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Beyond the Numbers    Financial Advisor eNewsletter

Teaching charity to Children

All children are born with an instinct to be generous. In fact, not only does charitable giving help create a better world, but studies have shown that people who are generous are actually happier and more fulfilled than people who are focused on their own materialistic gain.¹ Historically, Americans have always been a generous people. Each year, American families give over $280 billion and volunteer almost 8 billion hours.²

But teaching the importance of generosity and philanthropy can be a challenge when our culture celebrates hyper-consumption. So how can your clients instill the values of giving to their children, grandchildren, and future generations? How can they teach selflessness in a "selfie" world? Below are five practical ideas for your clients to teach generosity and create a strong family culture of giving back.

1. Be a role model.

Leading by example, parents who are philanthropic can teach their children both the importance of giving and its emotional rewards. Being generous to those around them can help clients instill empathy in their children. Raking leaves or tending the garden of an elderly neighbor or baking a cake for a friend can help demonstrate how small acts of kindness can bring great happiness. Studies show that children emulate their parents' charitable activities. For example, for each 1% increase in volunteering by parents, the likelihood their child will give to charities when they are adults also increases by about 1%, according to a recent study by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. When parents and children participate in volunteer activities together, it creates even more opportunities to share philanthropic passions and priorities. Grandparents can also have a powerful influence on their grandchildren’s philanthropic values. Research has demonstrated that for each 1% increase in donations from grandparents, grandchildren's donations increase 1.6%.³

2. Talk with children about giving.

Even the simple act of talking about the importance of giving can foster generosity among children. A recent study found that children whose parents explicitly talk with them about giving are 20 percent more likely to give to charity than are kids whose parents don’t discuss giving.4

3. Celebrate giving back during holidays. 

Holidays can be a powerful opportunity to bring together family members and discuss and share values. Philanthropic families often create a tradition of making an important charitable donation around birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or other holidays. Starting when children are young, parents can talk with their kids about how giving away a toy or book is an important way to celebrate a holiday. But waiting until the holiday is around the corner can result in reluctance and resistance from children. Instead, have discussions around the year about philanthropic goals the family will achieve during the holiday season.

4. Find giving opportunities that align with family values and interests.

If a child is learning to play the violin, consider donations to the local orchestra. Or if she is passionate about animals and nature, help her learn about conservation causes. Because of their immersion in social media, today's children are often highly interested in global causes. Match the amount of giving, whether money or time, to the family’s resources. Giving in areas that children area passionate about can make giving more rewarding and its results more tangible. 

5. Create a family giving fund.

This can start as a “family giving jar” when children are young, where they can contribute a portion of their allowance. When the jar is full the family can decide together where to donate the money. As a family builds wealth, philanthropic efforts can take the form of more formalized entities, such as donor-advised funds or family foundations. The most successful family foundations are the ones that engage and educate younger generations. All family members, even children, can have a say in the family's charitable mission statement. Rather than reserving trustee positions solely for elder family members, inviting younger family members with different perspectives and capabilities to join as a trustee or on an advisory board can help educate and engage the next generations. Today, this is becoming common practice. Two-thirds of family foundations invite younger generations to sit on boards as voting members and organize family-wide discussions on the foundation's core values and mission, according to a study by the National Center for Family Philanthropy and the Urban Institute.

As a financial advisor, you can have an important role in helping impart philanthropic strategies to your clients' family members. For some clients, you might offer to join a family meeting on future giving. For others, you might meet one-on-one with your clients' children or grandchildren. By engaging in philanthropic conversations with your clients and family members, you will not only provide a service they value highly, but you will also have an opportunity to deepen your multi-generational client relationships in very meaningful ways.


1. Time, "Being Generous Really Does Make You Happier." July 14, 2017

2. Giving USA, 2017 and Corporation for National and Community Service

3. "A Tradition of Giving," The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

4. Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, 2013

This article is a publication of Life Stage Insights, a client discovery and engagement system for financial advisors.

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