Want Kids to Become Givers? Get Started Now

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May 30, 2011; Source: Reuters | Want your children to grow up to become what Reuters calls "charity champions?" Then don't wait. Get started now and follow a three "D" program. The first step is making the decision when to introduce your children to the idea of charitable giving.

“A child of about four or five-years-old can begin to understand the concept,” says Melissa Berman, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc. Or as the article notes, "The exercise of cleaning out a child’s room and then taking them, with their old toys and clothes, to a shelter can be an educational experience. It shows them that other kids need stuff that they take for granted."

Talking about and pointing out the need to be charitable only goes so far. Parents need to provide clear direction and more so, model the kind of behavior they have in mind for their children. "How can you ask your kids to become involved in charitable actions if you’re not doing it yourself? Talk about the charities you donate to and why you contribute. Get your kids to talk about what interests and inspires them. The homeless? The environment? Food for the poor?"

Parents should also demonstrate that charity is not just about giving away money, but time, too. “Family volunteering is a big trend,” says Kate Atwood, founder of the Living By Giving blog. “If you build it into the family routine, it will be in their paradigm,” she says. Good family volunteering options include taking part in a local park cleanup, collecting clothes for victims of natural disasters, or participating in a fund-raising walk for a charity.

The final "D," is the discipline required to develop good charitable habits. Suggestions include: work with your children on a charity plans – yours and theirs – and make sure you both follow through and communicate with each other about what you are doing. You can also hold an annual family meeting to consider ways you and your kids can donate time and money throughout the year.

The best advice of all: "Whatever you do, don’t force or pressure them to become more involved than feels comfortable for them." Or as, Berman of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors says, “Philanthropy is not supposed to be painful, but voluntary.” Do you agree with these ideas? Do you have other suggestions that have worked for you and your family?—Bruce Trachtenberg

  • Ann Rosenfield, CFRE

    Great article. I shamelessly have stolen Judith Nichols’ brilliant idea – every December I give my kids a budget of $100 each to spend on charitable gifts. They pick the charities and i send the donations in their name.

    The only change I made to Judith’s system is that they have to make a minimum gift of $20 for any charity they choose. I explained this helps charities keep their administrative costs down on receipting us.