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Raising Philanthropists: How to Talk About Charity with Your Children

November 2, 2015

CharityWhen parents raise children, they often hope that their offspring become financially successful, responsible, likeable human beings who aim to help others. What many parents find when their children become grown-ups, however, is that being charitable is not always a natural trait that simply blooms in adulthood.

So how do you raise giving adults? Start teaching your kids about philanthropy while they're young. Here are four ways to do that:

  • Be sensible and use context. There are certain charity-focused sayings that, while valuable, are often understood only by adults. "It's the right thing to do" is one, as is "Because it makes the world a better place." A better approach is to give your children context—something to relate to. Practically every child, even on a superficial level, has experienced hunger or illness. By telling your children that donating money will help a sick child feel better, you're giving your kids something they can understand.
  • Teach the (charitable) value of money. Make no mistake: Financial responsibility is the bedrock of successful philanthropy. Dividing children's allowance into thirds—spend, save and donate—is a popular, commonly used formula. To take the concept further, help your children understand the value of money by using a charitable theme. For instance, if $2 can buy one of two things, a candy bar—something you can eat in seconds—or a month of food for a needy child, your kids can see the lasting value of philanthropic donations.
  • Let them choose a cause—and follow it. From deciding what they want to wear to what toys they want for Christmas, children, even very young ones, have strong opinions. Let them use their assertive side to choose a charity to support. Perhaps they love animals or have a friend at school fighting cancer, so talk to them about how they want to spend their money. To add another dimension, follow news on your child's causes. From animal rights to childhood cancer, you can always find news stories to track how causes evolve.
  • Tell a story. When children choose a charity or donate their own money to a cause, it delivers a great opportunity for parents to tell a story about where the money will go, who (or what) will benefit from it and how it can change the future. For instance, if your child loves art and donates money to support a favorite museum, be specific about what that money will be used for—expanding a wing, adding new exhibits or allowing needy families to visit the museum for free. If you can show actual results, even better.

Despite your best efforts, not every child is going to automatically feel a responsibility to the world or want to use hard-earned money to support a cause. However, between open communication and keeping your children involved in philanthropic projects, you have a much better chance of raising generous and thoughtful grown-ups.