‘Tis the Season: How to Engage Children of All Ages in Philanthropy and Giving

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John Maddison
November 30, 2017
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As a wealth management firm for business owners in transition, Balentine frequently receives questions about how to prepare second and third generations for the wealth they will one day inherit. One of our favorite ways to ensure your children and grandchildren inherit the values you hold most dear is by involving them in philanthropic activities. The best part? You don’t have to wait until they’re adults to begin. As the season of giving is upon us, here are a few of our most popular suggestions for how to engage your children in philanthropy throughout their lives:

Preschool (Young Children)

  • Introduce them to the topic of philanthropy by explaining what it means and sharing related terms, such as volunteer, donate, and charity. Work together to create a list of all the good deeds they have performed, and brainstorm opportunities to expand upon them.
  • Remember that actions speak louder than words. At a time when kids are the most impressionable, let them see you doing good—this can be as simple as helping an elderly neighbor move her trash can into the street. When it’s time to clean out closets in my house, our children select gently used clothes, books, and toys to donate. They even accompany my wife and me when we donate the items to local shelters. Our hope is that it will teach them how to share and let go of material things.
  • Share stories about causes dear to your heart. For example, my wife has shared with our children the importance of Habitat for Humanity, given her grandfather’s heavy involvement during his retirement years.

Elementary and Middle School

  • By now, your children may be receiving an allowance. Encourage them to divide their earnings between spending, saving, and giving, as Rob Leiber writes in his book, The Opposite of Spoiled. Up the ante by offering to match donations to a chosen cause if they write a short essay explaining why it matters to them (an early introduction to advocating on behalf of an organization).
  • Find ways to connect giving to your children’s interests, experiences, or current events. Oftentimes at this age, it’s easier for children to connect charitable activities to things they have seen or experienced firsthand instead of events that are farther away and therefore more abstract. Last year, for example, I saw many lemonade stands in my Raleigh neighborhood raising money to support the eastern North Carolina victims of Hurricane Matthew.
  • Support a cause as a family. Your children likely know someone affected by type 1 diabetes, so why not all participate in a bike ride or fun run to support a local chapter of JDRF? Other options include canned food drives supporting Backpack Buddies, or cleaning up litter from a park or creek. Around the holidays, my family participates in a holiday giving tree through our local church. We’ve found that the experience is more impactful when we select children of the same age and gender as ours; our kids have fun picking out toys and clothes for the family.
  • As your children develop a better understanding of charitable giving, include them in your decisions about which charities to support and, most importantly, why. There are countless issues and organizations worthy of your gifts, so your ability to explain why you help the ones you do will make the experience more tangible to your children.

High School

  • Encourage your teens to perform community service as a part of larger groups, such as service clubs at school and/or youth groups at church. Many schools now require students to earn a certain number of community service hours prior to graduation, granting you another opportunity to help your kids discover organizations and causes of interest.
  • Tie fundraising to events like birthdays and graduation. Facebook makes it easy with a new option to “Donate Your Birthday.” As an added benefit, this gives your children the opportunity to introduce causes they care about to friends and family.
  • If your family has a foundation or Donor Advised Fund, familiarize your children with the decision-making process by inviting them to attend site visits and make grant recommendations.
  • Introduce the concept of the “Three T’s of Giving”: time, talent, and treasure. If your child knows how to code, for example, perhaps he or she can spend time creating or updating a local charity’s website.

College and Beyond

  • Those with family foundations often grapple with the question of when to invite their children to join the board. Considerations may include age minimums, meeting specific milestones, etc. Regardless of when you extend the invitation, be sure to appropriately convey the weight of their newfound responsibilities.
  • Many family foundations provide their youngest board members with a small amount of money in an effort to connect grant making to the interests of younger generations. Giving them full discretion of the funds helps encourage ownership of the process, as opposed to simply inviting grant requests.
  • If your son or daughter organizes a fundraiser on campus or joins the board of a local non-profit after college, show up and lend your support at events. Your recognition of his or her interests could provide the motivation to remain engaged within the community.

Considering the vast network of charities working to support an untold number of worthy causes, there is no shortage of opportunities to introduce your children to the concept of philanthropy. If you start early, approach the topic with enthusiasm and intentionality, and, most importantly, lead by example, it’s only a matter of time until philanthropic thinking becomes second nature to your children—not just during the holiday season, but all year long.

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