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Eight strategies to embrace
family philanthropy

Article written by MiaLisa Millares, executive director of Doing Good TogetherTM

Grandmother and grandfather reading a book with three young grandchildren

The concept of philanthropy has been around for thousands of years. Greek playwright Aeschylus coined the term philanthropy, meaning “love of humanity,” in the fifth century. Today, philanthropy has lots of different meanings, but it’s commonly understood as helping those in need with your time, treasure, or talents. Finding time to participate in philanthropy can be challenging, but with these eight strategies you’ll be equipped to add more philanthropic activities to your family life.

Research1 shows children of families with strong giving traditions are more likely to give and volunteer in their adult life. Fostering traditions of giving such as family volunteering, connectedness, charitable activities, and conversations in childhood make an impact on the philanthropic mindset an individual has in adulthood.

Further research2 shows there are incredible benefits in prioritizing kindness and philanthropy, and these practices simultaneously strengthen families and help communities by meeting needs, building resilience, breaking down stereotypes, and bringing people together. Knowing there are such benefits for the person, the family, and the community, how do we inspire children to ignite their passion for giving?

1. Create a plan
The first step in making anything a success is creating a viable plan outlining how to move forward. There is a broad range of research discussing the power of goal setting for adults and children. It all says simply writing down the goal increases the likelihood of follow-through and success. It really is that simple to start. Write it down.

Research also supports the necessity of communal creation and input to promote feelings of inclusion and empowerment. There are some great resources for goal-setting as a family.

Use this practice to kickstart your family philanthropic journey. Gather together, brainstorm your philanthropic goals, and write them down. Here is a template to make embarking on this journey easy.

2. Talk about it
Some of the most powerful lessons we learn don’t come from a classroom, but rather from conversations, real-life experiences, decentered learning, and individual reflection. You may already use conversation as a great way to convey values, important messages, and teachable moments. It is important to prioritize conversations on kindness and giving back. Build the discussion into your daily, weekly, or monthly routine. One of the easiest ways to fold this practice seamlessly into your life is connecting with kids over mealtimes or while driving in the car.

Easy-to-use conversation starters can make this idea of kindness and philanthropic conversations an easy lift. The key is seizing the opportunity to connect, having an intentional, consistent conversation, and participating meaningfully by sharing and listening. There really is no wrong time. Find the right time for you, put it on your calendar, and make it a priority because our priorities become habits.

3. Collaborate
One of the most poignant ways to engage kids is to collaborate with them. Tell them about your past donations and connections to nonprofits, but also ask them about their interests. Where do their passions lie? How would they like to be helpful? Would they like to help children, adults, immigrants, or individuals facing housing or food insecurity? What would they like to help fund? What do they need to learn or know before answering those questions?

Let their voice be a part of the discussion and the decision-making process. Let their contributions be meaningful. By empowering youth to have a voice and giving them an actual stake in the decision-making process, they will take their choices very seriously and make good, valid points (maybe even ones you haven’t thought of yourself).

4. Engage
Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me, and I will forget, teach me and I will remember, involve me, and I will learn.” Engaging kids in philanthropy can happen in many ways. Take kids to a nonprofit to learn more about the good work of the organization. Involve them in on-site opportunities with hands-on learning and volunteering. And support learning by helping children. Even preschool-age youth can engage in learning, sharing, and giving at a basic level.

Family volunteering is one of the easiest ways for families to give back and connect with organizations that are doing good. Curated volunteer listings for families help make this engagement fit into your life easily by providing lots of different onsite or at-home options for giving back. By learning about the ways nonprofits help individuals and by engaging with them, children learn compassion and empathy. These tools help to set a good foundation for giving later in life.

5. Keep a journal
Keeping a journal is a simple mindfulness exercise helping bring awareness and self-reflection to the forefront of our thoughts. But even more astoundingly, this practice of capturing gratitude has an impact on giving. Studies3 show people who kept a gratitude journal donated 60% more of their earnings to charity. The simple act of reflecting on your own gratitude has a profound effect on generosity. Incorporate the practice into a traditional daily journal or as a weekly reflection during a family meeting.

6. Read, read, read
Children don’t automatically have the context needed to fully understand the issues nonprofits address. By reading books, they have the opportunity to deepen their understanding of an issue, build compassion and insight, better understand feelings and behaviors, and practice empathy. Empathy is a muscle that needs to be developed and honed.

7. Role model
It is important to demonstrate the behaviors you want young people to emulate. However, research4 shows role modeling in isolation is likely not as effective as when it is coupled with conversation. Words are powerful and can move us to action. It is no secret stories help us to contextualize a situation, build empathy and learn about life from another person’s point of view. Talk intentionally with children, share your philanthropic values and practices in concert with role modeling to raise charitable children.

8. Give a giving allowance
In some families, talking about money is taboo, but financial literacy is an important life skill. One way to provide children with a sound education around financial literacy and philanthropy is to create a giving allowance. You can do this in several different ways:

  • Children can take a portion of monetary gifts they received throughout the year to set aside for giving.
  • You can provide children with an allowance, a portion of which goes to giving.
  • Set aside a specific monetary amount for children to donate.

A giving allowance not only provides an opportunity for financial literacy, but is a concrete way to have useful conversations about needs and wants and to learn how to think carefully about where money is going. This opportunity for learning can be coupled with conversation to further enhance the experience.

While these eight strategies are helpful in paving the way toward a philanthropic childhood leading to strong giving traditions, remember a firm foundation in kindness is an imperative predecessor of philanthropic thinking. By creating a plan, talking, engaging, collaborating, and intentionally creating space to read and build empathy in the process, children have the opportunity to learn about philanthropy, deeply and meaningfully. You can download our resource for additional tools to assist your.

It is exciting following children on their journey to do good in the world. As their facilitator and guide, you are planting the seeds of kindness that will ultimately blossom into generosity, altruism, and the voices of adults speaking for and doing good in the world.