We all like to give. In fact a growing body of research tells us that we are hard-wired for giving. But how do we get our kids to want to give, too? It turns out it’s not enough to model the behavior, we have to talk about it! Today, the United Nations Foundation and Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy released a report in which researchers explored how young people give to charity.
Here’s how my husband and I are encouraging our four kids, ages 4-11, to give back.
1. Table Talk
Amidst the spilled cups of milk and complaints over the food, we manage snippets of normal conversation at family dinner a few times a week. We discuss global and national issues at basic levels. As our children get older, these conversations are becoming more robust and interesting and they are asking harder questions. The important thing is to create the space for dialogue however you can, whether it’s in the car, on the train, at the table. Tell them what’s happening in the world and they will surprise you with what they understand.
2. Share Your Passions (or Don’t Be Afraid to Nudge Them)
I am passionate about the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign, which aims to reach the 20 percent of the world’s children who don’t have access to vaccines against diseases like measles, pneumonia, rotavirus and polio. This year I asked my children if they would be interested in donating their birthdays to the cause. They accepted the challenge! My three older children had a combined birthday party and invited their friends to donate to Shot@Life instead of bringing gifts. Collectively the kids raised over $1,000. The highlight was the moment I announced to everyone how much had been raised. The room went nuts with a mix of pride and delight!
3. Meaningful Service
One of our favorite questions is “how did you help someone today?” Along with sharing their “worst thing” and “best thing” of the day (there’s always a moment that’s positive even if the rest of the day was awful), our kids are asked to think about how they served someone else. We don’t always get an answer, but they are reminded we expect them to look out for others.
4. Take Them With You
Whether it’s cleaning the church, weeding a neighbor’s yard, or going to a screening of an important documentary, take your kids (as age appropriate) with you. Be prepared for conversations you can’t have any other way and watch the desire to contribute ignite inside them.
5. Include Giving in Their Budget
Our kids have a small allowance each month and are expected to complete certain daily chores as part of their “family work.” I use a simple app on my phone to track and any income (including extras like birthday money) is automatically divided into Charitable Giving, Long Term Savings and Short Term Savings/Spending. About once a quarter or if there is a major issue like the Syrian refugee crisis, they will decide where they want to donate and we do it together. Most recently they gave to the United Nations Refugee Agency’s urgent appeal for Syria.
One of the most exciting aspects of the study’s findings is that all children, regardless of family income, as well as race and gender, can learn to be philanthropic. From pennies to millions, we are united in our willingness to share whatever it is we have. And so are our kids.
Follow Chrysula Winegar on Twitter: @chrysula.