My children have given me countless wonderful memories throughout my life. Some of the best memories were made when working together on philanthropic projects, both local and international. I am so proud when I look at the adults they are today and see their continued desire to help others and the difference they are making in people’s lives. Many philanthropists question how to encourage philanthropy in the next generation, both in their families and in their organizations, so their mission of helping will continue after they are gone. The habit of giving is something I tried to perpetuate in the lives of my children, and you can do the same. There are actions you can take today to make sure your legacy of giving may continue.
There are innate charitable qualities in each of us, but being taught how to give and the importance of giving can be a valuable lesson for the younger generation. I was taught discipline and dedication when I was young from my father who spent his life serving our country. I would also watch others volunteer their leadership skills to an organization’s board, volunteer their money to families with struggles, and volunteer their time to serve charitable projects. It was through learning how to be charitable that I was able to find ways to help others that matched my charitable qualities. Hearing stories and experiences from an older generation can show our youth how to channel their desires to help and to make the biggest impact.
One family I work with had a strong desire to teach their children to be philanthropists. They wanted to teach their children how and when to give, and also share with them the feelings they received from being charitable. They decided to create a private foundation (you could also use a donor advised fund) and assigned their children as members of the board whose sole responsibility was to give away money based on the family’s values. The position required that they understand and be able to articulate the mission and values of the foundation and employ those when deciding which organizations would receive funds. Organizations were invited to submit request forms for funds. Valuable lessons were learned when the parents sat down with their children to go through the requests and helped them determine which ones were a fit and why. This gave the children an opportunity to learn with their parent’s guidance and be more equipped to make the best decisions in the future.
Other ways to encourage philanthrophy
You don’t have to set up a family foundation to share these lessons – they can be done in many, less formal ways. One activity I enjoy is giving your children a certain amount of money during the holidays to give away or use to purchase needed items for a charitable organization. They get to make the choices of what to buy or where the money goes, so they can feel like the difference made is their own.
You can also practice this at birthdays by giving your child a dollar amount to spend on themselves and an amount they must spend on someone in need. Sharing the celebration of the birthday by giving to others is a great way to get kids excited about giving.
Another tactic that has worked well with friends of mine is to hold an annual family “business meeting” where they ask each child to bring the name of an organization they want to help that year and the reason behind it. This builds in the lesson of research and understanding the organization you involve yourself with.
However you choose to develop these skills in your children, make sure you act as a guide and resource as they discover their charitable wings.
For organizations, if you’ve already caught the interest of the younger generation, you’re a step ahead. Many organizations I have been a part of are starting ‘Next Generation’ small groups to get youth more involved. This can be a challenge! While it’s great to have more youthful activities that will draw people into your organization, it is important to incorporate the history and reasons for your organizations existence into the programs and meetings you have with volunteers and even employees.
As I was volunteering for a holiday project last week, I overheard a senior volunteer saying, “One of our Board members wants to change our major project for next year, but you know it won’t work any other way.” I thought about this statement and realized that we must create a balance between fresh, new ideas and traditions or lessons of experience. Without background knowledge of why the organization is run how it is or the desires of the founders when creating the organization, the mission of any organization may get lost or deteriorate from generation to generation. In this case, they could have shared with that Board member the history of the project and its impact on the community. Then, they could work together to strengthen the current project with new ideas.
Other ways of continuing the mission for an organization could be archiving details through a historian, celebrating significant milestones or anniversaries of the organization, and having the founders or their family members as guest speakers when possible. This way the younger generation gets a better sense of the organization and can keep the foundation with them as they help grow the organization.
One of the most important things to keep in mind to encourage philanthropy in the younger generation is to help them learn from your experiences, but then let them choose their own mission and causes that are important to them. When youth are empowered to make a difference for a cause they feel a connection to, they may blow away our imaginations with the ideas they come up with!
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I appreciate the comments and engagement. There are a multitude of options (more than I could highlight in one article) for engaging the younger generation and I enjoy hearing new ideas that you've done yourself or seen in action. We have some brilliant philanthropists growing up all around us and I hope we all keep encouraging them every day!
Great points! We've used the spend-save-share model in our family to start reinforcing from a young age that all three are part of financial health and abundance. I appreciate your approach of looking for a variety of ways to encourage engagement and service at the individual and organizational level!
Many thank Michael for sharing your thoughts. Regarding the project of creating a private foundation, it is indeed important to stress (as you do) that this is not often necessary. Legal and financial advisers will say differently, not for philanthropy objectives but for tax benefits reasons. Foundations’ structure absorbs part of the proceeds that would be otherwise dedicated to a good cause if directly supporting activities. Plenty of structures already exist, and it is more efficient to either directly support projects when they already have a legal basis to operate, or identify an already existing structure to pass-through funding for a minimal fee. However, philanthropy goes much beyond giving money. As you mention, serving others is critical, and philanthropy also requires offering our time to others. The monetary gift in some instances may “corrupt” the true values of philanthropy. For example, a rich family who would only give money would probably not achieve the fulfilment that philanthropy may provide, because money may not be so difficult to spend. Our time on the contrary is for all very precious and sharing it with others who need it is sometime more important than the monetary part. For parents who are in search of a good “school” to learn about philanthropy and related values, there is simply the Boy Scout, at least the way I know them in Europe. First of all, it is a way to learn sociability with other kids and responsibility. Then when kids are becoming more responsible Boy Scout builds up sharing and caring for others. This “school” of thoughts and behaviours had an invaluable impact in my case and probably shaped my overseas career in the non-for profit sector. It is now my kids who enjoy the scouts and learn the same.
Well said! Welcoming the conversation is really the most important first step. So many are talking about this right now and really the best thing to do is even be aware about all the options for philanthropy.
Michael thank you for the great article. This is something that is very important to me as I raise my kids and I got lots of great ideas from this post. Helping kids develop a world-view where they can be the ones to help someone (instead of always being the recipient) is such a vital life lesson.