Written by : Joanne Kuster 

Teaching Kids to Give Back

Almost nine of 10 households donate to charity, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, and that’s especially apparent as the holidays approach. With giving this widespread, it makes sense to wonder whether sharing time, talent and treasure comes naturally.

Since most of us don’t wake up one day and say, “Now I’ll be philanthropic,” how does generosity develop? We’re learning that the rewards of sharing begin long before someone writes a check.

Empathy for a cause—you might call it our “generosity gene”—typically kicks in when a family is just starting out under one roof and may not have a significant sum to give. In fact, early charitable acts may not even involve money.

Many can recall baking cookies for a fundraiser, volunteering or donating clothing, and sharing time is also sharing wealth. According to Independent Sector, a nonprofit advocacy group, 64.3 million Americans gave 15.2 billion hours of volunteer time in 2011, worth nearly $300 billion.

Children can donate their time, too. Even preschoolers can empathize with the needs of others, but they may need help to realize they can make a difference. Nurture generosity with ordinary opportunities to share time and money as a family:

  • Participate in a charity walk/run
  • Coach youth teams
  • Cook meals for others
  • Buy magazines or cookies from neighbor kids
  • Contribute to your church, synagogue or other place of worship
  • Give away clothing or books
  • Take gifts to new parents
  • Host parties and events in your home
  • Shovel snow for shut-ins
  • Serve on committees

Philanthropy evolves as families become aware of community issues, take an interest, show preferences and seek action.


Hold periodic family meetings to discuss and come up with a plan of action. Whether a family consists of young children, teens or married couples, find ways to work toward common goals.

Be "Hand's" On.
Visit or work at shelters, events or community projects. Learn how giving affects the giver and the receiver.

Make a Plan.
Discuss what to save, spend and give. Knowing why to give and when is as important as knowing how much.

Set Priorities.
Learn to maximize the impact of your gifts. A good resource is charitynavigator.org, which rates charities based on financial health, accountability and transparency.

Encourage and Model Good Spending, Saving and Investing Habits. 
Families need assets in order to give. In short, model a spirit of giving. It’s never too late to leave children a legacy of generosity.

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