For my 9th birthday, my only wish was to eat like a farmer boy. I had devoured The Little House on the Prairie book series, and wanted to be like Almanzo Wilder, the protagonist of Farmer Boy, one of the later installments in the Little House series.
A week before September 27, my mother asked what I'd like for my birthday. I wanted to eat exactly what Almanzo ate, farm food of the 1870s. Mom pulled it off. To this day, I can taste the Fried Apples 'n' Onions, Almanzo's favorite.
I recount this story not because I want to be the subject of jokes around the water cooler in my office, which I will be (DonorsChoose.org team: please be gentle). Instead, I'm trying to illustrate that experiences deliver a lot more satisfaction than physical items, even when it comes to your birthday.
A recent study by Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, found that experiential purchases, like eating out or going to a movie, are more likely to foster individual happiness than buying material goods. Powell argues that the human desire for social connectedness and vitality may partially explain his study's findings -- especially during the current recession.
A similar phenomenon seems to be fueling DonorsChoose.org. Since the recession began, the total number of donors to classroom projects at our website has increased substantially, even as the average donation size has decreased. We think that the recession has caused people to seek community and to help those in need, even when they themselves may be struggling. Supporting specific public school classrooms fulfills this desire. Donors become part of a compassionate online community and get to interact directly with the students and teachers they help. It's an experiential purchase of the charitable kind.
So how do birthdays fit in? DonorsChoose.org just launched a campaign called The Great Give-Back Birthday, which invites individuals to donate their birthdays to support classroom projects in high-need schools. Why not create a birthday experience that helps students and teachers?
As you may have guessed from the title of this post, Stephen Colbert generously donated his birthday (May 13th!) to DonorsChoose.org and created a video about it. Here it is:
He's set up a birthday giving page filled with some of his favorite classroom projects at www.donorschoose.org/colbertbirthday. Plus, he's managed to identify an additional benefit:
"This year, you can help needy classrooms on your birthday with DonorsChoose.org. And the great thing is, if you give your birthday away, you don't age that year. Look it up."
So here's to Almanzo Wilder and Fried Apples 'n' Onions and Stephen Colbert and birthdays and -- last but certainly not least -- every kid across America getting a terrific education.