Teaching Philanthropy to Children

Apple CEO, Tim Cook addressed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Class of 2017. He advised the graduates to "Measure your impact on humanity not in likes, but in the lives you touch. Not in popularity, but in the people you serve.” This is excellent advice! The world is changing and children (and adults) can get so caught up in their digital lives. There is room for the digital world in our lives, but it should not be at the expense of being a force for good in the physical world.

Some people seem to come hardwired to give service. They see needs and instinctively do something to fill them. This isn't as natural for others, but it can be learned. While Tim Cook's words are wise, at the point of university graduation they should just be a reminder. Even a baby can learn that their smile brings joy to others. Educating children on the value of philanthropy and the benefit it can bring to their own lives should be ongoing throughout childhood. 

Ideas for Teaching Philanthropy to Children

  • Showcase their good deeds. Very small toddlers and children can provide service. Maybe they pick up a dropped toy and hand it to a sibling, give a hug, or say "I love you". Any act that benefits another person is an act of philanthropy. When you see this happening, point it out to your child and praise her. Positive reinforcement can work wonders!
  • Start at home. Children can start helping around the house when they are very young. Preschool children can help sort laundry, dust, pour water and food into pet bowls, and place utensils on the table for family meals. As children grow, so should their responsibilities around the house. Remember to show gratitude as they do what has been asked of them and point out how vital they are in your home. You want them to internalize the feeling of joy they get from doing something to help.
  • Point out areas of need. Many acts of philanthropy start with a single individual seeing a need and acting on an impulse to help. Wherever you are with your children, take the opportunity to talk to them about needs you see. When we watch the nightly news with our children, we pause often to talk about the things that are happening in the world and how people are helping when things aren't going well. When we drive past a homeless shelter, we talk about the homeless population and their needs. 
  • Be an example of philanthropy. Many children learn best by example. Look for ways you can serve and tell your children about your experiences. Whenever appropriate let your children tag along. Making a meal for a new mom in your neighborhood?  Have your children help make, package, and deliver the food. Gathering a donation for a thrift shop? Children can find items to donate, put them in bags, and go with you to make the donation. Make sure to explain what you are doing. It might seem obvious to you, but children may need help making the connection that a brand new baby makes it really difficult to do simple things like prepare dinner. Or that some families don't have the money to buy new clothes or other items and thrift stores help them get the things they need.
  • Provide opportunities to give service. There are so many ways to get your children involved in philanthropy. Check out our 10 Ways to Give Back this Summer for a few ideas to get started. Also, check the blog on Thursday for a project that is perfect for children - Bedtime Bags. Google a phrase like "service and kids" to get more ideas that you can possibly complete. You will find something that is a good fit for you and your children. Use caution though when choosing an opportunity.  Some experts say that introducing your child into an overwhelming and unfamiliar environment like a soup kitchen when they are too young could actually leave them with a negative association with service.
  • Use online resources. There are great resources out there for teaching your children the concept of philanthropy. Learning to Give is an organization that actually has a curriculum designed to be implemented in schools, but can also be adapted for a home environment. In addition, there are a myriad of articles available online with advice on how to teach philanthropy to children. 

Imparting a love of philanthropy is an important gift we can give to children. Our communities need service minded individuals to thrive. 

How have you taught philanthropy to children?