The holidays are a time of celebration, sharing, and enjoying the company of family and friends. They’re also a time of advertising, doorbuster sales, and conspicuous consumption. For families concerned about raising charitable children, the holidays can represent a challenge as well as a great opportunity.

“Children are barraged by media messages about how buying things will make them happy,” Susan Price, Vice President of the National Center and author of The Giving Family: Raising Our Children to Help Others (Council on Foundations, 2005), recently told the Baltimore Sun. “We need to counter those messages about the value of giving back to others.”

In honor of the holiday season, this month’s Family Giving News asks: how can families instill the value of giving? Specifically, how can they encourage their children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews to give their time, talent and treasure, not just this month, but all year round?

Start early. Virginia Esposito, President of the National Center for Family Philanthropy, is fond of saying that a child’s philanthropic education should begin the first time the child says “Mine.” Easy first steps include reading story books about sharing with others, and praising a child for being kind to others or helping around the house.

Provide an allowance. Around kindergarten age, consider offering a child a small allowance, so they begin to learn how to handle money. Then make them responsible for paying for some of their own treats such as ice cream cones or small toys. When pressed to spend their own money instead of yours, they will become more thoughtful about spending. At the same time, encourage them to consider sharing some of their allowance, and praise them when they do. You can even match their donations to demonstrate the value you place on giving.

A number of organizations have created special banks to help children with this. Moonjar makes a special bank with separate compartments marked “spend,” “save,” and “share.” Of course, you can always make your own.

Help children find charities. As for where the donations will go, talk to your children about things they can relate to such as the needs other children have. Particularly around the holidays, there are a number of programs such as Toys for Tots and “angel trees” that young children can connect to. Heifer International is popular with children who like animals. Homeless shelters sometimes need children’s books, and older children can find a classroom project to support through DonorsChoose. Your child can adopt an animal at the local zoo or pay for sports equipment so needy children can participate in youth leagues.

Give the gift of giving. Organizations such as Charity Checks and Network for Good offer checks and gift cards that allow the recipient to choose the beneficiary. In honor of a special occasion, you can model the charitable ethic for the young people in your life by making donations to favored charities in their names. And when your children need to buy gifts for others, steer them to gift shops run by nonprofits such as the local zoo or museum or catalogues such as UNICEF. Some children turn their own birthday parties into charitable events by suggesting guests bring gifts for needy children rather than for themselves.

It’s not all about money. Encourage children to share their time and talent, too. It’s important that children understand they don’t need money to change things for the better. The popularity of organizations such as Locks for Love, which let young people contribute their hair for wigs for young cancer patients, shows that children want a variety of creative ways to help others. Look to the organizations your family is already a part of, such as schools, religious institutions, or scout troops for volunteer opportunities.

“Our kids got a lot of chances to volunteer through church youth groups and mission trips,” says Cynthia Kozmetsky, Vice President of the board of the RGK Foundation, a family foundation in Austin, Texas.

(See the Resources section for information on how to find volunteer opportunities for young children.)

Bring your child to philanthropy. “Family values are more caught than taught,” says Carol Weisman, President of Board Builders and author of Raising Charitable Children (F. E. Robbins and Sons, 2006). “Take your kids to where your philanthropy is delivered—to the front lines.”

Show them nonprofits you support, and help your kids identify their own favorite nonprofits, too. If they like animals, for example, visit the local animal shelter to find out what their needs are and how they use donations and volunteers.

Make it fun. Older children can get a virtual look at the nonprofit world with games like Karma Tycoon, an online game from that puts the gamer in charge of a nonprofit in one of 12 American cities. From there, they’ll try to build up their karma by serving the homeless or caring for animals while managing grants and maintaining facilities.

Help kids see the possibilities. Weisman recalls a reluctant 13-year-old who could easily have been seen as completely uninterested in charity—even spoiled. When asked what her interests were, she replied simply, “Talking on the phone.”

Weisman suggested she help seniors at a local center who were having trouble with their new cell phones. Initially put off, the young woman grudgingly accepted the offer and was soon involved.

“I’m not done,” she said after a visit. “They can’t use their phones.”

The small buttons of some of the phones confounded the seniors, and the girl purchased brightly colored pens and pencils for her “students” to dial more easily and manage their own contacts.

“I’m going to have to go back next week,” she said after yet another visit. “You won’t believe the songs they want.”

Between new phones, new pens, new contacts, and new ringtones, the seniors were all set to communicate with friends and relatives. They were so thrilled with the young woman’s work that she was given a small award.

Kozmetsky was “surprised and touched” how her own children spent their free time, volunteering and organizing donation drives. “With [my daughter] Sarah, one month, it was collecting diapers for a women’s shelter. The next month, it was dry goods for a food bank.”

Set an example. “Ultimately, the two ways your kids come to know you are how you spend your time and how you spend your money,” says Weisman. “The more you share those two things, the more they understand what you really value.”

Indeed, you’re always teaching young people by the example that you set. Don’t get discouraged if you missed out on this or that “teachable moment.” If philanthropy is valuable to you, act on that value, and the young people around you will quickly pick up on that.

“My mother never lectured me or read a book on giving money away,” says Kozmetsky. “Taking care of other people was just all around me. It was just one of the things that went first. Giving was just a part of what life was about.”


This list is by no means exhaustive. If you’ve found or have a helpful resource on raising responsible and philanthropic children, let us know. Check back here for updates. And stay tuned for Part 2!

From the National Center:


  • Susan Crites Price, The Giving Family: Raising Our Children to Help Others (Council on Foundations, 2005)
  • Ellen Sabin, The Giving Book – Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving (Watering Can Press, 2004)
  • Carol Weisman, Raising Charitable Children (F. E. Robbins and Sons, 2006)

On the web:

  • Learning to Give offers lesson plans, activities, and resources for parents, teachers, youth workers, religious instructors, and students to educate youth about the power of philanthropy (sharing time, talent and treasure).
  • Share Save Spend helps youth and adults achieve financial sanity by developing and maintaining healthy financial habits.
  • Kids Care Clubs provide young people with hands-on volunteer opportunities to help others in their local and global communities.
  • FamilyCares, an initiative of the Points of Light and Hands On Network, helps to promote compassion through hands-on family projects that help others in need.
  • is a national database of volunteer opportunities.
  • The National Charity League is a non-profit national organization of mothers and daughters who join together in community involvement within local chapters throughout the United States.


Next Month in Family Giving News…

Next month’s issue will feature Part 2 of “Encouraging Young Philanthropists,” which will explore how to introduce young people to the craft of grantmaking and prepare them for involvement in a formal family philanthropy, such as a foundation or donor-advised fund.

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