I refuse to let my kids get gifts on their birthday. Now before you think I am cruel or strange, let me explain. My kids have enough stuff. They have all the things they could desire (except a pet), and generally don’t even play with a fraction of what they do have.
Since my kids celebrated their first birthday, I have felt pretty strongly they don’t need more presents. They get a present or two from us on their birthdays and they really don’t need 10-20 more presents from all the kids invited to their celebration.
But more than that, I want them to realize that there are many children who don’t have what they do. So every birthday I select a non-profit that we sponsor for their birthday. I prefer to pick organizations involved with children and explain to the kids where we are donating to and why, and hope as they grow older they will be able to help me choose. I also tell guests clearly on the invite that this is a no gifts party and instead of bringing a present, they are invited to contribute a donation to the charity we have elected. I always include a link so guests can read about the organization for themselves.
Maybe this sounds good but you don’t know where to begin. Here’s a couple questions to help you decide where you want to donate your child’s party:
- Do you want something global or local? We have done both in the past as I firmly believe in supporting both initiatives in my own community as well as global initiatives that we feel tied to in some way.
- Is there a particular issue you are passionate about, like maternal health, education, the environment or water?
- Is there a country, region or town close to where you live that you feel drawn to donating to?
Once you’ve decided those questions, you can figure out how to choose the right organization. This is the fun part! But it does require a little due diligence. You want to make sure the organization is legit and effectively uses the money or goods you provide, which can be a challenge if you don’t necessarily know the organization. Charity Navigator can help as it rates many charities and gives you a thorough rundown on them.
Here are a few ideas for international organizations by different subject areas to get you started. Note: I have not personally vetted any of these organizations. I am familiar with most of them via past jobs (I have a Master’s in international affairs and worked in international development aid for a number of years). Also be aware that this is a very, very tiny and incomprehensive list of everything that is out there—it’s mostly just to give you some ideas to start.
- Word Vision has various ways you can give. $25 buys two chickens for a family, $75 a goat. (3 stars in Charity Navigator)
- Support a refugee family via UNHCR, a branch of the UN (did you know $345 can buy a refugee family a tent?) or via International Rescue Committee (4 stars in Charity Navigator) who both respond to the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
- Doctors without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontiers) provides disaster relief and responds to international health crises. (3 stars in Charity Navigator)
- EngenderHealth, a global women’s health organization. (3 stars in Charity Navigator)
- Room to Read works in collaboration with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school. (4 stars in Charity Navigator)
- WaterAid delivers clean, safe water and sanitation in Africa and Asia. (4 stars in Charity Navigator)
- CharityWater brings clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. (4 stars in Charity Navigator)
- Action Against Hunger works to save the lives of severely malnourished children and helps vulnerable communities become self-sufficient. (4 stars in Charity Navigator)
- Freedom from Hunger brings innovative and sustainable self-help solutions to the fight against chronic hunger and poverty. (3 stars in Charity Navigator; a friend works there)
- The Sierra Club works to educate, inspire, and empower humanity to preserve the natural and human environment. (4 stars in Charity Navigator)
- The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. (4 stars in Charity Navigator)
- Look up your local chapter of the United Way and they can give you a long list of non-profits they work with in your area. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I rely on the United Way to tell me the local non-profits in my area where I can donate food, goods like diapers and presents to children.
- Pick a public school in a community close to you that is low on resources. Contact the principal or PTA rep (usually found on the school website) to figure out how donations could work. Alternatively you could use Adopt a Classroom if you are in the U.S., to find a classroom that needs some help purchasing supplies or books
- Great Nonprofits has an extensive list of rated non-profits and lets you search by U.S. zip code and issue.
None of those interest you? Then check out 50 more non-profits making a difference.
And last but not least, don’t forget about your friends. Chances are when you start asking your network, they will come up with all sorts of suggestions for charities you had no idea they supported or were involved in.
You may be wondering how my kids feel about all this. Most of the time, they don’t seem to notice that they don’t get gifts. Periodically when we buy gifts for other kids’ birthdays they ask why they don’t get gifts on theirs. I explain why and they usually don’t protest. Sometimes they ask more questions or suggest solutions for the kids who do not have any money for food, clothes or books (my explanation depends a little on the organization we are supporting).
Finally, here are a few organizations we have supported in the past, some of them more than once:
- Kampala Babies Home (an orphanage I visited in Uganda)
- An Ethiopian school via Tesfa (an InCultureParent.com writer was building a school via this organization and I like to support initiatives of my friends)
- A local women’s shelter in my community for mothers and children
- Project NightNight
Oh and don’t forget amidst all your party preparations to leave out your clearly labeled donation bowl (forgotten that one before but luckily everyone reminded me!)
So on your child’s next birthday, why not think about making a real difference in the life of a child beyond just your own? There’s no shortage of organizations to support and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be anticipating the next kid birthday so you can figure out where the birthday donations can go next!