What’s A Kids’ Party Without Piles of Presents? EchoAge.

echoage.jpgEchoAge. Echo: “One small act of giving can echo around the world” plus Age: “Each year I want to make a difference on the planet” Equals: a meaningful twist on birthdays.

Not exactly a whack the pinata and dive for the candy ‘gimme mode’ moment or frenzied paper-flying present grab flashback…but certainly an alternate view of what’s fun.

EchoAge is an innovative digital party planning site echoing the ‘less is more’ concept to create beneficial reverb far beyond a birthday bash, blending evite-style ease with eco-minded practicality, and an eye toward social justice to boot.

One gift. One cause. One easy online media method. Interesting. (that’s mom-speak for “fat chance my kids will opt-in, but hey it’s worth a try.”)

It’s laudable and VERY doable for avid green scene go-getters, but your average-once-a-year cake and candles child may balk with pouty lips at proposing same. Then again, maybe that’s the point?

In our ‘can you top this’ culture of consumption with media serving up status-conscious class divisions and branded, wretched excess (MTV’s Super Sweet 16, Suite Life With Zack & Cody, etc.) this socially forward-thinking online option could be considered a classic counter-marketing tactic, gleaning some coolness cred for bucking the tide and going alternative.

We use those techniques a lot at Shaping Youth for message shifting. When peer to peer word-of-mouth becomes a personal identity statement it can create a positive trend of club-like unity, in this case for generous souls. (think: LiveStrong bands with a party theme; FAQs here)

cake-balloon.jpgHere’s how it works:

“Guests are invited to an ECHOage birthday party online. Instead of bringing a wrapped and packaged present, guests simply rsvp and give a secure online gift of money. Payments are pooled for the purchase of ONE special gift and to support ONE meaningful cause. ECHOage will arrange everything, so no need to drive, shop, wrap or even pick up the phone to make a donation.”

Positive impact. Turning ‘getting into giving’ with green teen appeal. No fuss, no muss, no waste. A nice little identity perk for the ‘thinkers and doers’ set…a tax receipt for the parents, and a 15% cut for the site creators to sustain the service.

Not bad. BUT…will it catch on? Therein lies the question…

Personally, I LOVE the idea, in theory. But I’m a few decades shy of being a kid of nine or ten.

bday-hat.jpgAt what age do children ‘buy-in’ to buying one main gift and one core cause? Or is this all parental push?

Seems like one way to embrace cause-marketing early on choosing from a kids’ cancer site, Earthcore, SecondHarvest, Girls Inc., and any of their other partners, but it’s gotta be genuine and initiated by the child. (nothing worse than a sour-faced party pooper trying to pull off a kids version of Americorps under protest)

Some of our eco-club crew would readily nibble, but to many, birthdays are sacrosanct occasions of childhood frivolity that should be excluded from ‘teaching moments’ altogether…The ‘let the kids be kids’ adage…

On the flip side:

affluenza.jpgIn an ever-increasing bias of ‘Affluenza’ and cross-cultural emphasis on economic status (e.g. coming of age barmitzvahs that use full scale wedding planners; 13 year-olds treated to tees/transport/touring of a hot/hip-hop concert, that’s easily $100 a pop…even “limo” rewards for school magazine drives and prom costs the size of an emerging nation) kids are already being treated as “mini-adults,” not remotely like children…

Seems we’re long OVERDUE for a ‘market correction’ in the ol’ behavioral cue arena of mass messaging, not to mention parents influenced by ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ in raise the bar mode…Will peer activism be a solution?

What do you think?

Would the kids in your world willingly ‘echo’ or would you be the lone voice in the wilderness doing a shout out to an unreceptive child?

Is this a solid compromise to the ‘no gifts please’ notion? (here’s a write up along those lines on the Peppers & Pollywogs kids’ party site) I like the fact that it just presents another choice to begin to plant the seed of caring…but I wouldn’t hold my breath while surfing those seas of change, it’s bound to be a long flow of ebb and tide.

Here’s a snapshot overview of their six steps to doing less but yielding more, and a side by side comparison of a ‘traditional’ birthday party vs. a feel good fest…And here’s a podcast with more, from Green Parenting.

cake-sideways.jpgMaybe this “one big gift/one core cause” notion could be replicated in other group-gifting scenarios? (or would that dilute early altruism?)

