Our guest writer today is Theresa Evanoff, Founder & CEO of Gift-It-Forward. Her online invitation platform simplifies party planning, charity, and gifting in one easy place. Invited guests pool their money online, from which a portion goes towards a gift for the birthday boy / girl, and the rest to charity.  Secondsguru asked her how the idea was born, and is it even possible to sit with a child and get them to support charity instead of gifts? Here’s Theresa’s answer, in her own words:

gift it forward, theresa evanoff,birthday, kids, charityWho doesn’t love a good celebration?  Birthday parties are awesome, but often, they also come with a lot of material things, including a pile of gifts and lots of wrapping paper.  This year, we started a new birthday tradition – a socially responsible, eco-friendly one – that I hope inspires other kids and families alike.

It all started because in the last few years, it seems like we are always at birthday parties.  Our friends started having children, and with our three young boys and their growing social circles, it means we are constantly shopping for birthday presents and receiving an overabundance of gifts at our own parties.  I have heard similar stories from other friends:  tales of family time spent on shopping for gifts and the expense of wrapping gifts, closets full of new toys or duplicate gifts to be “re-gifted”, toys that only get played with for the first week…

Given that even the greatest toys still get tossed aside after the initial novelty period, I wanted to find a way to teach my kids that giving is just as important as getting.  I want to help them get just one or two gifts that they’d really appreciate, and also teach them about generosity (while helping me reduce toy clutter!). And then, after a lot of thought,  an idea was born!

I decided to set up a social enterprise, Gift-It-Forward that does all that! Gift-It-Forward helps you change the way you celebrate.  It is an online platform that helps parents and children plan parties with a charitable twist.  

-Like other e-invitation websites, it allows users to choose their invitation designs and manage guests’ responses.  

-What makes this unique is that it also lets the birthday boy/girl tell all their friends and family about what gift they hope to receive, which charity they’d like to support, and how much they will commit to the charity (between 50% to 100% of their donations).  

-Instead of shopping and wrapping gifts, the guests have the option to give monetary gifts through the site and the money gets split between the host’s desired gift and charity.  In short, t’s a win-win for everyone!

As the founder, it was only natural that the first Gift-It-Forward party was for my own son Jonah’s third birthday. My husband and I explained to him how special his birthday is this year because he gets to do something wonderful by sharing his presents with a charity as well as get a special gift for himself.  

gift it forward birthday party ideas for kids
A 3 year old with a heart of gold

Keeping in mind that he was just turning three years old, we had to keep things pretty simple.  We told him that instead of getting many small gifts this year, he could choose one or two special things that he wants to receive from his friends – and to make sure it’s something he really wants to play with or do.  We explained that this means that we won’t waste things, like lots of wrapping paper and presents that we don’t need (though that was a bit confusing for him –“We don’t need presents, Mommy?!”).  And by doing this, he would be saving the environment (paper is made from trees, trees give birds homes and people air, so we are helping the birds and people!).  

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I told him that, but he handled it pretty well and didn’t put up any resistance.  In fact, he was quite thoughtful and took a while to decide, which was nice to see that it meant something to him too.  After much deliberation and discussion, he decided on a building set and a membership at a play gym.  (The play gym part made me extra happy because it doesn’t count as “stuff” to add to our already-full playroom!)

Together, we hopped on the website to set up the electronic invitations for the party.  We looked through all the different invitation designs and he chose one he liked (with pandas, because he has an obsession with panda bears and wanted to have a panda-themed party).

Then, we talked again about what a great thing he is doing this birthday because he gets to help other people by sharing some of his birthday money.   In the language of a three year-old, we walked through the 7 charities on the Gift-It-Forward site and what they do – one helps children, some help doggies, another helps “aunties”, some help mommies, and another helps people get second chances.  In the end, he chose Babes Pregnancy Crisis Support because he wanted “to help other mommies”.  I decided that 50% of his birthday money would go to that charity so he’d still get to put the rest towards the gifts he wanted.

On the day of the party, we had sunshine and perfect pool weather and it was just like any 3 year-old’s party – cake, friends, balloons, games, and even a big panda!  But, at the end of the day, through the generosity of our friends, he raised $310 for charity – AND got gifts that he’ll really enjoy!  Not only that, but our guests also appreciated that they were getting him something he wanted and they could do last minute “shopping” and eliminate gift-wrapping.  Our charity expressed their “heartfelt thanks” for a donation that was “a big amount especially for a 3 year old and he could have bought a lot of things from that amount”.  

After closing out the party on the website, we printed out his Gift-It-Forward “Superstar” certificate, and hung it on his bedroom wall.  We remind him all the time about what a great thing he has done, and now his big brother also asks when he can get his certificate too!  We are so proud of our little big boy for doing something so meaningful at such a young age.  

gift-it-forward-superstar-certificate birthday, kids, charity
The ‘superstar’ recognition award from Gift-it-forward

I wholeheartedly dream that by teaching our kids about giving and the true meaning of sharing, we can help them grow into socially responsible individuals who can make an impact on their world and their community.  I know this will be a new birthday tradition in our family, and I sincerely hope that it will be for many others.  Let’s start changing the way we celebrate!  


Theresa is the Founder and CEO of Gift-It-Forward.  She is constantly refining her juggling act of working professional, stay-at-home mom of three boys aged 4 and under, social butterfly, and devoted wife.






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