Fidelity charitable study finds childhood giving traditions create happier, more charitable adults

Those who grow up with strong giving traditions volunteer, give more to charity

Giving traditions help build closer family relationships

Fidelity Charitable shares tips to help families start own giving traditions this holiday season

BOSTON, November 1, 2018—Those who grow up in families with strong giving traditions are more likely to engage in charitable activities as adults, according to a study released today by Fidelity Charitable, an independent public charity and the nation’s second-largest grantmaker. The organization’s latest study explores how the giving habits and priorities experienced during one’s childhood affect how a person gives back as an adult, as well as how giving traditions influence a family’s dynamic, including happiness.

Key findings from the study include:

  • 45 percent of respondents who grew up with strong giving traditions donate $5,000 or more to charity annually—and 89 percent volunteer an average of eight hours a month
  • 48 percent of people who experienced strong giving traditions during their childhood consider themselves a very happy person today, compared to 33 percent who did not grow up with strong traditions
  • 38 percent of survey participants who grew up with strong giving traditions said their giving habits are inspired by their parents

“We’ve always known that strategic philanthropy benefits the charities donors support, but this study proves that the impact goes beyond that,” said Pamela Norley, president of Fidelity Charitable. “Giving makes people happier and is a significant contributor to a happier and healthy family too. Those looking to reconnect with their loved ones this holiday season should consider starting a new giving tradition as a way to foster discussion, learn from and inspire one another.”

How One Family Created a Tradition of Giving

In 2014, North Carolina-based couple Dick and Pat Johnston set up a Fidelity Charitable Giving Account intending to create a new family giving tradition that could engage three children and eight grandchildren. Since then, the family holds an annual meeting, led by the grandchildren, to choose charities to support. The family kicks off their meeting by discussing lessons learned from previous gifts and deciding on their philanthropic budget for the year. The grandchildren then propose organizations they'd like to support, explaining why they're worthy causes. This multigenerational approach has resulted in grants to organizations as varied as Compassion International and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

“Giving back—even in small amounts—is a family mission, something that’s integral to our lives,” said Pat. “We support organizations we care about and, at the same time, we have the opportunity to be together as a family, create lasting memories and feel like we’ve made a difference together. Imagine how much better the world would be if those who could afford it would give a few hours of their time and a small amount to their favorite cause. Imagine what greater impact they would have if they did that with their families.”

Giving Traditions Make People Happy

The study shows that efforts such as the Johnstons' will pay dividends in reinforcing values of generosity. Giving traditions are formed over time and passed down through generations. Families who engage in philanthropic activities together encourage a lifelong commitment to charity in their youngest members. Survey respondents credit their parents’ strong giving traditions as the inspiration for their own giving habits.

Learning the importance of giving back during childhood leads to more charitable adults. 45 percent of survey respondents who grew up with strong giving traditions report donating $5,000 or more to charity annually as adults, and 89 percent spend time volunteering. On average, those who grew up with strong giving traditions volunteer nearly eight hours per month, versus six hours per month for those who did not.

Research also shows that participating in charitable activities makes people feel happier and closer to their family members. 48 percent of those who grew up with strong giving traditions consider themselves a very happy person today, versus 33 percent who did not grow up with strong giving traditions.

Families are Increasingly Talking About Giving

More families are making philanthropy part of the conversation around the dinner table. While just two-fifths (39 percent) of survey respondents characterized their family’s giving style growing up as “consultative” (one person received input from the family but made the final decision) or “democratic” (decisions were made together as a family,) nearly three-fourths (72 percent) report that they take a “consultative” or “democratic” approach to giving with their own families.

While conversations about causes and money can lead to disagreements and conflicting opinions, most respondents said that those disagreements don’t take a toll on their family’s giving—60 percent reached a compromise and 16 percent actually credit disagreement with driving a positive impact on their family relationships.

“Philanthropy is a powerful way for families to pass along shared beliefs and values. It offers a unique way for families to bond, collaborate, spend time together and pass on values of compassion and generosity,” said Elaine Martyn, vice president and managing director of Fidelity Charitable’s Private Donor Group. “Open discussion around giving goals and priorities helps build stronger family bonds too.”

Tips for Focusing on Giving This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, but it’s also a time to give back—and the perfect time for families to embrace their shared values. That is why Fidelity Charitable is challenging families to put the “giving” in Thanksgiving this year by establishing their own giving tradition. Setting up a family donor-advised fund or dedicated account to provide support for charities is one way to provide structure for a strong family giving tradition on Thanksgiving and throughout the year.

Fidelity Charitable offers many resources for families who are unsure how to get started, including discussion guides and its Giving IQ tool. Those looking to kick off this holiday season with a new tradition can also use the following tips:

  1. Share your giving stories and commit to action. Carve out time in your gathering for family members to share a charitable cause or issue they care about, as well as ways they’d like to support that cause in the next year.
  2. Create a charity “registry.” Ask family members to bring an item from a favorite nonprofit’s wish list – and, if possible, arrange a time to deliver the items together.
  3. Socialize over service. After your meal, complete an at-home service project together, such as packaging up care kits for cancer patients or gift-wrapping presents for a family in need.
  4. Volunteer as a group. Sign up to help out a favorite charity in the morning and discuss the experience in the afternoon.
  5. Give together. Choose a charity or charities together for your family to support—you can even ask family members to nominate charities and come prepared to make a case. You can select the charities in a variety of ways: voting, drawing straws, or rotating who gets to make the decision each year.

Additional highlights from the study include:

  • 89 percent of those who grew up with strong giving traditions volunteer some time each month versus 73 percent of those who did not grow up with strong giving traditions.
  • 81 percent of those who grew up with strong giving traditions describe their core family as very close versus 71 percent of those who did not grow up with strong giving traditions.
  • Those who engaged in charitable activities with their families growing up are 27 percent more likely to give more than $5,000 to charity annually and are 22 percent more likely to volunteer.
  • Those who engaged and received a giving allowance growing up are 39 percent more likely to give $5,000 or more annually to charity and 15 percent more likely to volunteer.
  • 22 percent of respondents report conflicting opinions about philanthropy within their families today.
  • 60 percent report their families compromise when faced with a disagreement about giving.

For the complete report and additional insights, visit:

Family Philanthropy

Family Giving Traditions Study

Family Giving Traditions (PDF)

Family Giving Traditions surveyed 3,000 total respondents who give to charity and itemized deductions on their taxes last year.

About Fidelity Charitable

Fidelity Charitable is an independent public charity that has helped donors support more than 255,000 nonprofit organizations with $30 billion in grants. Established in 1991, Fidelity Charitable launched the first national donor-advised fund program. The mission of the organization is to grow the American tradition of philanthropy by providing programs that make charitable giving accessible, simple and effective. For more information about Fidelity Charitable, visit

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