Thursday, December 03, 2009

This Holiday Season Is a Good Time to Begin the Path to Philanthropy with Your Children

I love blogging – so much in fact that I have two very different blogs – Marion Conway Nonprofit Consultant where I blog about topics of interest to the nonprofit community and The Grandma Chronicles where I blog about grandparenting. I never thought that I would have the same post on both blogs but here it is. I started to put my thoughts together on this topic for my consulting blog and then, it came to me...This topic works for both blogs!

The topic of teaching children to be philanthropic is an important one to me and I believe it is something that starts young. The word Philanthropy is derived from Ancient Greek and means "to love people". Philanthropy is the act of donating money, goods, services, time and/or effort to support a socially beneficial cause. Webster’s definition resonates with the holiday season: “goodwill to fellowmen”

I started to do some research for this post on the web and was happy to see that there are wonderful resources and ideas available. There was even a blog post from Beth Kanter a year ago that I contributed to on this subject.
Kids and Philanthropy: Teaching Your Children To Be Charitable by Beth Kanter

We should be thinking about philanthropy as a core value to teach children. It is an important part of wholeness in adult life and it should be something that just comes naturally. That is my basic philosophy. So just as we teach the importance of education to our children by helping with homework, providing enjoyable educational experiences, encouraging and rewarding working hard in school there is the parallel in philanthropy.

Children learn about philanthropy by example, by doing things themselves and by being taught about it. We start with the very young by teaching and practicing caring and sharing. Older children participate in community service and contribute their time, talent and treasure as we say in church. There are so many things that we can do with children to develop a spirit of community service. Whether it be volunteering at a local food bank or raking leaves for an elderly neighbor there are opportunities everywhere in our everyday lives.

If you want your children to be enthusiastic about participating in philanthropy then it has to be something that is of interest to them. It may be in helping poor children or the environment. It may be supporting children who are very sick. You may have your own interests – I know I have mine – but it is a good idea to explore with children how they would like to help others and then for them to have as much of a hands-on experience as possible.

At our church all ages participate in our holiday giving program. Young children decorate Christmas cards and small trees for the elderly. Older children help stuff Christmas stockings with a variety of supplies for men at a homeless shelter. The teens participate in cooking a special meal for the homeless shelter that is served with tablecloths, flowers and a festive theme. The hands-on experience with philanthropy is an important part of their development.

The hands-on experience I remember most with my son is that for his Eagle Scout project he collected sleeping bags for children in Newark to use for summer camp. He also collected money and arranged a big discount with Coleman to buy sleeping bags. The day he and fellow scouts went to Newark to unload the sleeping bags from the delivery truck some teens were getting sleeping bags for a trip that weekend. I think my son has always appreciated his own sleeping bag a lot more since then.

Sometimes our children have set the example for us. When my son was a freshman in high school he came home and TOLD us he was going on a trip to help re-build a burned Black church in the South during his Spring vacation. My husband decided to take a week of his vacation and go with him and several years later my husband and I went together. My daughter has a caring spirit and when she works with young children she is particularly thoughtful of a child that needs a little extra personal attention that can make a difference. She is much more the touchy feely type than I am and I know she touches the lives of children she works with in an important way.

Teaching the concepts – Many people in my generation were brought up not knowing anything about family finances or giving. Looking back my parents were generous with their time, talent and treasure. I was oblivious to the treasure part but I could see the time and talent part. We have taken a different tack with our children. They know about our giving patterns and that it is spread across local, national and international causes. They know the local organizations where we are involved very well. They know that we have priorities for our giving and that charities are named in our will. When our children were young we made matching gifts to charities that they gave to and this encouraged them to give even more. They know our “philanthropy philosophy” and as adults are forming their own. When my son started working he immediately made a commitment to make a contribution to KIVA with every paycheck. He has his own philanthropy philosophy and it developed as he was growing up.

Our philanthropy manifests itself differently at different stages in our lives but it is important at every stage. For children and young adults it can be bursting with energy and innocence and a spirit true to the origins of the word. There is no time like the holiday season to start. Kayta Andresen from Network for Good offered a fantastic idea last holiday season in Beth Kanter’s post: "Give with your kids day. "She suggests giving a child $25 to donate to a charity. You can help them research the type of charities they are interested in online.

Learning to Give - offers lesson plans, activities and resources to educate youth about the power of philanthropy

Foundation Center - Youth in Philanthropy – An extensive list of online resources is available

Games for Change - Lots of video games are avaiable for teaching children about philanthropy on topics ranging from serving the poor to the environment

A favorite book of mine on this topic is Raising Charitable Children by Carol Wiseman.

A special note to grandparents: One of the things that grandparents do is fill in some blanks as parents have busy schedules. This is an excellent responsibility for grandparents to take a leadership role in and find things you can do together with your grandchildren than enrich your lives and that of others.

Enjoy the Holidays and Live Philanthropically,



Melinda Lewis said...

Any ideas on volunteer opportunities with very young (preschool) children? I've been told that I can't bring my son to several different volunteer opportunities, and, while he's raising money and buying things to donate, I want him to have a chance to experience giving first-hand, too. Thanks!

Autumn Ames said...

We don't have kids yet, but when we do, we've already decided on a family tradition to teach Philanthropy during the holidays. We will (and already do) set aside money in our holiday spending and make a chaitable gift for each family member. The goal is to have each family member give to a cause that is important to them and then share it with everyone else in the family.

Noreen McManus said...

Thank you for sprouting some new ideas on the need to start young. If we let it be, we can raise our children to be selfish in a "me" world. It takes a concerted effort as well as example to produce giving young persons who will be tomorrow's leaders. As you pointed out, modeling is the most important way and we are able to learn from each other both laterally and vertically from generation to generation. I couldn't have said it better than Marion.