by Missy Ketchum, Executive Director of Institutional Advancement
How often do you take an opportunity to teach your children about philanthropy? Most of us think that the word “philanthropist” can only be used for someone who makes enormous gifts–Bill Gates or Andrew Carnegie, but certainly not ourselves.
While it’s true that most of us aren’t in that category of giving, all of us who contribute to causes we care about are engaging in philanthropy. Philanthropy is everywhere in our lives, if we take the time to notice. If your children watch the Wild Kratts on PBS, help them understand that people give money to PBS to make that show (and all of the others). On the drive home from your church or place of worship, tell your kids that the priests or pastors or rabbis are paid a salary through the giving of the members. Do you go to the Nutcracker every Christmas? Adopt pets from your local Humane Society? Work out at the YMCA? Philanthropy powers all of these, and they would not exist if not for the generosity of people who value their missions.
If you attended or your children attend an independent school, know that the classroom buildings, playing fields, cafeteria, theatre–just about every facility or space on campus–was built by charitable giving. And the salaries and programs get a boost from donations, too.
How is this possible? The answer is that philanthropy succeeds best when it involves as many people as possible. The famous “ice bucket challenge” that benefited the ALS Foundation raised $114 million from people who gave anywhere from $10.00 to $1 million. The same is true of campaigns at Episcopal, where donors giving $2 million participate alongside donors giving $25.00.
This makes the experience of philanthropy accessible to anyone. Most of us give money away every year, whether we are very wealthy or not wealthy at all. People enjoy giving, and teaching kids about giving sets them up for a lifetime of rewarding giving experiences.
There are many ways to do this. A common (and sweet) beginning is the lemonade stand whose proceeds go to a charity. If your child is particularly passionate about something–animals, children’s hospitals, music–stay tuned to the websites of these organizations so that you can talk about how your family is helping to accomplish good things.
As children get older, they may enjoy a more in-depth lesson about different charities with similar missions. Do some research about which ones to support. Guidestar and Charity Navigator are good sources of information for donors. Visit the nonprofit organizations if possible, to see them in action. Ask for a tour. Giving is not and should not only be about money; getting involved in serving the organization can make giving more meaningful. And talk about instances where giving money really is the best service, as is often the case with natural disasters in distant countries.
Older teenagers are capable of thinking through and developing a personal mission statement for the giving they want to do. This can be a meaningful exercise for a family to do and to revisit through the years.
In whatever way you choose to discuss philanthropy with your children, keep the emphasis on the rewards of being generous, both for others and for ourselves. Being philanthropic is one of the ways we can all participate in making the world a better place.