Core values about sharing and giving are values that all of us would like to pass on to our children and grandchildren. But how can you instill those principles in today’s fast-paced, social media–driven world?
“One of the most frequent questions I get about family philanthropy—When to begin?—has a simple answer: It’s never too early,” said Cynthia Strauss, director of research, Fidelity Charitable®. “Another question I often hear—How to begin?—is a bit more complicated, but not greatly so. And teaching children about philanthropy can be a fun and enjoyable family exercise.”
An April 2013 survey of Fidelity Charitable® donors displayed a striking near unanimity of opinion on the importance that parents place on instilling charitable values in their children. When asked to think about their families and children:
Here are six steps for teaching your children philanthropy:
Get on the same page with your partner.
In a separate study in 2009, male respondents overwhelmingly—92% of them—named their spouse or partner as the main person who influenced them in charitable giving, according to Fidelity Charitable®. The percentage among female respondents was nearly as high. So it appears that most couples are already well in synch when it comes to charitable giving. But as an important first step, make sure that you and your partner are on the same page in terms of an overall mission and goals for philanthropy before engaging your kids in the process.
Talk about giving with your children.
From the start, it’s important that you talk about your charitable passions with your children, including favorite causes and what you do to support them. Enthusiasm is contagious, and you will likely soon find them following up by asking questions and offering help. When it comes to hands-on giving, for example, a younger child outgrowing her toys is a perfect first opportunity to teach the importance (and rewards) of charity. Help your child choose which toys, books, or clothes to give away, talk to her about where they are going, and, if feasible, take her with you to donate them.
Involve them in decision making.
As children become a bit older, they will of course have their own interests. Encourage your children to adopt their own causes, and then integrate those causes into your family’s charitable decision making. If your children use social media like Facebook® and Twitter®, embrace those mediums and see how they can help your family’s chosen causes. Along the way, discuss family members’ individual priorities, and identify common goals. Then, incorporate those goals into the development of a family mission statement for giving.
Volunteer as a family.
As Susan Price writes in her book The Giving Family, “Volunteering is one of the best ways to build a child’s character and self-esteem. Children who volunteer acquire new skills, develop confidence and maturity, put their own problems in perspective, meet people from other backgrounds and learn teamwork and civic responsibility... For families, volunteering is a good way to spend quality time together, to share experiences, establish traditions and have fun, all while helping the community.” Today there are many ways to get involved, and even organizations focused on family volunteer vacation experiences in the United States and abroad.
Teach financial literacy.
Teaching philanthropic values goes hand in hand with teaching children the value of money, and appreciation for what they have. The “three-part allowance”—with equal amounts set aside each week for spending, saving, and giving—has become an especially popular teaching tool in recent years. How you help your child manage those saving and giving buckets—including establishing specific goals for the use of each—will have a major bearing on the success of this method. Read Viewpoints: Tips for raising a saver, for further suggestions on teaching financial responsibility to children ages 3 to 18.
Create a dedicated account for giving.
Creating a separate account for charitable giving in your family’s name is a good way to encourage your kids to participate in your giving and to increase their sense of ownership in the family’s philanthropy. There are numerous vehicles available to you, including the simple opening of a giving-specific bank account. Donor-advised funds (DAFs), like those available at Fidelity Charitable® and certain other charitable organizations, are one of the fastest-growing giving vehicles, enabling donors to enjoy potential tax advantages and the flexibility to support charities over a period of years. With DAFs, you can also name other individuals, including your children and grandchildren, to be named on the charitable account and to recommend investments and distributions. Read Viewpoints: Getting serious about your giving.
Instilling charitable values can be a rewarding activity to approach as a family, with a specific plan and goals for the short and long term. Involving your kids in every step along the way of your philanthropic journey can bring your family closer together—and can help build the foundation of a lasting family legacy, one that your children can then pass on to their children.