Happy Birthday to not-me! Donations are new trend in birthday gifts
The new trend in birthdays for younger people is fundraisers: instead of getting something good for your birthday, you encourage friends to do good.
“Birthday fundraisers” are already popular in the United States and the United Kingdom, and now they're hot in Korea. Many say they first encountered the concept in overseas books and movies such as "The Promise of a Pencil" and "Eat Pray Love."
It's a trend among the MZ generation, a term including Millennials (born between 1980 and 1995) and Generation Z (born between 1996 and 2010).
Before a birthday, the birthday boy or girl — called a "donor" — uploads details of the cause that will ultimately benefit. Friends donate amounts to their bank account and finally, the birthday donor sends the accumulated sum to the charitable organization. They disclose details of the donation afterward on social media: how much each person donated, the total amount.
All the birthday gifts are paid forward to an organization that does good.
Mr. Jeong uploaded a message to social media one day before his 25th birthday: “Let me just say from the start: I appreciate birthday gifts, but I won’t accept them. Instead, please donate — even a small amount is fine.”
Jeong said he was hesitant to announce his birthday in the first place because he felt like he was forcing his friends to cough up a gift.
In fact, he got more birthday wishes than ever before. People seemed to be impressed by his generosity.
Some 45 friends chipped in hard cash, which totaled 880,000 won ($682). Jeong added 120,000 won of his own to donate a total of 1 million won to an animal rights organization.
“I started birthday donations because I disliked the idea of receiving and throwing away gifts,” Jeong said. It was the first year Jeong celebrated a waste-free birthday, he said, which made him “worry-free, proud, and more purely happy than on any other birthday.”
Kwon Soon-ho, 24, has been doing this for six birthdays and collected 6,840,000 won in birthday donations. The organizations he gave the money to ranged from marine environmental groups to Ugandan orphanages.
“I want to leave something of value and live a life of helping someone,” Kwon said.
Serving in the Air Force last year, Kwon was moved by an instructor’s suicide prevention lecture. For his birthday that year, he donated 1,890,000 won to Lifeline Korea with gifts from 50 friends.
This year, after hearing the news that many soup kitchens have closed due to Covid-19, he donated 1,330,000 won to the Korea Legacy Committee, which tries to alleviate poverty among the elderly.
“Because I have to choose a donation organization every year, I’m more inclined to pay attention to and research the social issues I come across,” Kwon said.
Choi Kyung-Heon, 24, started a birthday fundraiser in February. "I’ve encountered many social issues in my life," he said, "and using my birthday as an opportunity to contribute to a meaningful cause makes me happy.”
Sensing that vaccine inequality was a major world problem this year, he donated 750,000 won to Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access, or Covax, a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines. Next year, he plans to donate to an organization promoting racial equality.
Charitable organizations are trying to take advantage of the trend.
The Bridge, a non-profit organization that helps the economic empowerment of citizens of third-world countries and North Korean refugees, has created an “event donation” feature on its website.
“Unlike older generations, the MZ generation is more eager to proactively donate, even if it’s as small as 1,000 won," said a spokesman.
Choi Seo-in [firstname.lastname@example.org]