Charity Really Does Begin at Home: Nurturing Family Values

Family celebrations and holidays are prime opportunities to create philanthropic traditions (and develop philanthropic values). To honor a child’s birthday you might plant a tree. For Mother’s Day, help your children do a good deed for someone else’s mother whose children can’t be with her. Family reunions, Grandparent’s Day or religious holidays can all be occasions to celebrate the spirit of giving.

Beginning the Discussion about Charitable Giving

The earliest lessons about giving have to be simple. For instance, if you buy a turkey for a needy family at Thanksgiving, explain to your children that people who don’t have enough money to buy things sometimes need our help. Explain the origin of the holiday too – that in 1621, Native Americans and Plymouth colonists gave thanks for a good harvest by joining together in an outdoor feast to which everyone contributed food.

Or the next time you’re looking for a conversation-starter on a car trip, ask your kids, “If you had a million dollars to give away to deserving causes or people, whom would you give it to?” Be sure to ask “Why?” After the kids have had turns, share some of your own thoughts about how you’d disburse such a sum.

Incorporating Cultural Traditions

Your family may already have established giving  rituals based on your culture and those of others. Use those traditions to reinforce your message of giving (and values). At some Chinese-American weddings, for example, the family of the groom presents a donation to a representative of a nonprofit community organization such as a hospital, school or senior center. Sometimes the parents of the bride match it. Jewish children often donate to charity a percentage of the money they receive on the occasion of their bar or bat mitzvahs. And African-American families who celebrate Kwanzaa sometimes recite a pledge written by author Maya Angelou: “We pledge to bind ourselves to one another, to embrace our lowliest, to educate our illiterate, to feed our starving, to clothe our ragged, to do all good things, knowing that we are more than the keeper of our brothers and sisters. We are our brothers and sisters.”

Personal Values about Money and Giving

Before parents can convey their values about money and philanthropy to their children, they need to examine just what their own values are. Knowing how you feel about using money and about contributing some of it to causes you feel passionate about will help you guide your children.

Explore one or more of the following questions that you find interesting:

  • What experiences and people have been key in shaping your core values and passions?
  • What do you notice about your values when you consider your choices, such as life directions, career, free time, lifestyle, donations and spending?
  • When you hear of world events or witness an injustice, what moves you most? With what have you been most troubled? Most delighted?

After you’ve answered these questions, compare your values with how you actually use money in your daily life. Does your lifestyle reflect those values? Are the organizations you support the ones with missions reflecting your passions? Are changes in order? When you’ve reflected on this, use this information to help you articulate your values to your children.