Birthday parties

Sponsored: ECHOage — A better way to celebrate

Get great gifts AND give to charity.


How does it work? Loved by busy families, ECHOage is an online birthday party website with a charitable twist. Instead of your average paperless invite, after customizing their invitation, kids choose a charity. Guests are then invited to make a contribution. Half of the funds raised will go to the charity of the child’s choice, while the other half goes towards super-fabulous birthday presents.

Why ECHOage Co-founders Debbie Zinman and Alison Smith wanted to modernize the birthday party experience. They were done with spending more time searching and shopping for birthday gifts than hanging out with and enjoying their kids. They didn’t want to be the Scrooges of birthday parties, but it felt like the birthday party madness was getting out of hand. So they made a commitment to making parties more rewarding for the kids and less work for the parents. By combining the good feelings of giving with the fab feelings of receiving, they knew they were on to something.

Meet Leo: A five-year-old birthday hero Leo was always an animal lover.  Stuffed animals, zoo animals, or farm animals, if it was furry and had four-legs, Leo was ready to take it home. His first word wasn’t Mom or Dad, it was “doggie”. In fact, the only thing he loved more than dogs (and tigers) was his birthday. When he had a chance to put the two things he loved most together, he leapt at the opportunity.

For Leo’s fifth birthday, he and his parents decided to ECHOage his party. Leo was excited to do something different — and make a difference.

How one family made the ECHOage experience their own For Leo’s parents, throwing their son an ECHOage party was a no brainer. Together, they uploaded a picture of Leo and chose a blue soccer themed invitation. Then they checked out the carefully curated list of local and national charities. And what a list it was! Leo couldn’t believe how many  there were to choose from: SickKids to Make-A-Wish, Best Buddies to Children’s Aid, to Indigo Love of Reading Foundation and, of course, animal charities, like WWF, Jane Goodall Institute, and WSPA Canada. Every charity on the list spoke to him in a meaningful way.


The charity part After careful consideration, Leo chose COPE Service Dogs, an Ontario-based organization dedicated to empowering communities through the use and training of service dogs. Kids struggling to get through high school help train puppies to become service dogs. They visit hospitals, nursing homes and classrooms with the dogs. Once the dogs are fully trained, they’re placed with people with mobility issues and other challenges.

Even at five years old, Leo knew this charity was important: kids working with dogs to help other people really resonated with him. He couldn’t wait to be a part of it.

The gift part Once the charity was chosen and the invitations emailed, Leo and his parents were able to track who was coming to his party, and how much money they were raising for their charity — and for his super special gift.  Other birthday parties had brought with them the usual pile of presents. Some wanted, others, less so. They still had gifts leftover from previous birthdays and holidays. Leo’s mom, Carolyn, knew that all her son really wanted was a drum kit. A real drum kit, not the “kiddie” kind.

By combining all the guests’ contributions she’d be able to buy him the dream gift she’d never have been able to purchase on her own. Instead of a slew of toys that might completely overwhelm her son, he’d be getting the one present he really, truly wanted.

The big day arrives On the big day, Carolyn had her guest tracker handy complete with phone numbers, special concerns, even allergy alerts. Parents arrived relaxed, knowing the birthday gift was taken care of.  And, of course, the playing field was leveled as each guest privately contributed to Leo’s charity and his present. No boxes big or small, nothing to cart back to the car — or to return. Just birthday cake and happy faces.


Happy kids, happy parents The party was a huge success in every way. As one guest noted, “we just needed to RSVP and show up! Instead of spending hours wandering the aisles in search of the perfect present — at the perfect price point — everything was taken care of. What a relief.”

The kids had a great time, while all the parents loved how simple the entire ECHOage process was.  Leo may have been the first one in his gang to ECHOage his party, but judging from the parents’ grateful reactions to such a convenient party, Carolyn knew he definitely wouldn’t be the last.

The celebration continues When Leo returned home, he found a shiny new drum kit waiting for him. He couldn’t have been happier. Carolyn received a friendly email from ECHOage reminding her to thank her guests and to close her party. With a click of her mouse, she was done. A few days later, a cheque arrived in the mail. When Leo saw it, Carolyn explained that the same amount had been sent to COPE Service Dogs.

Leo’s face lit up. “Mommy”, he said, “I feel like a hero”. And he was. At five years old, Leo had learned what it felt like to make a change. It felt different. Amazing. Special. His party was a blast, but the whole experience was a life changer. When asked about it later, Carolyn exclaimed, “once you go ECHOage, there’s no going back”.

The news spreads Word on the street spread. Leo told his pals all about his cool party and his awesome drum kit — just in case anyone missed the pounding bass sounds coming from the house! Sure enough, a few weeks later, Leo received an ECHOage invitation of his own, the first of many more to come. The simplicity of planning, the joy of giving and the fun of getting what kids really want sparked something in his friends and classmates.  For Leo, his family, and their friends, ECHOage really was a better way to celebrate!

This article was originally published on Sep 13, 2013

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