Each year, we try to find ways to introduce our kids to philanthropy, and we’ve found some things work better than others. Sharing, as any toddler knows, can be tough. When my then two- and four-year-old helped me pick out a few cast-off toys to donate to kids who don’t have many toys, their help turned into hoarding, with the sudden realization that a plastic pick-up truck that hadn’t been touched in a year was now the Best Toy Ever. And those books stacked up to donate to a local Head Start classroom? My kids wanted to keep them, too.
I’d made the mistake of pushing them to give without bringing them along by focusing on their interests, and all of my lectures about how much they’ve got fell flat. The last thing I want is for charitable activities to be yet another battle. My husband and I feel lucky to have the chance to serve others and share all that we have, and we want our kids to embrace that same spirit.
Since then, we’ve found other ways to make giving back fight-free, and more enjoyable, for all of us. Here are a few tips to make charitable giving fun for your family now, and in the new year.
1. Take it One Day at a Time
We’re halfway through our Advent Calendar, which we fill with a mix of trinkets and activities. We always include picking out an animal from the Heifer Project, a perennial favorite, and other volunteer projects like bringing a donation to the food pantry. The element of surprise is what seems to make this one work. You could do activities for the Twelve Days of Christmas, or brighten up January with a mid-winter week of making a difference, choosing one activity, like shoveling a neighbor’s walk or making a gift to support access to clean water.
2. Get Crafty
Break out the paper and the glue, and make something for a neighbor or a loved one. There’s those old reliable activities, like making holiday cards, that are great introductions to the spirit of giving and sharing for the toddler set. This craft project from the awesome Moomah provides a hands-on way to introduce the Golden Rule, and would be especially appropriate come Valentine’s Day.
3. Party Time!
I know a group of women who have a monthly Giving Club. They get together, complete with wine and delicious snacks, pool their donations, and then make a gift to a charity of their choosing. Along the way, the women learn about local and international issues, while they’re making a difference.
Families – or groups of older kids – can have their own giving clubs, talking each month about a specific area of need, and then making a gift of volunteer time or money to support that cause. Whenever I include cupcakes, my kids are even more thrilled. Philanthropy is definitely a reason to celebrate in our house.
4. Match Their Gifts
To encourage kids to open up their piggy banks, act like a big foundation and match those individual donations. For each quarter, offer up a dollar to the charity of your child’s choice. Then, find out exactly what those dollars will buy at a charity whose work aligns with your child’s passions – perhaps it’s school supplies so that a girl in Afghanistan can continue her education, or kibble for a dog at a local shelter. Whenever possible, deliver that donation in person – and, if it works for the nonprofit, see if you can set up a tour (in advance, of course).
My kids love to jump out and shock anyone, whether it’s their grandfather or a buddy at school. This fun holiday tradition of leaving a several hundred dollar, extra-large tip for a waitress could be lots of fun (if you have the resources to make that happen, of course). Or, for a less costly, but still meaningful, activity, kids can make notes with cheery messages and hide them around your house or neighborhood.