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Making Charitable Giving a Family Affair

By Kathryn Hawkins


Help your children incorporate charitable giving into their lives from an early age to foster a lifelong habit.

The United States is one of the most philanthropic nations in the world: 65 percent of all households make an annual charitable donation averaging more than $2,200. Chances are, you've already got a few pet causes that you make donations to every year.

But if you're not involving your children in the giving process no matter what their age you're missing out on a valuable opportunity to help them gain a greater understanding of their position in the world and their ability to make a positive impact on others. "Philanthropy is a wonderful framework for not only building confidence and generosity, but for building an approach to exploring problems and coming up with solutions," says Claire Gaudiani, a New York University philanthropy professor and author.

To get your children involved in your charitable giving, consider the following steps:

Encourage your child to be a problem-solver. Look at photos of people in developing countries with your young children. Then ask if they notice what the photographed families don't have namely, many of the possessions that your family takes for granted. Or read your child a story from a charity's website about, for example, a Haitian family in need, and talk about what items or money your family could send to help. "Let your kid solve the problem," says Gaudiani. "The idea is to enable the child to feel the power of generosity. It only has to start with a ten-minute conversation."

Focus on their passions. Encouraging children to help charities focused on their interests will often ignite their enthusiasm for charitable giving. If your son loves music, he might be inspired to know that a donation to the Save the Music Foundation makes a significant difference to low-income children who can't afford their own instruments.

Help them budget for charitable giving. Ask your children to divide their allowance or part-time job wages into three separate piggy banks or jars: a third for saving, a third for things they want to buy, and a third for sharing with causes important to them. Or consider asking them to allocate a set amount say, 10 percent of their monthly income to the nonprofits of their choice.

Turn special events into philanthropic opportunities. Festive occasions can be a good time to incorporate charitable giving into your child's life: At Thanksgiving, have your child help you pick out items at the grocery store to donate to a local food pantry. At gift-giving holidays such as Christmas and Hanukkah, your family can gather up used toys for a drive at a local homeless shelter.

Let them see the other side for themselves. Gaudiani recommends volunteering at a food pantry or visiting a developing country with teenage or college-aged children to give them a firsthand understanding of where their charitable contributions are going. "When teenagers see people in real need, it starts the wheels turning," she says.

Help older children vet the best charities. As young adults, your children probably know what kinds of nonprofits they want to support. But they may need help finding the organizations where their donations will do the most good. Point them toward charity watchdog websites Charity Navigator (http://charitynavigator.org)* and Guidestar (http://guidestar.org)*. They can use the sites to research how much money the group spends on actual programs compared with overhead costs. Review these sites with your kids, helping them to understand the nonprofits' terminology and financial information. Then leave the final decision to them.

Fund-raise as a family. Even after your children reach adulthood, there's no reason you can't all continue the tradition of charitable giving. Organizing and participating in fund-raisers are ideal ways to collaborate: Run together in a marathon for breast cancer research, help sponsor a community charity auction, or travel to a far-flung village where your money—and labor—will build solid roofs over people's heads.

Involve your children from an early age in your own charitable efforts, and you will foster a lifelong passion for giving. "The best thing that parents can give their children is a generous and wise heart," says Gaudiani.

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