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Engaging Children in Charitable Giving

In my experience, people get involved in giving at different times in their lives. It is a very personal concept involving:

(1) issues/concerns they really care about

(2) having the time and energy to do something about these

(3) having known pathways to do something

Parents and family members of younger children (under 18) can encourage children around Point #1 by exposing them to issues, listening to what they care about and supporting these (examples: taking kids to do volunteer work, being sympathetic when children comment about those in need, pointing out when visiting the zoo that it is supported by voluntary contributions, etc.). Parents also need to model philanthropic behavior by mentioning issues of concern to them and how they are involved and giving. However, a common barrier is that parents oversell their issues and don’t respond to their children’s interests.

Like all of us, younger people are very busy with their own lives. Parents are more constrained regarding Point #2, but they can make the pathways to giving easier and accessible. For instance, younger children could receive an allowance for charity. Parents could then be sure children get information that recipient charities send to them giving them a personal connection to the organization. Family foundations can also provide that "allowance,” access to some funding that children can control, to engage younger generations in philanthropy. Some children/young adults need reinforcement for giving; foundations can use various means to acknowledge young peoples' giving, such as through family newsletters, by receiving a letter of thanks from the foundation or through other family means. Foundations can also facilitate the personal connection between the children and their charities by allowing them to connect by phone or electronically.

Regarding Point 3#, in order to successfully instill a true understanding of the available pathways to giving, a one-time experience is generally insufficient. After making a gift or gifts, children/young adults may forget about the various choices that are available to them to be involved with charitable giving. Even if these pathways are easy to access, gentle reminders are helpful. Children/young people are often passionate about a cause, whether it is something upsetting such as hurricane relief, mistreatment of animals or homelessness, or happier causes like museums, zoos or arts or sports programs. They can do something about it!

For families that want the next generation to have more interaction among themselves, a special allocation can be set aside with more substantial funds so that teens and young adults can collectively pick a topic(s) together and decide where to donate the funds. Depending on the size of the special pot and of the grants, this approach can also be used as a training tool for possible board participation. A more formal process of proposal review is often instituted that requires a deeper understanding of organizations and accountability.

If parents are doing their part, they should not be discouraged if their children do not eagerly and readily engage in giving right away. Patience, encouragement and the modelling of philanthropic behavior will eventually impact youth. Most children who are given opportunities to give charitably and to understand the joy of helping others become lifelong philanthropists.

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