There are really only two things you can do with money — spend it or give it away. If you’re a client of Northwood, you will have heard this from us countless times.
Philanthropy is one of the ways to ‘give it away’ and can be an excellent way to support the communities you care about. When giving is done as a family unit, it can be an especially rewarding, shared experience. Yet our experience tells us that many families struggle to engage their children in embracing the philanthropic spirit.
Lisa Parker1, the President and Executive Director of the Lawrence Welk Family Foundation, contributed to Tom McCullough’s book Wealth of Wisdom: The Top 50 Questions Wealthy Families Ask (co-authored with Keith Whitaker) with a chapter focused on helping families increase philanthropic engagement with children. As Lisa explains, the odds children will embrace philanthropy “dramatically increase when the philanthropic impulse is intentionally cultivated, often from an early age.” She goes on the list three ways by which parents can nurture this interest:
When deciding on whether to donate to a specific cause or organization, a site visit provides the opportunity to meet the leadership group to understand the organization’s vision and mission and current actions to meet its mandate. These visits are an ideal time to engage the entire family unit, including children and grandchildren. The experience can be transformative as the family will witness first-hand how organizations are working to solve societal issues and the overall impact a non-profit can have on the community.
Take for example Frances Sykes2, President and CEO of the Pascale Sykes Foundation, who’s mandate is to serve working low-income families and help reshape the way social services in the United States are delivered. Frances’ goal is to build a bridge between families in need and the agencies that have the resources to empower them. She was inspired during her work as a teacher where she witnessed a working family struggle to get help for their eleven-year-old, who was in danger of going down the wrong path. The family earned too much to qualify for free supportive services necessary to assist their child and instead were required to pay more than they could afford. This single interaction created a moment of inspiration that has since formed a legacy and a lifetime of giving.
The Dinner Table Foundation
Many people ask: “When is the right time to pass on their philanthropic values and interests to their children.” The answer is usually: “As soon as possible.” From a very young age, children can explore giving by creating a “Dinner Table Foundation”. This involves simply setting up a collection jar for spare change or allowance and asking the children to think about what makes them happy and can be a great first step to identify causes your children may care about. Young children are often most passionate about animals and parents may find zoos and other conservation authorities the most popular choices during early childhood. Lisa notes the most important aspect of the Dinner Table Foundation is the processing of the giving experience, also known as the “helper’s high”. This feeling can be incredibly motivating for young children to continue with the spirit of giving.
Junior Boards can empower teenagers and young adults to make decisions on causes they care about most. In the case of the Lawrence Welk Foundation, Lisa was invited to become a junior board member; this provided her the opportunity to participate in the foundation’s board meetings alongside her parents. Through her involvement as a junior board member, she was encouraged to ask questions and share her opinions, which ultimately led her to live a life centered around philanthropy.
While these three ideas can be particularly helpful in increasing engagement amongst the next generation, it’s important to note that there are certain life stages where it is more difficult to do so. Many young adults may prefer to spend their time and energy focusing on completing their studies, starting their career, and growing their family. The obligation to be a responsible member of a foundation can be time consuming and may lead to feelings of guilt or resentment.
Finally, Lisa also suggests that the way we broach the topic of philanthropy with children is important. The distinguishing factor here is the need to communicate that it’s fine to not be interested. Ultimately it must be their choice, rather than being guilted into an obligation to participate. For further detail on this topic, I encourage you to read Wealth of Wisdom Chapter entitled “How Do You Engage Children and Grandchildren in Philanthropy?” 43 (or listen to the podcast here).