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Families Giving Back Together – the Case for Starting Now

February 14, 2014

I was honored to be asked by Allowance for Good to contribute a blog post about giving back with our families.  In it, we discuss why it’s never too early (or late) to start making your family’s giving plan for the year!

[Crossposted from Allowance for Good]

If you’re like many people, you likely do much of your charitable giving in the last quarter of the year, when you’re thinking about the holidays, the tax deduction, receiving donation requests or attending events and fundraisers that typically fall in the fall/winter.   It’s no coincidence that World Gratitude Day (September 21), World Kindness Day (November 13), Thanksgiving and as of two years ago Giving Tuesday (observed on the Tuesday after the post-Thanksgiving deal days) as well as a host of other holidays that revolve around giving, thanking and gifting all occur during virtually the same time frame.   It’s end of year, when school food drives and coat drives and other collections take place, when nonprofit organizations are doing their year-end appeals and you could essentially be out at a fundraising event every day of the week – it’s just the typical time of year that has come to be known for giving back.

Network for Good reports that a third of all online annual giving (through their system) occurs in December, and 22% of annual giving happens in the last two days of the year.  And while most charities report receiving around 40% of their annual individual charitable donations in the last few weeks of the year [Source: Charity Navigator], here’s a push to start thinking about our philanthropy way before the traditional holiday season begins.  How about committing to set our philanthropic goals at year-beginning and spreading out our giving over the entire year? We’ve all partaken in some form or fashion in making our resolutions, budgeting, travel planning, and setting work, sports or school-year goals as we ring in the new year.  Doesn’t our philanthropy deserve the same planning?

Philanthropy, which quite literally means “love of humanity,” is sharing, helping, caring, showing concern and interest in the well-being of others. By starting the New Year with discussion of what we value as well as goal-setting, we prioritize our philanthropy for ourselves, for our families and for the causes and communities we care about.  We intentionally make space for it in our lives.  We are not rushed to identify organizations or balancing charitable giving and volunteering with budgets and schedules tapped out with holidays, travel, shopping and spending.  Starting sooner and taking time earlier gives individuals and families an opportunity to explore and perhaps be more thoughtful about the practice of not only giving back but acknowledging the deeply critical role connecting, giving and appreciating have in our lives.

Introducing philanthropy – thoughtful actions, meaningful impact

In our family, we have taken the approach of utilizing teachable moments vs.  one or repeated conversations about charity/giving back.   Philanthropy is not something you can just teach with words, it needs to be demonstrated.  I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin:  “Tell me and I’ll forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

At the beginning of last year, my family set aside a specific place for the kids to collect toys and clothes for donation throughout the year. This could include items they’ve outgrown, books in good condition, or unopened gifts.  It’s allowed them to be mindful of what they have and what others may need.  We taught them about the value of money and how it’s used and gave each one a save/spend/invest/donate piggy bank. They devised their own ways of utilizing the four options and methods for withdrawals.  So that when Hurricane Sandy hit, for example, they were ready and able to draw from there.  One of the most touching moments was watching my son figure out if he had enough in his spend or donate section to help his sister meet her Girl Scout cookie sales goal.

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We added a few extra items to the grocery list to be donated at upcoming food drives. And we researched shelters, hospitals or churches where we could volunteer to help out throughout the year.  Together, we joined other families and volunteers to participate in Be the Change National Day of Service canvassing the Devon area in Chicago with information about enrolling in the new health insurance coverage made possible by the Affordable Care Act.  

We implemented the practice of keeping a gratitude jar. Throughout the year, we all periodically take a moment to jot down something we are grateful for and deposit the slip within the container. Notes have ranged from what we’ve given, received, achieved, shared and experienced.  At the start of the New Year, we open the jar and read the notes together.  It’s a chance to both reminisce and celebrate because so much of philanthropy is about being grateful and sharing.

A few years ago, the adult members of my extended family decided to make a family contribution to an organization in lieu of exchanging individual gifts.  How enlightening it was to engage in a process of getting to know each other’s values and motivations and then to ultimately see a compounded gift go a distance further in achieving something good.  Who knew — until we asked — what each of us was involved in, cared about and where we overlapped.   It was an incredible experience to see how the simple “ask” to give turned into discovering individual family member interests and existing charitable giving initiatives.

It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.   – Joyce Maynard

Take time to explore and identify values together

What issues are important to everyone in your family, and why? We may have various personal causes, but what’s the common denominator?  How much can we/do we want to give, and what might we want to achieve?  What might it mean we let go of or give up?  This dialogue is actually a quite critical piece of the act of charitable giving, whether you do it collectively as a family or couple or individually.

Other questions that have come up in our family discussions:

  • In these tough financial times, why should we give (time and/or dollars)?
  • How do we as donors decide which groups to give to or spend our time with?
  • What information should we review to make sure our time and resources are well-spent? Where can we seek out good advice and guidance as we make decisions?
  • And how do we evaluate charities and causes before and after our gifts?
  • What tools exist to make giving back easier, more impactful and lasting?

[Coming Soon! Check out some research and planning tools.]

Some tips to get started on giving back with your children:

  • Talk to each other – Share what you see, what they see, what they hear, what they have questions about.
  • Tell them about your job/career/extracurricular activities – Why do you do what you do, how and where does money come from and what it is used for.
  • Share what giving back is all about – Why is it important and how it makes you feel.  Your child may get an allowance or cash as birthday gifts. Consider having them set aside portions to save, spend, donate and invest.
  • Start small – It may be your child putting a few of their coins into the collection tin. Eventually, she might choose to make a donation to a specific cause in lieu of birthday gifts.
  • Identify interests, values and make a commitment – Giving back comes in many forms: time (volunteering), talent (skills/resources), treasure (money) and ties (relationships/connections) … Have a conversation about what works best for your child(ren)/family and decide on something specific.
  • Volunteer together – Make it a family affair by selecting an activity together. While you may be interested in serving Thanksgiving meals at a food pantry, your child may love animals.  Perhaps a visit to the local animal shelter would draw your child’s interest.

Whatever avenues you choose to bring your family into the fold, know that it’s an invaluable component to building stronger individuals, families and communities.  Being philanthropic together is an opportunity to discover and learn about other people, other places, current events and important issues.  It’s a way to understand the world and how to relate to others.  It opens up possibilities to grow as people, to develop community and to foster change.  Giving back is not only personally fulfilling (there’s research about how doing good helps us feel good and keep us healthy!), it generates an awareness of one as connected to something bigger and beyond.  And that is the truest meaning of philanthropy.

Allowance for Good is a nonprofit organization developing the rising generation of global philanthropic leaders through education, civic engagement and leadership development activities.

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