In our series “A Helping Hand,” learn to show others how much you care about them through kind acts and thoughtful gestures. These ways to give back on your birthday will not only make you feel special on your big day — they will make you feel good about yourself, too.

You know that warm feeling you get when you do something nice for someone? Like when you let the shopper with only a few items cut in front of you at the supermarket? Or when you offer your seat on the crowded bus to someone who looks exhausted?

Here’s an idea to get more of those warm feelings — in fact, a whole day’s worth: Celebrate your next birthday by giving back to others. It’s a total win-win. The people or organizations you help will benefit, and you’ll feel great knowing you made a difference.

Photo of family taking donations

Giving back on your birthday doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your annual celebration. It means that you are turning the focus on you or your child outward, according to Sarah Aadland, director of Doing Good Together‘s Big Hearted Families program.

“A lot of parents are concerned about raising entitled kids,” she explains. “When you find ways to make giving part of their birthday celebrations, it helps change that ‘me, me, me’ excitement into something broader. You can teach your child to live more generously.”

Doing good on your birthday doesn’t have to be a binary decision between having fun and helping others, Aadland emphasizes. “You can definitely do both!” she says.

“The beautiful thing is that you can build a give-back birthday on anything your child is interested in,” Aadland says. And that goes for adults, too.

Here are seven ways to give back on your birthday.

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Support homeless furry friends

Are you an animal lover? Arrange to spend your birthday helping those who work with homeless pets in your community. Check your local shelter’s website for volunteer opportunities, such as dog walking or cage clean-up. You can also collect needed supplies, such as blankets, kitty litter, and food, and deliver them to the facility.

Photo of woman playing with dogs at shelter

This idea works as a party theme, too. Aadland suggests asking your guests to bring small items, such as pet treats or toys, to the party, in addition to a gift. As a party activity, kids could decorate ping-pong balls as cat toys to bring to the shelter, along with the other donations. And check out the Max & Milo “Meow” Gift Basket, with its array of kitty surprises, as a way to give back to American Humane.

Thank the school office secretary

We know teachers are heroes (especially these days), but guess who has been handling all the awkward and annoying school phone calls over the past 18 months? Share the love with the secretary at your child’s school. You can make it a double gift with the Cheryl’s Smile Farms Birthday Party in a Box. For each item purchased from this collection, Cheryl’s Cookies donates to Smile Farms, which provides developmentally disabled adults with meaningful employment opportunities.

Clean up your community

Gather your friends and family together to help clean up a littered park, playground, or beach in your area. Check with your local government for any rules or restrictions first, and then be ready to provide gloves and trash bags to your friends.

Photo of people cleaning up a park

You can end the event with a picnic celebration in your spiffed-up environment. Who knows? Maybe you’ll inspire an annual clean-up event.

Donate cake

Cake and cupcakes are such a fun part of birthdays. But did you know some disadvantaged kids and lonely seniors don’t get to enjoy these treats? Organizations like Cake4Kids and ForGoodnessCakes help you give the gift of cake to others on their special day.

Photo of an elderly woman eating a cupcake

Another sweet idea is to create a party-in-a-box as part of Doing Good Together’s Birthday Giving Project. You can also spread the love by gifting a box of birthday cookies to your local shelter or food pantry.

Host a food drive

An easy and satisfying way to give back is asking your party guests to bring a can or two of non-perishable food to donate to your local food bank. It’s a good idea to check with your local organization to get a list of the items it needs (and the ones it doesn’t) to pass along to your guests.

Make things fun by having a contest to see who can bring the most items or come closest to guessing the weight of all the donated cans.

When you find ways to make giving part of their birthday celebrations, it helps change that ‘me, me, me’ excitement into something broader. You can teach your child to live more generously.

Sarah Aadland

Director, Doing Good Together’s Big Hearted Families program

Photo of Sarah Aadland

Build for the future

A fun way to get together with friends and do good at the same time is an on-site volunteer birthday party. Check with local charitable organizations for group building or fixer-upper projects you and your tribe can tackle as part of your birthday celebration.

Many hands make light work — and multiply the fun! Throw in some specially decorated T-shirts to show everyone it’s your birthday and to help get the party started.

Collect coats

Chances are you have a few extra coats in your closet that no one is wearing. If that’s the case, your birthday is the perfect time to organize a coat drive.

Photo of a man collecting coats for a coat drive

Ask your friends and family to bring a gently used coat or jacket to your party, and place a collection box at your workplace, too. Visit for more ways you can help spread the warmth of giving.

Here’s a final tip. “Start small,” Aadland says. “Keep the giving-back birthday project doable. Don’t overwhelm yourself. You can just add one giving component this year and see where it leads.”

You’ll be surprised at how amazing even a small project makes you feel. And that just may be the best birthday gift of all.


Tricia Drevets has over 15 years of experience as a freelance writer, specializing in topics of interest to small business owners. She also frequently writes about parenting, senior care, and healthy living. When she’s not at her keyboard, you might find her digging in her garden or hiking the trails of Southern Oregon with her golden retriever.

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