As parents, we start by taking care of our child’s basic needs: Are they fed and clothed? Is there a roof over their head? When was the last time they had a bath?
These questions are pretty straightforward but as our kids get older, we start facing tougher parenting dilemmas. How do we raise children who are good people? How do we teach them to help others? How do we inspire them to make the world a better place?
If only they came with an instruction manual.
Luckily, children are born with an innate sense of compassion and empathy. They are also constantly learning and being shaped by the world around them, which is why it’s important to remember that when we teach them about philanthropy, we are really teaching about empathy and social justice.
We are asking our children to imagine what their lives would be like in other circumstances, to appreciate the cards they’ve been dealt, and reach out a helping hand to others who don’t share the same privilege.
But the act of giving doesn’t just benefit the people on the receiving end. At its core, philanthropy is a journey of self-discovery, as well as a growing awareness of the big picture. We encourage our children look inward to figure out what they care about and then we ask them to draw on the resources they have at their disposal to help solve a problem. It’s an incredibly empowering experience that can have a lasting impact on a child.
For this reason, Bill and Melinda Gates have chosen to leave 90% of their wealth to their charitable foundation instead of passing it on to their three children.
“As they get older, they’ve been getting a sense that our family belief is about responsibility,” Melinda said in a recent TED interview. “They care deeply about the mission of the foundation. They want people to know that we believe in what we’re doing.”
When the interviewer asked if the couple would make their kids billionaires, Bill replied, “Nope. They need to have a sense their own work is meaningful and important.”
What parent can’t relate to that?
Here are a few ways you can raise a philanthropist in your home:
Choose a cause
Philanthropy is a great way for parents to share their values with their children while making a meaningful contribution to the world. Talk about the causes or issues you are passionate about and ask your child to think about what matters to them. They’ve probably participated in some type of general fundraiser like a walk-a-thon at school, but may not fully understand the impact of charitable giving. Encourage your child to feel inspired by their role and emphasize the fact that they can make a difference with their actions, no matter how big or small.
Help your child look into different organizations or charitable causes that are related to his or her interests. Does your son love dogs? Look into local animal shelters or pet rescues. Have a daughter who’s obsessed with Minecraft? Suggest donating a portion of her allowance to non-profit organizations that help women in developing countries learn computer coding. When your child has a personal connection to the issue, it can make giving back an even more meaningful experience.
Lead by example
Kids learn from example so make sure they are aware of your own philanthropic efforts. Introduce the concept of a family budget with portions for saving, spending, and sharing (donating), and include them in the decision-making for the “sharing” slice of the pie. You can also teach fiscal responsibility on a smaller scale by providing your child with a weekly allowance divided into the same three buckets for him or her to manage.
Turn special occasions into occasions for giving
Holidays are naturally happy times when people are already filled with generosity and good cheer. Channel those seasonal moments into opportunities for giving. For example, ask each birthday party guest to bring a gently used toy or book and let the birthday boy or girl decide where the donations will go. Or when your child receives money for Christmas, set aside a portion for charity.
Philanthropy isn’t just about giving money – some of the most rewarding and impactful experiences come from volunteer work. Encourage your child to get involved by choosing a service project in the local community. Visit a nursing home, clean up a park, bring food to a homeless shelter – there are plenty of projects out there that could use your help!
Ready to get out there and make a difference? Here are some beautiful and thoughtful quotes about philanthropy to inspire you!