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Donors: The next generation

Parents serve as trusted advisors to children in a myriad of ways throughout their lives. One of the most valuable roles parents can play is to help them understand the importance of philanthropy.

Next-generation knowledge of why and how to engage in philanthropy is needed more today than ever before. The nonprofit sector is expanding in size and complexity to meet increasingly diverse challenges. Philanthropic practices help a child develop compassion, altruism and good citizenship. They also nurture children’s psychological needs by benefitting both society and the philanthropic individual.

Leading by example and exposing children to a variety of opportunities is one of the most important ways to engage children, who acquire philanthropic values, in part, by observing and participating alongside family members, teachers and other adult mentors.

Milestones
In an interview with the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP), Dr Kathryn Agard, founding executive director of Learning To Give, suggests that parents and educators can identify developmental milestones in each child’s life at which they can move to a deeper understanding of and involvement in philanthropy.

She recommends specific activities and educational benchmarks for children at each stage that help to facilitate this development. The process can begin in children as young as toddlers. Using language such as ‘You are helping our family’ can help them understand why they should contribute to their family, school and community.

Agard said that primary school age children start to reach out to others, and parents should begin to tell family stories of philanthropy, including both giving and receiving. By junior high school, children are open to the realisation that philanthropy is a tradition that exists around the world and should be involved in a regular, planned volunteer experience.

In high school, leadership development and transferring knowledge about the sector are important. Youth should be encouraged to become active in personal giving and to explore careers in philanthropy.

The NCFP recommends that parents maintain a strong connection with the unique interests and talents of their children. At each step, parents can help young people to self-identify their own unique talents, how they want to spend their time, and the valuable material gifts that they want to give away.
Learning to Give also offers valuable tools for parents to encourage the teaching of philanthropy in their children’s schools and to use in their homes and communities.

A resource entitled ‘Nine Ways to Raise Children Who Give, Share & Care,’ encourages parents to take such steps as reading books to their children that contain messages of giving and service, involving their children’s friends in philanthropic activities, and encouraging their children’s schools to adopt the ‘academic service-learning’ teaching method.

As children grow into young adults and begin to develop their own views, the NCFP and other experts emphasise the need to help children discover their own philanthropic calling. According to NCFP, ‘Allowing a child to establish and pursue his or her own philanthropic agenda can be a valuable way of both reinforcing the importance of giving back to the community and allowing them to exercise their independence.’

Howard W. Buffett, son of philanthropist Howard G. Buffett, agrees. ‘It is absolutely important to pass philanthropic values down. But it is also important to keep in mind that the next generation needs an opportunity to explore their own ideas and their own kinds of interests within the realm of philanthropy, and  to be able to branch out from what their parents or aunts and uncles or grandparents are doing.’

Young adults of financial or other privilege face particular challenges in identifying and shaping their own philanthropic paths. Whether by guiding toddlers or advising wealthy, young professionals, everyone working in nonprofit organisations supported by philanthropy have a role and stake in the success of continuing the philanthropic tradition. Managers must encourage volunteers and donors to talk to their children about the rationale and scope of their philanthropic activity. You can encourage them to engage with their children in an organisation’s events and activities.

Programmes
You can work with local educators and school administrators to establish programmes that teach students about the philanthropic tradition and engage them in both giving and volunteering. By establishing the value of philanthropic giving and communicating this regularly to youth, parents and educators and nonprofit leaders provide a valuable foundation for a lifelong understanding of philanthropy and how one’s time, talent, and treasure contribute to a civil society.

Eugene R. Tempel is executive director and Dwight F. Burlingame is associate executive director and director of academic programme for the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

This article first appeared in Fundraising Forum: Issue 78, December 2007.

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