Are you really teaching philanthropy?
Yesterday was National Philanthropy Day. That put a bit of a bee in our bonnets.
There is no question that philanthropy is important for the world and that there will always be people who need help from others. Philanthropy comes in many shapes and forms.Over time, the forms have shifted.
In the last generation, many people’s giving took the form of tithing through religious institutions. It was a natural part of people’s weekly lives. It was usually fairly private and happened regularly. It was not something that happened only one day of the year.
Nowadays, giving has become an external “should do” item.
In an effort to “teach philanthropy”, giving has turned into big family fundraisers often involving fancy dress, special hairstyles, and limousines. People post about their presence at the event and some people feel obligated to attend these events to be “seen”.
While the intention of participating is to teach kids about giving, when we peel away the layers, it is evident that kids are not learning much about giving. Kids are learning the importance of the external; that they are seen, that they get a new dress and fancy things. For many families, the money spent on the people attending the event exceeds the donation made to the charity. It reinforces the importance of the givers rather than those on the receiving end.
Children are not learning about philanthropy at these events. Most children are not spending their own money to attend, it was not their idea to give, the process of giving is not occurring consistently throughout the year, rather it is a one-off, a feel-good to do item – we supported this charity, were seen and taught our kids about giving all in one evening. Cross that one off of our to-do list.
We want to encourage you to get clear about what you are teaching your children. If attending these events makes sense to your family, make it about family time, rather than about philanthropy. There is no need to broadcast your attendance to the world.
The reality is, big picture philanthropy is not a child’s job. Children don’t need to be considering all the hardships of the other people in the world. The way a child learns to give and help is in the home and to the people close by.
Children can give of their time and their kindness. They can carry something for someone, clean up their mess, take responsibility for their child-size problems. They can pick up litter, bake cookies or make a drawing for someone. Perhaps they will invest their time in a project that raises money and supports a close friend. Child-size philanthropy should be exactly that: something that comes from them, to someone they care about; rather than something they just want to to do because everyone else is doing it.
Lastly, when and if a child decides to give, notice it, ask them how they feel about it if you need to say anything at all, and then stop. As soon as we celebrate or reward a child for giving, research shows that the external reward minimizes the great internal feelings of giving. Don’t post it on Facebook. Don’t tweet about it. Don’t tell everyone how great your child is. You know it, your child knows how good it feels. Let the beauty of giving be the lesson.
Does your family make giving external?
Do you feel overwhelmed with teaching your child how to be generous?
How can you bring philanthropy down to a child-appropriate level in your home?
How will you respond without going overboard, when your child shows generosity?