Five Steps to Raising Charitable-Minded Children

With the unofficial start to summer now days away, children all over the country are getting ready for camps, vacations and lazy days at the pool. But between fun and relaxation, summer is the perfect time for parents to teach their children about giving back.

Children are hardwired to share and help others. Studies have shown that children under two get more pleasure out of giving than they do getting. That’s good news for parents that want to raise their children to become caring, empathetic adults.    

Here are five steps you can take to get your children interested in helping others.  

Be a Role Model

The best way to raise happy, healthy and kind-hearted children is for parents to model the right behaviors. After all, you wouldn’t expect your kids to develop healthy eating habits if you only kept fatty foods in the house. The same is true for philanthropy. According to one study, adolescents were 18% more likely to donate money to a charitable organization if their parents had made any donation of their own in the past year. But, if a parent donated and talked about it, the child was 33% more likely to donate—a 15% increase.

Debra Tagg, a Dallas-based financial advisor and finalist for the 2013 Invest in Others Volunteer of the Year award, involves her two children, ages 11 and 13, in the family’s charitable activities, including having them serve as advisors on the family’s donor-advised fund.

“We fund it each year and they are part of the decision-making process”, Tagg said. “We talk a lot about people in need and what the community needs.”

Make it Routine

If you want giving to become something regular and routine—just like saving and paying the bills—your kids need to learn to make sacrifices of their own. Tagg and many other parents use “save, spend and share” jars for their children’s allowance. Each week, Tagg gives her children $5—of which, they can spend $3, save $1 for college, spend 50 cents on someone else and donate 50 cents to charity.

Create Powerful Connections

Giving money is good. But for children, giving their time—volunteering—is far more powerful. Tagg said that her children have always been involved in their community, not simply for the good it does for others, but because it gives them a sense of perspective, to see that not everyone is as fortunate as they are.

“Money is not tangible to them,” Tagg said. “The thing that’s most valuable to children is volunteering, helping them to understand all different kinds of lives.”

For Katherine Fox, a philanthropic advisor at Portland, Oregon-based financial advisory firm Arnerich Massena, a finalist for the Invest in Others 2017 Corporate Philanthropy award, volunteering is critical to the work she does, namely ensuring that families’ philanthropic legacies are carried from one generation to the next.

“It’s such a powerful tool when working with the next generation,” Fox said. “I always say, it’s important to transfer family values, not just assets.”

Give Children a Voice

Parents know that they need to help their children to develop their own passions—philanthropy included. Tagg said her family typically gives to causes that involve children, including the Children’s Medical Center of Texas and the North Texas Food Bank. But she also encourages her kids to do their own thing, whether that means supporting a school initiative, being involved with a friend’s charitable cause or simply setting up a lemonade stand and giving the proceeds to the ASPCA. It’s important to let children channel their passions into helping others.

Start Small and Grow

We all have limited amounts of time and money. So, many people wonder if it’s better to give to a lot of charities or focus on one cause. Fox, the philanthropic advisor, said that families often start small and local. As kids grow, they should begin to form their own networks. She points to her own experience as a high school student serving on the youth grantmaking board of a Seattle foundation.

“It was an incredible experience to see how a foundation functions and to work with peers in my community,” Fox said.

The most important thing you can do is start now! Summer will be over before you know it. Don’t waste this opportunity to bond with your children and instill lessons that will serve them well throughout their lives.