An article in the New York Times about parents who suggest (require?) that birthday presents come to their young children in the form of gifts to charity announces the trend in one breath and derides it in the next. It summons no less an authority than Miss Manners to disapprove of the notion on the grounds that children will learn to hate philanthropy if it deprives them of a pile of wrapped boxes. Besides (sniff), directing other people’s gift-giving is so tacky. More, the article seems to go out of its way to portray parents who try this alternative as hippie-dippy tree-huggers, making sure to mention one who carries her baby in a sling and another who provides party favors consisting of organic fruit leather.
Making fun of rich people is great sport; the Nonprofiteer relishes it herself. But making fun of rich people for being generous rather than stingy (the "John Edwards is rich so he can’t really care about poverty" school of analysis) is just (sniff) tacky. In any case, both the article and the ordinarily impeccably correct Miss Manners seem to forget that all gift-giving is contingent on cultural expectations. As children, even privileged Baby Boomers expected attendance at their parties and a card rather than gifts. If the following generation amended the ritual so it instead resembled Oscar night, complete with goody bags, surely the newest generation can amend it yet again. If you tell a four-year-old that birthdays are a time for cake, ice cream and doing something nice for other people, that’s how they’ll understand birthdays. And if they feel at all deprived, it’s no worse than the way diabetic kids feel when excluded from cake and ice cream; and, just like diabetic kids, they’ll get over it.
Directing gifts may be a bit much, but if so parents can be told, "Ralph isn’t expecting gifts, but he’d be thrilled if you wanted to make a contribution to charity in his name/honor." That deprives the kid of choosing the charity him/herself, but that’s the only part of the described trend that seems superfluous. Plenty of time for site visits later.
The Nonprofiteer can’t remember how she came to think that collecting pennies for UNICEF instead of candy was an exciting way to spend Halloween, but she did, and it’s not because she doesn’t like candy. Somehow, her parents communicated that this was what we did, and that it was a special thing to do, and that she was special for doing it. If today’s parents convey that message to their children–that being generous is special and fun–well, horrors! They might grow up to be nonprofiteers.