What if it were simply broadened beyond kids’ birthdays to teacher’s gifts, housewarmings, baby showers, anniversaries, and any ‘group’ gifting/donation dilemma TOO?

Would the collegiate crowd or emerging adults be a better ‘target market’?

Could the concept transfer to an intergenerational ‘give one get one’ model of non-consumer goods? e.g. the ‘one laptop per child’ approach, only instead, use knowledge transfer (hugs/gifts of touch, mentoring/corporate entrepreneurship) etc. to redirect excess to fill an area in short supply? (what senior couldn’t use a hug from a child, eh?)

“One small act of giving can echo around the world”…Yep. Sure can. And there tagline is lovely, “Where Children Celebrate Giving.” In fact, the whole concept is, um… “interesting” to me…

Hat tip goes to my friend Kris Cornwall for pointing to this one….What say you, Kris? With young twins and a middle-schooler, would it fly among your crew? At what age, in what circumstance?

What about you, readers? What are YOUR thoughts?

Related Posts from Shaping Youth

Marketing Mindfulness to Kids: Giving vs. Receiving

Wrapping Up the Gift of Time (experiential pleasures)

Shaping Youth Through Philanthropic Fun —Part Two

Shaping Youth’s The Big Give: Kiva, Oprah & the Reality TV Juggernaut

Winter Break Ideas to Keep Kids “Consumed”



  1. Kris Cornwall says

    Hi Amy,

    I forwarded the EchoAge URL to my 12 year old, who didn’t understand it. Why should she – mom does all the party planning and she just shows up!

    I have to say, though, that although I find this concept interesting, I’m not on board with it. I don’t think it’s my responsibility (or perhaps, rather, privilege) as the party giver to compel others to make a charitable donation. And the cause that’s most important to me (or my child) may not be the one others would choose to support.

    I also feel that caring/giving should be a deliberate activity on its own, not tagged onto another event sending the message “while you’re at it…” Plus, as the parent of a party goer, I want my children to learn the pleasure of gift-giving.

    But I can’t disagree that children’s parties (with the specialized entertainment, goodie bags, etc.) have gotten out-of-hand. And I certainly can’t disagree that in too many ways we and the media don’t treat our children like children (thanks for the limo reference – I had my first limo ride at 26!)

    So, I guess my feeling is, leave the birthday party out of it. A birthday party is a celebration of the birthday child – with or without gifts. The bigger question for me is how do I raise my children with great appreciation for all they have and the desire and ability to want to help others who have less.


    P.S. My little girls recently learned from a cartoon they like (Caillou) that they should collect their old toys for children in need. So yesterday each of them brought me some of *her sister’s* toys to give away! Well, it’s a start…

  2. That’s hilarious…generosity of the other sibs toys…a classic. Good point about the ‘celebration of the bday child’ and the day itself vs. gifts/party…the ol’ pick your favorite meal, sleep in, extra TLC/pampering bit.

    I think the bday thing is a little dicey for me too, and I’m not sure why, because I love the model and the platform (I don’t feel a ‘while you’re at it’ vibe, because it’s such a deliberate DIFFERENT focus that it seems very purposeful in itself, but I can see what you mean about wanting the day to be special all on its own)

    For me I think my rub is that tying it into bday feels a bit PC and ‘forced’ somehow kinda like those old home remedies you hear about in the late night movies about castor oil and kiddies…’try this, you’ll feel better’ kinda thing. Or maybe it’s the cause portion, I need to look at that again, I thought it was just a ‘here’s who the bday girl wants to help’ (outgoing share) vs. ‘why don’t you help them too?’ solicitation…right?

    I love it for adults, and definitely for kids/events that want to make a statement of purposeful preference but I’ll stay with my ‘this could be good if it were kid-driven’ bit on the opt-in front…It’s kinda like the Beacon bit on Facebook, don’t ‘opt me in’ if I don’t want to be…but TELL folks the option is there. THEN, if kids decide to take advantage of it, it’s their call.

  3. Kris, I started thinking of some other ways this could be used beyond bdays to carry forward core attachments to a cause that’s personal (like my daughter w/animals, etc.)

