It’s summer and a young person’s fancy turns to …philanthropy? Well, perhaps more than you might think.

I ran into a friend recently and she told me her college freshman daughter was off to Nicaragua. Sarah belongs to a group that organizes charitable field trips for young people – giving them the chance to help those considerably less fortunate while learning something about the country, the people, the value of helping, and even themselves.

Soon after, I heard how a family foundation trustee looks forward to summer because it is such a great time to take young family members on foundation site visits. I know July and August mean parents scramble to arrange camps, vacations, sports, enrichment activities, and required reading lists. So the idea that many also make time for philanthropy was intriguing and heartening.

Finding options for college age children is getting easier. I’ve learned many colleges, religious groups, and social networks sponsor volunteer opportunities around the corner and around the globe for those hoping to get involved. And for those with a family giving program that does site visits, summer is a great time to take them along to age-appropriate organizations and projects.

To help me think about opportunities for K-12 kids, I called on the National Center’s newest vice president and author of The Giving Family, Susan Price. Susan’s research for that book prompted a continuing interest in creative ideas for getting pre-collegiate age children involved in giving and volunteering.

Here are a few of her suggestions:

  • Hold a yard sale with a portion (or all) of the proceeds going to a favorite organization such as the local food bank. Depending on their ages, kids can contribute merchandise, make posters, arrange displays, act as sales people, and count change.
  • Take a volunteering vacation. Spend part of your time working (building a house or taking part in environmental cleanup), and then enjoy family tourist time.
  • Go on “site visits.” Take your kids to local organizations they might have an interest in (such as the animal shelter). Learn about their operation, find out their needs, and consider volunteering or making a financial contribution.
  • Adopt an animal at the zoo.
  • Gather with neighbors to raise funds and provide volunteer help to refurbish a local playground or school yard.
  • Plant trees. They cool the air and cut down on pollution. You may be able to do this in a public space such as a school. Raise funds to buy the trees.
  • Try gleaning. Many farms allow volunteers to come in after they have harvested a summer crop so that vegetables that were missed can be collected for local hunger programs. For more on this practice, the U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes A Citizen’s Guide to Food Recovery.
  • Help clean up a favorite hiking or biking trail, park or stream.
  • Gather with others to do outdoor painting and yard clean-up for elderly neighbors.
  • Use the occasion of a family reunion to share with kids the family’s history and how their ancestors made a difference. Or start a new tradition: include a community service project in the reunion festivities.
  • And don’t forget the time-honored lemonade stand. Sunkist has called for kids to “Take a Stand” for their favorite causes, using free Sunkist lemonade stands to raise money for a chosen charity. Who can say no to cute kids selling cold drinks for a good cause?

Susan provided quite a list and, hopefully, one that will prompt ideas of your own. Many high schools encourage community services as part of their curriculum. Your kids may know of resources and organizations that can help you choose a family activity. In any case, there is no reason why a summer service project can’t be as inspiring, educational, rewarding, and fun as any other summer activity. And, when done together, provide a family memory as special as that Grand Canyon trip.

I know Susan would love to add to her suggestions list and I welcome any email or calls about your philanthropic summer. Maybe we can devote a portion of a fall issue to “how I spent my sharing summer!”

Virginia M. Esposito
President, National Center for Family Philanthropy