presents.
I truly believe that our children watch what we do and grow up knowing that is the way they should be behaving. Giving back is our duty. We are blessed in so many ways and we want our children to remember that every day.
Our youngest has spent much time at our Children’s Hospital so I think that our new Christmas tradition will be to make some fun cards to give to some of the many children who will be spending Christmas in the hospital. We are well aware that some of these children will never make it home again and it means so much to them to receives something from another child.
So these are some of our family ideas. I hope they help some of your viewers. I’m off to check out some of the wonderful ideas that you have listed above.
Thank you so much for this amazing list
I love the ideas here Chelsea. I am definitely incorporating at least one this year as DD gets older. Awesome post!
I love this list Chelsea! My son’s 5th birthday is coming up and I’m pretty excited about giving one of these ideas a go. He’s quite interested in endangered animals right now, planning to open an endangered animal zoo as his life’s career, so the animal rescue idea is sure to pique his interest. Thanks for the great post!
Chelsea Lee Smith
Aw what a sweet idea, I’m so glad you enjoyed the list! I would love to hear what you do for his birthday 🙂
my daughter wants to do a donation birthday party do you have any good wordings for the invitations? she is turning 11 and is having a dance party . she wants to donate to the local pet rescue group.
hello, my name is miss Justina i was having problem with my husband
and also having challenge in my business.i did not know what to do to put an end to
it.one day i was making some research online,when i came across a testimony on how some one
sow a seed of faith to favor orphanage baby home and her life change for good.so i contact the
email address,[firstname.lastname@example.org] it was own by a pastor.i told the him what i am passing true.the pastor told me that
there is nothing his god cannot do. i should have faith and believe that every things will been fine.
the pastor told me to sow a seed of faith to his new orphanage baby home he just build to help
the less privilege baby and god will reward me. i did as he said.he pray with me and told me that
very soon every things will been fine.after one week, the problem i was having with my husband that almost
break up my marriage and my business that was facing some challenge, every things stop. my husband came to
beg me and ask me to forgive him, my business was moving well.thanks been to the god of pastor favor.
i am using this opportunity to let you know that,if you are passing some difficult in any area of
your life, please do not give up in life, just sow a seed of faith to pastor favor orphanage
baby home, and have faith and believe that the god of pastor favor will
solve it for you.thanks, this is the email contact. [email@example.com] you can also contribute to up keeping of
this orphanage baby home,god will also bless you.
Children are our future. But for many, that future is uncertain. poverty, hunger, exploitation, abuse, natural disasters and lack of opportunity at a young age are indescribably distressing. Include the loss of love, support and comfort of family life and an orphaned child is the most tragic and poignant symbol of heartbreak imaginable.
Our Orphanage Home is specially called for the upkeep of orphans, abandoned babies, motherless, abused and less privileged children. All over the street, and society, we find these groups of helpless people who need care, support a sense of belonging and a home they can call theirs. Touched and moved by the plight and feelings of these our fellow human beings hence our vision is to provide them their peculiar needs in the area of shelter, health care, education, food and clothing. Our clear objective /goal is set at erasing completely street, psychological complex, low esteem, negative moral vices homeless children from our society. Beloved, sincerely speaking we cannot succeed in this divine course without your financial and material support. Please help us to put a smile on the faces of these Orphans, less privilege children. Every act of love, care and compassion to these orphans will be greatly rewarded, remember God loves a cheerful giver, nothing is to small join us this quest and help to build a life today.
What a great article!! Thank you so much for all of your great ideas! I help with a non-profit called Box of Balloons (www.boxofballoons.org) and my children and I have sponsored a birthday party for a child in need and our party guests helped to provide the items for the needy child’s birthday. They also have a program called “Pledge Your Birthday” where you can set up an online fundraiser to raise money to give a child in need a birthday celebration. I, like you, believe my children are blessed and should learn to love giving as much as I do and for them helping with Box of Balloons is teaching them that. Thank you for posting such fun giving ideas!