    Seems it would make perfect sense to pay it forward by sharing the fund funnel to benefit the beasties…like the links I left above on the “Pause for a Cause…doggie party idea, where the funds go to the shelter w/wishlist fulfillment of the SPCA and the $20/pp could go toward a ‘jump house’ rental for ‘one big gift’ or for teens, maybe a large projection movie screen to have a ‘dive in pool party’ (animal movie marathon, amazing animals/stupid pet tricks, whatever)

    …Again, still uses the philanthropic fun model but not constrained to a bday.

    Glad I’m not the Lone Ranger on the ‘popularity poll’ ramp up of bday bash excess or school/societal glamorama must-dos… One of our ‘at risk’ club volleyball team alliances used a limo (pragmatically and as a reward for season’s end) and ironically, all the girls had already BEEN in one. That seems odd to me…the teens are all on subsidized lunch but limos are already a check-off on the to-do list of life? hmn…What are we saying here in our pop culture about materialism/value vs. health/well-being?

    Thanks also for commenting on the joys of ‘traditional’ gift giving too, because you’re right, the little pleasures they have of ‘making a card’ or picking out ‘just the right present’ are a form of giving that’s equally important…

    I sure love seeing mindsets moving in this direction with innovation though. Kids sure LOVE to make a difference in the world, and any way we can enroll them as change agents at the onset, experientially is a win-win.

    But you’re right, it doesn’t have to be ‘birthday’ based…might even be an easier focal point the other way as a stand alone concept…hmn…

  4. Kris,

    Hopefully it shouldn’t hurt to introduce the idea to your children…if it resonates great, if not…so be it. Giving people a bigger toolbox of ideas is better than too few tools (ideas). AND OF COURSE, you as the parent have the best guess at how much your children might be open to new ideas.


  5. Yep, you’re absolutely right…new ideas are always a question mark before things become ‘normative’ —but if we seed them well, early adopters can turn the tanker around faster! (How many Californians flinch when they see people toss a water bottle in the trash vs. recycle, or light up a cigarette anywhere near a restaurant? We’ve created ‘new standards’ and that seems to me what EchoAge is goin’ for…Gotta start somewhere, even if introduction and eventual adoption is a hard slog…

    I’m pleased to say I met with the founders of EchoAge today and heard some VERY reassuring news along those lines…They said those who have “EchoAged” their parties have found the kids more involved with the experience of having their friends over as a gift in itself where the party theme/activity/attention is the focus vs. the consumption of ‘stuff’…this bodes well for the next generation, if we can seed this concept a bit earlier…

    Allison & Debbie mentioned that ages so far have been all over the board from age ‘1’ (too young enough to know or care) to age 6 (old enough to have been exposed to peer pressure/consumption cues) and 13 (where ‘big ticket items’ like ipods and cameras kick in) —but you’re right Bill, it depends on the child, and their receptiveness to new ideas…

    I’m hoping with all of the ‘green teens’ out there and the seeding of the concept that the planet is in SOS mode, kids will be inspired to make a difference in their own unique ways which truly becomes ‘viral’ in ‘pay it forward’ mode…

    Shaping Youth will definitely do our part to champion the concept in fun new philanthropic ways to impart the notion of giving, caring, sharing, etc.—-After all, why just EchoAge a birthday, when you can EchoAge teacher’s gifts, (so they get what they REALLY want/need) retirement ceremonies, anniversaries, you name it. Less stuff, more thought and camaraderie coming together as one collective unit to give a gift that the recipient has really wished for…

    In some cases, that may be ‘no gift at all!’ (right, Dad?) 😉 Happy Earth Day 2008!!!

  6. Our site ” http://www.bigfunparties.co.uk ” helps in organizing a party to make it as fun and successful as possible for your child. We provide entertainer to entertain children, one entertainer for about fifteen children. For big parties we provide extra entertainer too. Our parties have a perfect mix of interactive play and games as well as music, dance and a lot fun. So make your kids birthday an unforgettable event.

  7. Um…I think you kind of missed the point of the post? We’re looking at ways to ‘have fun, do good’ vs. pile on the presents or ratchet up the entertainment factor to the scale of a rock concert…Birthdays are celebrations of life…not stuff.

    And while I think you’ve got a plethora of ‘fun’ on your site, it seems more ‘MTV Sweet 16 hire out for a big bash’ than what we’re advocating, which is festive appreciation of kids’ many trips around the sun to come…Ya know? Good luck with your business though, there are plenty of people who like the party in a box approach to event mgmt.

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