The power of family giving

Giving together can unite your family across years, geographic locations, and life circumstances.

No matter how old your children are, integrating philanthropy into your family life can be an excellent way to pass on healthy attitudes about money and helping others. Children involved in giving have the opportunity to:

  • Explore and develop their own values as they learn about the world around them
  • Work — and make decisions — as part of a team
  • Manage money and understand how processes such as spending, saving, and giving function together
  • Gather information and analyze data
  • Develop critical thinking, listening, and communications skills

Engaging family in your giving strategy

It is never too early — or too late — to engage your family in giving. You may choose to involve family members in only one aspect of your giving, or opt to build shared goals into every step. When deciding how — and how much — to involve family members, you will need to consider their ages, levels of independence, strengths, and interests. Working through the following five steps will help you start giving as a family.

1. Have Family Members Articulate Their Giving Goals. Ask each member to express his or her giving priorities in writing, rank them, and indicate the timing, amount, and mode of giving they would like the family to consider.

2. Develop a Family Mission Statement. Discuss family members' individual statements, looking for common goals and priorities. You might want to list competing goals during the discussion and prioritize them as new opinions are offered. Incorporate top goals into a giving mission for your family as a whole.

3. Decide Where to Give. Begin to make choices about where and when to give, and to set ground rules for making these decisions as a group.

4. Select a Giving Vehicle. Consider what level of involvement each family member would like to have in the giving process, and choose a vehicle that not only furthers financial goals but also allows individuals to be as active in the charitable process as they would like.

5. Assess Your Impact. Make time to review regularly the effect of your family giving strategy. Devoting even a small amount of time at family events or holidays to this activity will allow you to enjoy together the results of your giving.

Involving Children of All Ages

There are a variety of ways to engage younger children, teenagers, and adult children in charitable endeavors.

Younger children can participate in the giving process through a number of activities that teach simple lessons about philanthropy, such as:

  • A Giving Allowance. Rather than encouraging children to save allowance money in a "piggy bank," provide them with three clear jars, which they can decorate and label "spending," "saving," and "giving," respectively. Then, suggest that they distribute their allowance among the jars. Children love watching their money accumulate and feel important when they help select recipients for the contents of their giving jar. This exercise teaches children basic money management skills while also introducing the concept of giving in a way they can easily understand.1
  • Family Volunteer Day. Children of this age love hands-on activities and many organizations encourage family participation. Schedule a "family volunteer day" and participate in a project that kids can enjoy, such as helping in a soup kitchen, or delivering food and supplies to the elderly. Of course, family members of any age can participate in, and benefit from, these activities.

Teenagers are often eager to take on family responsibility and are frequently ready to grasp complex issues. Here are some ideas for teens:

  • Beyond Allowance. While still maintaining the spirit of the allowance exercise described above, you can begin to involve your teenagers in decisions about where, when, and how much to give. Consider asking them to narrow the field of possible recipients by doing research and presenting their findings to the rest of the family. You can review the final section of this guide with teenage family members to help give them the information they need to research a charitable organization.
  • Volunteering. Encourage your teenagers to choose causes they care about and to donate a comfortable amount of their free time to helping local organizations involved in these causes. This can help teens learn valuable lessons about responsibility and teamwork while meeting new people and engaging in activities they enjoy.

Adult children can become full partners in the family giving process and may find it gratifying to be involved in:

  • Selecting Giving Vehicles. If you have not yet selected a giving vehicle, consider involving adult children in this decision. Vehicles such as donor-advised funds, family foundations, and accounts in a community foundation can be established in the family name and, in some cases, children can take a legal role in the process by serving as trustees, board members, or successors to an account.
  • Family Giving. In preparation for a family meeting, adult children can visit charities or review proposals. Alternately, individual family members can research several nonprofits with similar missions, and use meeting time to discuss each organization's methods and determine which is the best candidate for your gifts.

1The Giving Family by Susan Crites Price, Council on Foundations.

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