Lending a little helping hand: How to turn your children into young philanthropists

2013-09-17T00:00:00Z 2013-09-24T10:19:05Z Lending a little helping hand: How to turn your children into young philanthropistsChristine Bryant nwitimes.com
September 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

It can be a challenge for parents to get their kids to share with each other - let alone with people they don't know.

Philanthropy is more than about giving money - it's about giving time and resources to promote a cause that means something to the donor. How do you make sure your little ones carry those same values into adulthood?

Here are tips to help your children become young philanthropists.

Talk and model philanthropy

By modeling a certain behavior, children are more likely to follow suit, said Cody Logsdon, associate director of U.S. volunteer programs for Habitat for Humanity.

"Parents who are actively involved in service, civically engaged and philanthropic with their money tend to have children who will grow up to do the same," she said.

Talk about the ways you give back to the community in front of your kids. If you volunteer at an animal shelter, for example, talk about the dogs you met that day and how your efforts - no matter how small - has an impact on their quality of life.

"By seeing parents give and volunteer makes acting philanthropically seem natural and helps young people understand how money and action can make a difference in communities," said Mollie Bunis, director of philanthropic services with Strategic Philanthropy, Ltd., in Chicago.

Start young

Although young children might not be as active in volunteer work as older children, by consistently building up exposure to volunteerism and giving, it will eventually become a way of life for many kids, said Kathy Wojkovich, director of the United Way Regional Volunteer Center in Valparaiso.

"Even if they're small children, have them put a little money away each allowance," Wojkovich said. "A small portion of that can go into a piggy savings bank."

Bunis said some have suggested that the first time a parent should teach about giving is the first time the child says, "mine."

"At about age 5, a child can begin to see things from another person's perspective," she said. "With young children, the goal should be establishing the habit of giving, regardless of which group kids give their money to or why."

Over time, parents can teach children how to think more strategically about doing the most good, Bunis said.

Let them choose how and when

Kids will feel more of a connection to philanthropy if they're allowed to choose how and when they want to give, Wojkovich said.

Wojkovich suggests taking kids on tours of local organizations so they can see firsthand how their charitable endeavors directly affects those receiving the help.

"Go locally," she said. "There isn't a nonprofit who wouldn't love to give a family a tour. Take a tour so kids understand why they're doing this and then it becomes more meaningful to them."

After their philanthropic experience, Megan Sikes, communication and advocacy manager for the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, suggests following up with them and how it helped.

"I think you have to have the conversation on top of the activity itself to really explain to them what is going on in the community and why we even need them to work on these projects for us in the first place," Sikes said.

Show how it benefits them

As a Girl Scout, 16-year-old Tara Beere started a teen volunteer website, volunteerandpassiton.blogspot.com, so fellow students could easily find opportunities suitable for their ages and interests.

"Unfortunately, many teens in this generation don't want to do something if it won't benefit them," the Kankakee Valley High School student said. "I always try to tell my peers that volunteering is one of the best things to put on college applications."

Once teens start volunteering, however, they find out the many benefits that come with it, including helping others, she said.

Chris Eller Esparza, volunteer coordinator with the Lake County United Way Regional Volunteer Center, said parents can explain to kids - especially teens - how serving their community is a way to find out more about themselves and where they want to go in life.

"Volunteering is a place to test what you want to do in life, in careers and family," Esparza said.

Give the gift of giving

In honor of a special occasion, parents can model the charitable ethic for young people by making donations to favored charities in their names, Bunis said.

"Some children turn their own birthday parties into charitable events by suggesting guests bring gifts for needy children rather than for themselves," she said.

It's also important to be open about wealth and money, Bunis said. Take the time to be clear about your own money values and then look to see what values you are conveying to children.

"Children need to hear that a rich life doesn't require lots of money and that self-worth isn't measured by bank account balances," she said.

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