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Let’s Talk About It

“Giving is not something people have traditionally talked about at work or with their kids at the dinner table,” says Ellen Remmer, co-managing partner of The Philanthropic Initiative. “It’s kind of a funny thing, though. Why not? Why not sit down with your friends and talk about how you want to contribute to the world?” That may be why she finds that one of the most eye-opening experiences for her clients is learning what they can gain by engaging with others, including their own families.

The conversation we’re not having

We don’t have a way of talking about philanthropy with each other without making people feel like a target. People often think, “Oh gosh, she’s going to fundraise for her whole organization,” instead of just having a conversation about how fascinating giving is. Another reason is because it might feel like they’re being smug or bragging. But because of that, we’re not exposed to the many different ways people approach charitable giving.

Why talking about giving is important

There’s value in just learning what other people are doing. It opens up your mind to the various options. I’ve seen this be an eye-opening moment when you just share with folks the different ways that donors can be highly effective. They may see that someone has taken more of a problem-solving approach or a campaign approach. It can be very exciting and inspiring to talk to somebody who is doing something with a modest amount of money and just hearing about others down in the trenches.

Getting in on the giving conversation

If you are new to giving, I think one of the most amazing things to do is to get involved in the giving circle. Giving circles typically go through a very structured, strategic approach to giving, which is often something brand new to people. It’s a good space for someone who is just getting started. Another thing to do is attend conferences or join networks. There are so many more venues now where people can go and talk about giving, and there are often opportunities to work together with other donors.

Bringing the conversation into the home

There was a study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy a few years ago that showed talking about philanthropy with your kids is actually more influential than modeling it, which surprised me. So wouldn’t it be wonderful for a family to do a project together and engage in a conversation about what their values and interests are? Wouldn’t it be great if every family did this; said, “Okay, let’s make a $500 gift from our family to our community, and actually have structured conversations at the dinner table about giving.” It doesn’t take a lot of money, and you learn more about each family member.

Finding what works for your family

Whatever the family decides to do, the focus should be on philanthropic impact and developing pride in what you do as a family. It’s about, “Oh my gosh, together we did this.” However, it depends on the culture of the family. If the culture of the family is very much about individual self-reliance and less about collaboration and togetherness, maybe doing a matching-gift program with the kids makes more sense—each person can direct his or her giving, but everyone participates. If the family culture is more about togetherness, maybe doing a project together or volunteering will work best.