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Raising Charitable Children

Do You Have a Plan for Nurturing Philanthropy?

Have you ever asked your kids what charity or cause they would like to support, or shared with them what nonprofits you choose to support?

As we move through the holiday season, the thoughts of many Americans turn to giving back to their favorite nonprofits. During the last six weeks of the year, some charities receive donations equivalent of up to 50 percent of their revenue, according to CBS News. This is a natural time to share your thoughts around charitable giving with your kids and an opportunity to discuss your family’s values.

You can actively pass on your family’s spirit of philanthropy by involving your kids in the charitable gifting decisions your family makes. Give your kids their own charitable budget with this quick plan.

To start, it’s okay to expect different levels of involvement from different children depending on their age. Over dinner, brainstorm some possible charities to support. This is a great opportunity to talk to your children about what you are most concerned about and why. However, as parents, we want to let each child select his own special cause, which may or may not align with our own. 

Ask young children (under eight) what they are most concerned about, and then help them select one or two charities. In my house, this tends to mean animal-focused nonprofits and nonprofits that help feed hungry families. Your kids’ concerns might not necessarily match up with your own personal ethos. That’s okay. We’re not trying to create carbon copies, but rather individuals who can think critically and recognize the value of philanthropy at any income level. Although, if my kids adopted my values around putting their dirty laundry in the hamper, that would be great. (Merry Christmas, Mom!)

Older kids can take on more responsibility, and you can share more details around how to be a savvy philanthropist with them. Ask older children to consider the following: What’s your charitable budget? How do you identify and vet legitimate charities? What are you hoping to accomplish with your charitable dollars? 

Teens can take it a step further: Is the charity you selected effective? Do they measure results? You might introduce older kids to Charity Navigator ( or GiveWell (

Give each child a carve-out from your family charitable dollars. You need to be comfortable giving up control. It doesn’t need to be a ton of money. Carve out only the money you are willing to allow your child to direct as they see fit. You might also consider offer a matching-funds donation based on your child’s contribution. Either way, by letting children have control over a certain amount of money, you can help them feel empowered to make a difference in their world. You will also get a deeper buy-in to the process.

Let your kids help you stamp and address the envelope and mail the check to your favorite charity. Or, if you’re paying online, let them sit with you while you make the contribution. Bonus tip: Use that online payment moment to remind your children that paying online and using credit or debit cards is still real money. You might equate the donation amount with something the child is familiar with – a family night at the movies, a new soccer ball, etc. 

Going through this charitable giving conversation as a family is also a great opportunity to gently and repeatedly talk to your children about how their lives may differ from others in our community. I know my kids have a hard time grasping that kids in Richmond sometimes go to bed hungry. It’s a conversation we have to have repeatedly to help them grasp that other people’s lives are very different from their own. 

Your children’s financial habits are ingrained from a very young age. If you want to raise charitable adults, start now by involving your kids in your charitable giving this holiday season.

Lauren Zangardi Haynes, CIMA, CFP (R) is a fee-only financial planner and founder of Spark Financial Advisors. She has three young children and a rambunctious puppy. Learn more about Lauren’s services at Spark Financial Advisors.
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