Over the last 15 years, study after study has revealed the importance of sharing generosity at home. Research shows that children of generous people are more generous. But that doesn’t often happen by accident.
Many generous families intentionally invest in their children or grandchildren by involving them in their giving journeys.
We’ve searched out some of the best research-based tips for you and broken them down by the age of the people in your family. Here are a few strategic ways you can shape generosity and cultivate unity in your family around giving.
It’s never too early to start sharing with your children or grandchildren about your giving. Make conversations about kindness and generosity part of your regular routine with them. Not only may it impact their lives, but starting early can help you feel more comfortable in conversations about giving when they’re older.
Once they’re old enough to understand what you’re saying, here are four great things you can do with younger kids in your family:
Explain – Young kids love to ask “Why?” They love to know the reasons behind what’s happening in their world. If you’re serving at church, tell them why. If you give help to a family in need, share the reasons you decided to do it. If you’re at your computer recommending grants from your Giving Fund (donor-advised fund), invite them to sit with you, and show them how it works. They don’t have to understand everything. Just involving them is enough.
Show your feelings – Research tells us that generosity makes people feel good. It leads to better mood, better physical and mental health, and stronger social connections. Though your kids or grandkids may be too young to understand an explanation of this, they certainly aren’t too young to see a smile. If they’re around you when you’ve made a gift, let them know how it makes you feel. Dance in celebration of how God made you able to give. Pray a happy prayer of thanks. Let it show on your face how thankful you are that God has made you able to share.
Choose a charity your child can relate to – Recent research from Canterbury Christ Church University in England found that children even as young as four to eight years old can benefit from actively engaging in charity. Teaching your children how to support a charity at such a young age can be fun, especially if it’s a charity that does work they can understand. Even if it’s only a small portion of your giving, consider supporting a charity that does something close to your child’s heart.
Praise generous behaviors – When your child or grandchild shows compassion to another person, notices another person’s need, or makes a choice to share, praise the action and tell them why you think what they did was important. This will help them to make positive associations with giving.
A 2010 study conducted by Harris Interactive for the PEARSON Foundation uncovered some interesting information about young givers. There were specific practices parents of generous teens engaged in that made a difference in how their children viewed the world:
Foster open communication – The need for open, age-appropriate communication is often stressed. Research tells us that families who share resources and talk about money are happier, closer, and even live longer. And kids with parents who model generosity and invite their teens to contribute to conversations about family money are more likely to identify themselves as givers. For Christian families, explaining the biblical reasons for your giving decisions and showing faith in action can also be powerful.
Seek out and support their interests – Once kids are old enough to care about causes themselves, one of the best things you can do to teach them generosity is let them share the causes they are passionate about with you. Listen to what they care about and find ways to support those causes. In the Harris Interactive poll mentioned above, fewer than half (47 percent) of families do this, but that 47 percent were the teens who identified themselves as givers.
Help them see others – Exposure to other people’s perspectives and ways of living broadens a teen’s ability to understand the world and feel empathy. When matched with an explanation of how their actions impact others, this can be a powerful way to build a compassionate heart that leads to generosity.
Volunteer together as a family – Invite teens to join you in serving at a charity you’re already involved with, or let them lead in choosing a place for your family to serve. Make it a regular practice, and encourage them if they also want to volunteer or take mission trips with school or youth groups. Note that recent research has found that younger generations sometimes view volunteering as interchangeable with giving. If this is not your family value, be clear with your family that volunteering is only part of your strategy for giving.
Giving with adult children in families can be more complicated; but it can also be more rewarding. Here are a few strategies to help you approach giving with your adult kids:
Let them practice – One second-generation giver with NCF said the best thing his dad ever did was let him fail. His father gave him a sum of money and let this 20-year-old young man choose how to invest his own giving dollars. He explains that many young adults begin receiving money from their parents when they’re older, missing an opportunity for them to practice strategic giving with smaller amounts. These new givers assume they will be brilliant philanthropists when they haven’t had any practice, he says. Let them practice while you’re still around to guide them.
Involve them in your own decision-making processes – How are giving decisions made in your family? Who has input into how the family’s charitable dollars are distributed? If you’ve established a process, make sure your heirs are part of it now, so they will understand how to be wise givers as they grow older and more responsible for the family’s money.
Share your values about wealth – This will be easier if you started with conversations like this when they were young, but it’s not too late. How do you view the purpose of your wealth? What do you hope will happen with it? How do you hope your legacy will live on? Listen to your adult children about the things they value, and be sure they know what your hopes are for your own legacy.
Tie giving to a family celebration – One family who gives through NCF has a celebration of gratitude at Thanksgiving and lets each adult child know how much he or she will have for giving by the end of the year. The four children go away and strategize whether to give their own sum of money as they choose or to collaborate with their siblings and their spouses for a larger gift. Then, the week of Christmas, they bring their final decisions to the family as each one or group of siblings champions a cause.
No family is perfect. And these things sound easier to do than they sometimes are. But, no matter the ages of your children, celebrating generosity can help unify a family vision for generosity. And it may help you establish a generous family for generations to come.