As a child, many of my mentors were elders within the school system, community businesses, and churches that helped me during the difficult period of adolescence and early adulthood. Because of this, I have an obligation to pay that forward, and I hope to be the catalyst for children within my area of influence. To me, it is not about being charitable, but about recognizing injustices in our society and our responsibility to address them through giving, through volunteering, and through advocacy and activism. My children have been exposed to my work from a young age, and they have volunteered in our town where they have been exposed to and learned about a broad array of social issues. I’ve tried to help them be aware of their relative privilege and the responsibility we have to act on our beliefs and help others with what we have.
I recently read an article on the success story of a mom who engaged her children in year-end giving, and how she created a system that has worked well to educate children on social issues, the community, and philanthropy. While being clear about the importance and seriousness of each of these, she also tried to make it fun for them rather than another chore.
Here is the four-step process she used:
- She identified categories for giving. Her kids love animals and her oldest son had been learning about the environment. They created three broad categories: nonprofits that helped people, animals, and the environment. They then began discussing issues related to each. Living in a cold climate, her children were particularly concerned with helping people who were hungry and homeless, for example. She created a chart listing out these issues as rows and created three columns: Wyoming (where they live), the United States, and International. They discussed what it meant to support these issues at each level.
- They created a grant budget by category. She gave the kids a budget of $500, which to them was like a million dollars, so they took it seriously. This could be done with a budget of any size because the tradition is more important than the amount. She began talking about how to divide the money among the categories and locations. The children decided to support services to people in Wyoming, support animals in Wyoming and internationally, and give to climate change efforts internationally. They spent roughly 40 percent on people, 40 percent on animals, and 20 percent on the environment.
- They researched organizations. From her own knowledge of nonprofits and some research, she helped the children identify potential organizations. She shared groups that both provided direct services and some that advocated on the issue so they could understand both types of work. She created a folder on her internet browser with these nonprofits’ websites. She looked at some of them with her children and they were also able to research these on their own. They then chose the organizations and decided how much to give to each.
- They made the donations. For the organizations in Wyoming, she spent an afternoon during their Winter Break taking the children to make the donations in person so they could see the organizations in action. She also shared about some of the other organizations that she had given to so they could learn about some additional issues important to her. Finally, she also shared with them the thank you letters when they arrived.
The first time they did this was in December of 2009. The following month was the tragic Haitian earthquake. Her oldest daughter came to her at that time and asked if she could make a donation out of her allowance to the Haitian relief efforts. Her other children chipped in from their allowances, too. She agreed to match every dollar they gave and that has been her policy for any donations they make out of their allowances ever since. Their generosity with their own money has for her been the best outcome of the process.
As I reflect on this mom and her simple yet impactful lessons, I am more mindful that teaching philanthropy should also be about teaching empathy and justice. It should not be a prideful activity, but one that helps kids imagine what life might be like in other circumstances and feel humble about the privileges they have. Yes, they should be proud about their giving, but that pride should ideally translate to more desire to help others and address injustices in our communities, nation, and world. Her children will undoubtedly continue to grow in their empathy, generosity, and commitment to social justice as they get older. I’m thankful for this mom’s vision, and I’ve been inspired to try this with my own boys.