Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement


Civic Literacy and Caring through Philanthropy Education


Vision: All youth are educated and equipped for lifelong engagement in philanthropy as givers of time, talent, and treasure for the common good.


Mission: Learning to Give equips K-12 teachers to educate students as philanthropists with knowledge, skills, and action to make a better world.


Learning to Give lessons and concepts infuse real-world civic purpose into the content educators are already teaching.

  • Rather than adding to teaching load, the philanthropy concepts bring richer purpose to existing academic content.
  • Teacher-written lessons encourage student-centered approaches to teaching and learning.
  • Students learn concepts from giving compliments to defining the role of nonprofit organizations.
  • They develop their unique civic passions as they acquire knowledge of different issues and practice a variety of ways to take action.

Learning to Give lessons develop the whole child by connecting academics with responsible citizenship. Learning to Give has been shown to promote caring attitudes and compassion in the school and community as youth gain autonomy and purpose for their learning. All lessons are aligned with Common Core State Standards, individual state standards, and some international standards.


Free Professional Development at Your Desktop:

Learn how and why to teach philanthropy education and use the strategy of service-learning. Visit our Fisher Online Institute with ten self-paced modules that take 10-45 minutes each. Learn more about philanthropy through Briefing Papers on Concepts, People, and Organizations that give background information for educators and students.


Learning to Give:

  • EDUCATES youth about philanthropy, the civil society sector, and the importance of giving their time, talent and treasure for the common good (knowledge),
  • DEVELOPS philanthropic behavior and experience (skills), and,
  • EMPOWERS youth to take voluntary citizen action for the common good in their classrooms, their lives and their communities (behavior).


What Is Philanthropy Education?

Philanthropy education teaches knowledge, skills, and action of philanthropy in order to perpetuate our civil society that depends on people giving time, talent, and treasure for the common good. Read more.

The Learning to Give website offers over 1,600 K-12 standards-aligned lessons and educational resources free of charge for educators, parents, and community leaders aligned with philanthropy standards.


Why Teach Philanthropy?

How do we engage children in civic life? How do we harness youthful idealism and combat growing cynicism? How do we teach giving and caring about others? What is missing from our courses in government, history, economics, sociology, psychology, and philosophy that results in young adults without understanding or passion for the noble ideas of their society?

There couldn't be a better time for teaching students about philanthropy. We must intentionally teach positive examples of revolutionary change from our history and the learned traits of servant leadership, civic action, and constructive dialogue. Learning activities in the 21st Century must prepare students for a world of innovation and creativity. Classroom discussions that center around real-world issues teach students to ask questions, sift through facts, propose solutions, and take action to make the world a better place.

Through philanthropy education, students learn that not only are they capable of making a difference, they have a responsibility to stay aware of current issues and participate in civic life to build the common good. This is what it means to be part of a community.


Philanthropy education aligns knowledge and skills with students' innate caring and generosity. The student-centered experiential approach deepens motivation through purpose, mastery and autonomy:


  1. Students become aware of needs larger than their own and take action to address them (purpose);
  2. Students are engaged in activities that apply and expand their learning (mastery); and
  3. Students take a role in directing their own learning experience (autonomy).


The following chart exemplifies what this motivation looks like for students.

What I Care About

Building Mastery of Knowledge and Skills

How I Like to Spend My Time

Creating links to acting for the common good

Creating links to learning

Creating links to time




  • Literacy
  • Environment
  • Homelessness
  • World Peace
  • Animal Advocacy
  • Equal Rights and Justice
  • Reading and Writing
  • Presenting information
  • Solving problems
  • Exploring history/literature
  • Conducting research
  • Interviewing
  • Gathering, evaluating, and presenting data
  • Expressing self creatively
  • With friends
  • On hobbies and talents
  • With younger or older people
  • On social media
  • Collaborating
  • Being on my own
  • Leading or following


Teaching About the Civil Society Sector in Schools

In this country, history is taught without serious attention to the role of volunteers in building the first black colleges or the role of private donors in funding the Salk vaccine for polio. Psychology and sociology, frequently focused on behaviors outside the healthy and normal, often do not explore the motivations and the relationships involved in setting aside self-interest for the benefit of the community. We need to teach the vital role of the civil society sector in order to sustain it.

When economics is taught, the curriculum should discuss the 13% of the economy represented in the activities of the civil society sector as it does the value of government and manufacturing. The teacher may address the 20 billion volunteer hours each year, which add value to the economy and promotes our common community interests. The role of the nonprofit corporation as an integral part of the civic fabric, a citizen, should be discussed.

Education in civics must identify the civil society sector as the source of new ideas that lead to social policy changes, and the civil society sector as the place that develops the skills that are needed for public discourse and democratic compromise. We need to discuss the relationships between social activism, a healthy democracy, and active engagement of citizens in government.

School-to-work programs must introduce the opportunities for employment in the civil society sector found by 12.5 million Americans, nearly one in 9.5 workers in the United States.

We have relied in the past on churches, families, friends and neighborhoods to teach children the value and significance of service and giving. We have assumed that our children know their heritage as citizens who do not need to be "empowered" by an outside agency, but who are born empowered as their inherent right of citizenship. It is sadly ironic that today, as emerging foreign democracies seek our assistance in establishing philanthropic traditions of their own, the traditional forces for teaching this ethic to children in the United States are eroding.

The very skills and community cohesion necessary to offset forces of social disintegration, especially in an increasingly diverse culture, are skills and experiences found in the civil society sector. Yet an understanding of this sector remains a mystery to many American children.

Developing Lessons and Materials about Philanthropy

The Council of Michigan Foundations and a Steering Committee of thirteen collaborating leaders in education, volunteerism, and nonprofit leadership have successfully completed a unique effort to write, field test, implement and disseminate high quality K-12 curriculum lessons, units and materials on philanthropy. Nurtured and piloted in Michigan, Learning to Give seeks to infuse this academic content into the core curriculum of national and international schools.

Learning to Give's lessons, units, and materials perpetuate a civil society through the education of children about the civil society sector, and to achieve their commitment to private citizen action for the common good. The lessons, units, and materials that are a part of the curriculum contain both academic content about philanthropy, and skill development activities which involve students in giving and serving their communities.

Comments from educators about philanthropy education and Learning to Give:

“We also see that this philanthropy philosophy helps us talk to students about behavior, respect, caring, and ‘doing the right thing’ across the school day and school year. It is a hook, a language we can use to ‘hang our hat on.’”

~ Principal

"For a child to feel a sense of worth, he or she must feel that he belongs and that his existence is meaningful. And just as family provides the framework from which thatsense of worth develops, the child's formal education should include an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of individuals to the greater whole of society."

~ Elementary School Teacher

"What greater purpose does a middle school have than to help a child in transition find himself or herself. We have a responsibility to provide opportunities that allow students to feel needed in the larger community so they don't develop a sense of self in a vacuum."

~ Middle School Teacher

"We're living in a society where money has more power than God; where human life is worth less than someone's jacket. We must teach our children about tolerance, unselfishness, and about giving. We need to teach them that sometimes we need to compromise or give up something that would be good for us as an individual so that what we're choosing instead is good for all."

~ High School Teacher

For further information, please contact Betsy Peterson, Director.