For reasons I am not sure I entirely understand, in my adult life I have enjoyed celebrating my birthday with rather juvenile gatherings. The prior two years were spent at the bowling alley, and miniature golf was gaining some ground as an option this year. Perhaps it is because, as an introvert who has a hard time loosening up in social settings, I can relax and enjoy silliness and fun in a comfortable environment of my closest friends. Or maybe it is because I am greatly amused by seeing my grown up friends be both rather awful at, and yet curiously at the same time highly competitive about, silly games like bowling and putting a golf ball through a windmill.
So when it came time this year to plan the festivities, I began my annual review of “what’s trending” in pre-teen birthday parties. But this year ended up different. Let’s go back to post-Christmas 2004 when a massive tsunami had just hit South Asia. At the time, my wife Courtney and I were discussing potential New Year’s Eve plans. But as we explored options, the thought of going out and spending money just didn’t seem right when that money could be spent easing the suffering of others on the other side of the world. So we held a “New Year’s Eve-In”. We got dressed up as if we were going out. We got a bottle of wine and ordered take out from our favorite restaurant (which completely coincidentally, but not without significance was a Thai restaurant…). We had a romantic dinner at home, danced in our living room, and sent the money we would have spent going out, to Mercy Corps for disaster relief. (Footnote….we never made it to New Year’s, falling asleep by 11 o’clock).
Perhaps it was the recent typhoon that hit in the Philippines not too long before my birthday this year. Whatever it was, I got to thinking about all of the money that would be spent by 10 to 15 of us going out to dinner, having some drinks, and then bowling, golfing, or doing some other silly (and probably overpriced) activity. I also got to thinking about what an interesting, diverse, and benevolent group of friends we are so fortunate to have. One friend had recently returned from Haiti where he was doing pro bono filming for a promotional piece for an orphanage. Another had just done a weekend long bike ride across Georgia to promote the Slow Food movement. Another had recently started their own non-profit to fund small independent film makers and projects in Florida.
It was with this background and inspiration ‘twas born the Philanthroday Party: the birthday party that keeps on giving. Instead of going out and spending money, we invited everyone over to our house. Absolutely no presents were allowed. However, guests needed to bring (1) $20 cash and (2) a charity that they would be representing. The idea was that we would all play a game throughout the night to win as much money for our specific charity as we could. (We weren’t entirely sure how this would unfold…in the end, we split all of the proceeds between the top 3 winners…).
The evening began by going around the room and having each person tell a little bit about the charity they were representing. For me this proved to be one of the highlights of the evening. It was really amazing to hear about all of the different organizations, the meaningful work being done, and in many cases, the very personal stories of how people were involved with the organization. I had recently recommended Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest to a friend. For those who don’t know this book, it is a very uplifting book chronicling the thousands and thousands of organizations throughout the world, representing millions and millions of people, all working in non-profits and volunteer organizations to make our world a better place. Watching everyone listen intently and learning about the different groups, just a handful of us in a small living room, somehow made me feel for a moment part of that larger drive for the overall greater good. (For a complete list of the organizations and links to them, see the end of this piece).
Then the fun began! The icing on the proverbial (and literal) birthday cake was that I still got my evening of juvenile silliness and amusement at the expense of others. It was amazing to see how competitive everyone was. They must have all been incredibly inspired by their chosen beneficiaries….I wish I could say that the competitive natures that surfaced were all completely driven by the desire to fund each person’s chosen charity, but I am not sure I can completely believe that.
Courtney and I chose a game called Pit that we had recently learned about at and played at a seminar by Sidney Kirpatrick, author of Edgar Cayce: An American Prophet (the pre-eminent biography of Edgar Cayce). Aside from being the most famous American psychic, founder of the still very active Association for Research and Enlightenment, and the father of holistic medicine, Edgar Cayce devised and then sold to Parker Brothers, the game Pit. It is a very active, fun, silly and hilarious game that proved perfect for the evening.
In the end our little gathering raised $260 which was split three ways between the following
- Slow Food / Glades to Coast Chapter
- RMOF Orphanage for Girls in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
- Mano Amiga – a Colombian organization that works to educate the disadvantaged youth in Colombia
I was honored to spend the evening learning about these organizations, raising money, and laughing hysterically as the evening unfolded.
And here is a quick guide to hosting a Philanthroday Party of your own:
- Invite friends to come to your home or a free venue (remember the idea is to spend as little money as possible so more can go to charity…)
- Determine the amount of money you want everyone to bring.
- Set up a small bowl or cup of poker chips equal to the pre-determined amount for each person who is coming. Label these with people’s names. We used re-usable small plastic kids bowls with a piece of carpenter tape to write names on with a marker.
- Choose a game / games to play. As noted, we like Pit as it is fast moving, and people can come and go from the table. A long drawn out game like Trivial Pursuit won’t keep the momentum. Plus, you want people winning and losing chips. We played it where everyone put in the pot at the beginning of the hand, and the winner took all of that pot. You could also do good old fashioned poker, of course.
- When guests arrive, have them deposit their cash into a bowl / box / envelope, and receive their bowl of chips.
- When it is time for the games to begin, have everyone gather around and go around one by one explaining to the group their charity and why they chose it.
- Let the game(s) begin!
- At some point the game will eventually be over. Figure out a way to determine a winner or winner(s). In our case, we took the top three chip winners and divided the money between them. Those people each got the cash and were responsible for the ultimate donation to the organization.
- We found it nice to have a game table going, but not all people had to play at all times. People were able to come and go from the table as they chose. Pit is wonderful this way because each hand lasts from one to three minutes.
The charities represented at our Philanthroday Party:
Architecture for Humanity
Save the Chimps
RMOF (Girls Orphanage in Haiti)
Slow Food Glades to Coast
Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council
Peggy Adams Rescue League
Wounded Warrior Project
Clinton Global Initiative
Mano Amiga Colombia
Gaoyou Children’s Welfare Institute (Orphanage in China)
As I was recreating this list, I was reminded of the stories that accompanied many of them and the discussions they inspired. I have somewhat selfishly bookended the list with two of special significance to me….I once saw Cameron Sinclair (the co-founder of Architecture for Humanity) speak. It was hands down the most invigorating and inspiring talk I have ever seen, and remains so to this day many years later. Last on the list is the orphanage in China from where our beautiful and amazing goddaughter was adopted.
Thank you to my friends for so enthusiastically joining me in this experiment and for the constant inspiration! Until we meet again at the Pit table….