By Lora Shinn
From Razoo.com, the site for charitable giving.
Most kids love toys, video games, and Hannah Montana-and while they might know every Miley Cyrus song by heart, they wouldn't have a clue what the term "philanthropy" means, much less volunteer to give up their own possessions for the sake of others' welfare. While the culture of giving may be foreign to most children, it's easy to train your own little ones to be compassionate. Here are six shortcuts for raising a charitable child, from birth and beyond.
Start small. Alyssa Harding and her husband, Derek, of Seattle, Wash., didn't delay donations. Shortly after their daughter Bryn was born, the couple began contributing to Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo on her behalf.
"We adopted a zoo animal in her name," Harding says. "Whichever seemed her favorite at the time. One year it was hippos. Another year, elephants."
Once Bryn turned two, they involved her in the decision. "We explained that the money would go to the zoo so that they could take care of the animal if it got sick or to buy it food, more hay, research, and so on." Bryn chose the giraffe, Harding says. "She was delighted at the photos the zoo sent her."
"The earlier the concept is introduced and reinforced, the earlier the kids will engage with charity," says Joline Godfrey, a financial educator and the author of Raising Financially Fit Kids. "It's a process, not an event."
Godfrey observes that just as a child learns to brush his teeth, he should learn to give, so that charity is as seen as an everyday part of life.
If you wait until it's too late, kids procrastinate, says Mary Ryan Karges, a director at Moonjar, which sells Moonjar moneyboxes, a bank with three slots-one each for saving, giving and spending.
Without an early grounding, kids assume, "I'll do that when I'm rich, when I'm older," Karges says.
Model gifting. Children learn from their favorite adults-their parents-so openly discuss donations with your kids. Talk about how you decided upon which nonprofit to give to, where you found about the organization, and how much you're giving. Demonstrate how you give at church, take kids to community fundraisers, and give money as a family.
And chat about why charity is meaningful to your family, from a religious or personal standpoint.
"We feel it's important to teach her altruism because we live in an affluent country and our family is not struggling financially," Harding says.
Harding wants Bryn to understand that "money does more than help us acquire things," she says. "Helping others with our resources is an important thing to do."
Get kids involved. Don't try to convince your toddler to donate to a think tank. Instead, pay attention to her developmental needs and follow her interests.
Preschoolers-like Harding's daughter Bryn-are enthusiastic about interests like wildlife, domestic animals, firefighters, and neighborhood parks. They may need more concrete examples of how their money makes a difference.
So if you give to a local animal shelter, zoo, or fire station, "it's not as abstract," Karges says. "They'll be able to go in there and see what the money's buying. "
Older children often become possessed with a sense of justice. They're sensitive to broader issues of global warming, poverty, hunger and illness. Teens may be interested in political or civil-rights issues.
One idea: Karges suggests collecting the fundraising letters you receive each month, dumping them on the kitchen table and sorting through them as a family. "Let them choose what they're interested in," she says. "Listen to them."
Encourage creative giving. Kids get excited about fundraising projects and making a difference. Show your children what kids are capable of by pointing out inspirational stories in the newspaper or on the local news. For example, 8-year-old Austin Zappia of Austin, TX, raised $1,200 for a Cambodian orphanage by selling lemonade.
Feed this enthusiasm by hosting a garage sale, brownie bake, or lemonade stand for a selected cause. Girl Scouts, churches, and school groups can also engage in mini-fundraising works for organizations that they select together. By making signs and sharing information about their selected cause, they'll also learn some basic marketing and speech skills that may help them in the job market one day.
Use the vocabulary of philanthropy. Every concept has a unique language, including charity. "Teach kids what philanthropy means," Godfrey says, and use words linked to giving. By doing so, you help children become "philanthropy fluent.'
Discuss the meaning of "donor," "due diligence," "grant," and "project," and other philanthropy-centric terms.
"As they get more 'fluent,' as they understand more, they can be expected to have increasingly greater understanding of more sophisticated concepts," Godfrey says.
For example, with older children, discuss different organizations' use of monies for administrative purposes. Compare charities at websites like Razoo, Charity Navigator and American Institute of Philanthropy.
Demonstrate flexibility. There's no set amount kids "should" give, experts agree. "Every family has their own pressures and capacity," Godfrey says. Whether children give 1% or 30%, it's the habit of intent that helps cement charity as a lifelong habit.
And just as an adult's income, spending, and savings may fluctuate from time to time, so may a child's. One month he might see a big birthday check from Grandma, while the next month, he's saving the pennies he found on the sidewalk. Whether your child donates one dollar a month or $100, the sentiment remains the same. As Godfrey says, "the point is to incorporate the ethic of giving into family life."
For more educational and inspiring content about charitable giving and America's best nonprofits, visit Razoo.com.