It’s a sight familiar to every parent: children running around screaming, “Happy Birthday” plates, goody bags and a mound of presents next to a cake. Birthday parties come around all too often for moms like Debbie Zinman and Alison Smith. The two fell in line with the ritual of elaborate parties and even-more-elaborate gifts, but they wanted it to stop. “We saw that a lot of the children were more interested in each other than the gifts,” says Zinman. “It seemed that present-infested birthday parties like this were flawed.”
Agreeing that compulsory gift-buying was wasteful, the Canadian pair started echoage.com as an alternative. The website makes it easy for children to receive cash gifts from guests, so they and their parents can donate half to charity and keep the other half for one special gift like, say, music lessons, instead of countless unnecessary toys.
Meanwhile, tisbest.org and justgive.org have been set up in the U.S. to create another unconventional way to give gifts. At both websites, shoppers can buy a non-specific charity card allowing recipients of any age to choose which group to support. In its first year, TisBest claims to have had thousands of site visitors a day. JustGive donated more than $25 million in 2007.
Gifts involving donations aren’t a new trend. People have given philanthropic presents through organizations like Heifer International for years. What makes these newer groups different is that they allow the recipient to choose the charity that receives the donation. “It’s kind of weird to get a gift from someone saying, ‘Hey, I donated a tree in your name,’” says Erik Marks, founder of TisBest, based in Seattle, Washington.
Either way, these three sites make it easy to give gifts that really make a difference.