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Ask Sassy: Should I Ask For Donations Instead of Gifts For My Kid’s Birthday Party?

birthday party

Dear Sassy:

My son has a birthday party coming up, and I’m dreading the influx of new toys and stuff that is soon headed for our house. With a new baby, we’re already bursting at the seams in our Los Angeles apartment. I read somewhere that the new trend is to ask parents to donate to a cause or charity in lieu of gifts. Is this a ridiculous request or a great alternative to typical gift giving? Signed, Overwhelmed and Overcrowded

Dear Overcrowded:

Hold on, I have to move this pile of cheap plastic toys out of my way to reach my keyboard so I can give you an answer. In other words, Girlfriend, I feel your pain. No matter how often I de-clutter, my sweet cherub children seem to amass hoards of toys and doodads that are fun for a while, but are ultimately just space hogs.

You are wise to contemplate alternatives to the increase of your toy hoard, but I recognize that changing up the birthday party tradition feels awkward. Traditional etiquette teaches us that it is never polite to dictate a gift type to your invited guests (including, believe it or not, wedding and bridal shower registries, but obviously that is a much-ignored rule). But left to their own devices, well-meaning family and friends will show up at your son’s birthday party with bags and boxes of toys that will soon end up in the closet or the yard sale pile.

A charity donation drive is a great idea! The solution to your particular quandary is to think about this not as a request, but as giving people a choice. If your invitation encourages people to help your son’s efforts to assist people in need by bringing donations instead of gifts, they are more likely to choose that option. They can still bring a gift, or make a donation, or both! There are many charity groups and giving websites that make this process easy for you to choose a cause and track cash donations – there are even services that allow guests to donate a portion of their gift to charity and a portion to your son.

The solution to your particular quandary is to think about this not as a request, but as giving people a choice.

Better yet, why not pick a donation type that people can experience? Collect physical donations of non-perishable food, gently used children’s clothing or coats, or disposable diapers that can be donated to a local shelter. That way, people can actually see their donations piling up and they will feel even better about the gift they bring to your child’s party. It might seem like more work for you but if you include your child in the project, he will get a valuable lesson in helping others.

Your son may still get toys or clothing from people who want to give him something tangible that will make him happy, but chances are that family and friends will get on board with his charity project because they want to support his efforts. Karma points for them, a teaching moment for your child, and some closet space for you. Everybody wins!

We are very excited to announce the debut of “Ask Sassy” the advice column you’ve always wanted! Sassy tells it like it is. Sassy is here to help you get through those sticky situations and maddening mom moments.  Like that scuffle with a nasty PTA mom, a disagreement with a friend, or how to handle it when your child is not invited to the birthday party. She cuts through the BS and gets straight to the point helping you make the right, but sometimes tough decision. 

So send us your parenting question, relationship dilemma, or your quandary about social etiquette,  Sassy is here to help!  Submit your question for Ask Sassy! here.

Meet the Author | Ask Sassy

Ask Sassy is not kidding around. Sure, she brings the funny when it's appropriate, but Sassy has been through everything you've suffered and more, and she knows the right answer to a dilemma isn't always the easy one. She's a writer with 15 years of experience for the internet, print, television, and multi-media. She's also a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a teacher, a student, a lover, a fighter, and an all around problem-solving ninja.

  • September 18, 2013

    I like that idea of asking for something tangible that people can see this way all the kids at the party can actually “see” the good that they are doing. Not to mention I always wonder if the money really gets to the charity…

  • September 18, 2013

    Great advice!! This is something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile, I think it’s a great experience for kids. They’ll feel good about giving and making a difference for someone else.

  • Franki
    September 18, 2013

    We recently attended a birthday party where we were asked to bring two dollars to go towards the local food bank, and two dollars for the birthday boy. I thought this was a great idea. It would be great to have a way, like others have said, for parents & kids to see the good their money is doing, but even still I really like this idea. I think it’s a reasonable request!

  • September 19, 2013

    Love the new column – such a great idea! I wrote about the no gift rule a few years ago. We always asked for donations and partnered with charities until this year. When L turned 6 I felt like she deserved one birthday where she received gifts considering she always attends parties with gift in hand. I’m still surprised that more parents don’t opt out of gifts. What kid really needs another toy or piece of plastic??

  • Ask Sassy Author
    September 19, 2013

    Exactly! You are smart, and I think you can be one of my people. Thanks for reading and commenting! Another alternative Sassy likes to use is finding out the family’s favorite restaurant and then getting a gift card for the child, so he or she can foot the bill for a meal. Makes them feel so special!

  • Ask Sassy Author
    September 19, 2013

    That IS a nice idea, Franki! How did you feel about being asked? Pressure off, or sad that you couldn’t choose a gift?

  • Ask Sassy Author
    September 19, 2013

    Yes, Sherry, you’d be surprised at how much the kids get into it. Warms the heart, and nobody steps on LEGO’s in the dark. It brings a tear to my eye, just a little…

  • September 20, 2013

    I love the idea of giving to a charity but I think my kids are still a bit too young to understand that. For a recent party we did ask the friends to pitch in on a large gift (the Lego Death Star to be exact – all 1 trillion pieces of it) instead of doing individual gifts. It was great because it was something that he really wanted, it took a really long time to put together and he had to work with an adult on it so he got individual time with various family members. As they get older I will definitely push for charitable gifts! Kids need to know that they can make a difference too!

  • Ask Sassy Author
    September 20, 2013

    Thanks for the comment, Sharon! I know you didn’t write asking for advice but they don’t call me Sassy for nothing: if a kid is old enough to assemble a 10-trillion piece LEGO model (I’ve seen that one, I believe you’re underestimating!) then he’s probably mature enough to understand “sharing,” at least, or “helping.” Doesn’t mean you should feel obligated to do that kind of party, but IMO it’s never too early!

  • September 20, 2013

    @Franki, loving this idea.

  • September 20, 2013

    Really like the idea of bringing items that can be donated to the party. This way you involve guests in your charitable efforts, but more importantly, you can teach your son about giving back. After his party you can make a trip to the shelter or wherever you are donating and he will see that this isn’t mommy just being mean and not letting him have presents, but how he can help other kids in his community. Can’t learn more from Ask Sassy!

  • September 30, 2013

    Thanks for the advice regarding always giving guests a choice. On a related note, I tend to be an overgifter so I like the idea of bringing these kind of gifts to “no gift” parties:

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