Dear Readers: I've been talking a lot about young people and financial education lately, but there's one thing I haven't discussed recently that I think is an important part of everyone's financial lives: giving. Now, with Thanksgiving just ahead and Giving Tuesday coming right after, I want to share some ideas on how to introduce your kids to the importance of philanthropy and get the whole family involved in giving this season.
To me, saving and giving go hand in hand. As you teach your kids to manage their money and save a certain percentage for their future goals, it's a natural extension to also encourage them to earmark some of their money for a charitable cause. And what better time than the holidays to focus on how to share our own good fortune?
Of course, giving isn't just about money; giving your time can be just as valuable. Ultimately, charitable giving is about making a commitment to help others. This is a commitment I believe everyone can make—regardless of age or resources. And committing as a family can be even more powerful, making your dollars and energy go even further.
Five Ways to Make Giving a Family Affair
1. Talk to your family about the causes you support and why.
As with so much in financial education, introducing the idea of giving can start with a conversation about your own philanthropy. Talk to your kids about the organizations you support. Discuss with them how you make giving choices. Do you support some national causes? What local charities are on your list? How do you decide how much to give, and how often do you make contributions?
2. Let the kids research and choose an organization to support.
Have your kids start by making a list of what's most important to them. Whether it's something such as the environment, animal adoption, homelessness or hunger, help them do some online research. Encourage them to consider local charities as well as national organizations and to think about where their donations could have the most impact. Depending on the age of your children, you could have them look at an independent online rating service such as Charity Navigator or CharityWatch. The ideal would be to pick a family charity that you'd all agree to support.
3. Decide on a dollar amount each family member can give and make it a yearlong family project.
This is a great way to reinforce basic money management skills. Have the kids consider their sources of income, whether an allowance, gifts or a job, and decide what percentage they could put toward the family charity each month. Include your own commitment. Then decide how and where you'll set the money aside, ideally in an account that earns interest where you can all watch it add up. A quarterly family meeting to discuss—and celebrate—the growing balance can be great motivation to keep going. You might also set a date when you'll make your group donation to the charity you've all chosen.
4. Match your kids' donations to show your support.
As an added encouragement, consider matching your children's donations. It doesn't have to be dollar for dollar (after all, you're making your own contribution), but even a small addition to their donations will show how important you think this project is—and how proud you are of their efforts.
5. Volunteer as a family.
Chances are there are numerous organizations in your own community that would welcome the gift of time. From libraries to animal shelters to food banks, volunteers are often in short supply. What a wonderful opportunity for you to work together as a family and share an experience that can be as enriching for all of you as it is helpful to those in need.
Encouraging kids to support causes they care about can be an excellent personal and financial lesson. It not only teaches them to manage their money wisely, it also gives them a chance to reach out, connect and contribute to a more equitable, more caring world. And that's something we all need, not only during the holiday season, but all year round.