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The Joy of Giving

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Why my kids' invitations always say "no gifts please."

young girl giving gifts

Recession Mama Michele Ashamalla: I have a big party at our house each summer celebrating all my kids' birthdays. I let them invite all their friends and classmates. We have all our family and family friends here, too.

Back (way back) when we only had one child and the party was much smaller, I looked at all the gifts my then three-year-old had received and I felt, well, honestly, physically sick. Looking at everything we didn't need and didn't even know where to store it, when others had so little ... I started prepping her then.

We talked about kids and organizations for kids that could use help, and how we could help. The next year, she chose a local children's museum that she loved to be the recipient of her birthday donations. When she brought in the donations, they asked her what she thought the museum needed, and she said more dress-up costumes. Someone brought out a catalog right then and she got to choose a couple she thought would be good.

The next year, she and her brother chose the zoo, and they sponsored an animal (hippo) and got information about the animal a couple times during the year. Since then, the kids have donated to grant wishes to terminally ill children, save the rainforest, build playgrounds in other countries, and this year, provide kids with their first books. They have become much more sophisticated -- we research charities on and choose those that are structured to allow most of the donation to go to helping out, instead of going to salaries or fundraising. They are so proud of what they are doing, and I am, too.

Last year my kids raised $2,800 for their charity. Some friends and family make donations of $5 or $10, some over $200. It is an easy gift for the party attendees, and is tax-deductible. They still get gifts from us, their grandparents and aunts and uncles, but they have discovered that it really does feel better to give.

next: Healthy Is Not a Bad Word, Kids!
14 comments so far | Post a comment now
shari storm September 7, 2009, 7:54 AM

Excellent ideas! I struggle with the gift thing every year. Also, when I get an invitation that says, “no gifts please”, I always make sure I don’t bring gifts. I see a lot of parents who still do, even when asked not. I’m not sure what the new etiquette is for that.

I love your ideas. Thanks for the post.

Sue September 7, 2009, 8:14 AM

Fantastic idea. My kids are grown, but I hope to have some grandkids one of these days, and I can pass this wisdom on. In the meantime, hopefully other parents with young children will read this.

MarMar September 7, 2009, 10:08 AM

I had a similar invitation last year for the party being held in honor of my daughter’s friend’s 6th birthday. I still wanted to do something a little special for the girl herself, so we picked out a nice card for her and stuck in a sheet of stickers - and a check for the charity. The child got a birthday wish and a little something, but NOT yet another toy - perhaps instead something to decorate a journal she writes in, or something to add to her latest bit of artwork to hang proudly on the fridge. And, most importantly, the check was written out for the amount I usually spend on a child’s birthday gift in these situations. Win-win all around, I believe. I thought it was a great idea. Some parents DID bring her a toy too, but I’m happier with the way we handled it. Any other opinions?

Viv September 7, 2009, 11:20 AM

It would be nice if the gift-givers themselves could enjoy the giving by choosing to donate a specific costume to the musuem, or adopt a specific animal, etc. I enjoy the gift of giving, too!

santina September 7, 2009, 6:39 PM

Thank you for this post. It is such a wonderful idea. I hope I can do as much with my now 2 year-old. I am sure your kids are uniquely aware of those less fortunate and therefore grateful for what they have. I am curious, how do you make it tax deductible for your guests?

Recession Mama September 7, 2009, 9:56 PM

The guests write checks directly to the charity, bring them to the party and we send them in to the charity. The charity has the name of the donor and the amount on the check and if there is no address on the check, we supply that. The charity sends ackowledgement letters to each donor. The donors just report the donations on their taxes like any other charitable donation and have the acknowledgement letter from the charity as a receipt. This year, in this terrible economy, we still ended up with over $2000! My kids were so happy… If you start early with your daughter, it will just be the way your family does it, and not anything strange for her.
Good luck!

Megan September 7, 2009, 10:42 PM

I Love this idea!!! I try to do things like this with my kids. I donate a lot of there gifts to Toys for tots. I let them put the toys in the bins themselves.

birdsfly September 8, 2009, 7:03 AM

I love this idea, I might start using it. Up until now we’ve put an emphasis on clothing and books (which my son really loves!)

Anonymous September 8, 2009, 7:53 AM

Great idea! We are having our first party with a No Gifts Please invitation. My boys are turning 4 and 2. Hopefully we can do donations next year. I have told the older one we just want to have fun with our friends when he asked about gifts. Great idea for the charity website!!

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