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

Reprinted By Permission
Boulder Daily Camera
Making Money Matter
Teaching Children to Give
by Enid Ablowitz

In theory, if giving is part of a family’s core values, then children learn about giving by observing their parents’ giving behaviors. Unfortunately, in many families, the giving process is not transparent to the children. What a missed opportunity!

Year-end check writing or stock transfers, while important to the recipient organizations, rarely involves the next generation in the process. Whether children are involved in determining to whom the gifts will be given, or whether they learn something about our tax system and charitable deductions, learning about the process of giving can start early. However, these lessons are only process based. Teaching children to give can be so much more effective if there is a focus on impact and personal involvement.

Making a difference almost always involves "time, talent and treasure." Helping children understand volunteerism, thoughtful engagement, and the real need for money to be applied to problem solving builds deep awareness of the role of each individual in building community. But parents aren’t the only ones who can teach their children about giving. In fact, some schools have embraced formal curricular enhancements such as service-learning and experiential learning as applied to philanthropy using real-world situations either within the school or as part of a community outreach program.

One such program is called Learning to Give (www.learningtogive.org), a K-12 project of the Council of Michigan Foundations. Formal lesson plans, activities and resources have been developed for teachers, parents, youth workers and others (paraphrasing their mission statement) to educate youth about philanthropy, the nonprofit sector, and volunteerism. They provide tools to develop philanthropic behaviors and skills in students, in the classrooms, their lives and their communities.

In many classrooms or youth groups, there are special efforts to raise money for school or community based projects, but many of these efforts do not put the activities into the context of philanthropy. Too often we see kids selling products to meet a budget shortfall, or for a special event that benefits their own group. Suppose the model could be changed so that these early experiences build awareness, motivation and competence in understanding the power of philanthropy to change lives and to make important things happen. Imagine if adult leaders used these activities as "teachable moments" that include the history, psychology, impact and personal responsibility of philanthropy as part of the American tradition. Turning ad hoc experiences into meaningful patterning that brings great personal satisfaction is part of the opportunity embedded in the concept that "kids can make a difference."

There are many content-based knowledge and skill sets that can be engaged in these lessons in philanthropy, from collecting and analyzing information from multiple sources using research techniques (internet, interview, etc.) to brainstorming and creating an action plan, to communicating in both narrative and persuasive form. Creative teachers can incorporate a ‘learning to give’ component in social studies, in math, in public speaking, and a myriad of other academic arenas.

Getting back to parents, there are many strategies parents can use to introduce children to the world of philanthropy. Join together as a family when you volunteer, or raise money for a cause you care about through a walk or a race, or work together to sort unneeded clothes or toys to give to ‘charity.’ Talk about the canned goods you drop in the collection receptacle, or what you give to the collection plate or tzedakah box, or the colored plastic "cause" bracelets you wear. Lead a discussion about personal responsibility in the context of natural disasters, or homelessness, or the disappearance of species.

Children learn what they are taught. They mimic what they see. Transfer your values to the next generation. Actively engage them in thinking about what it means to be concerned about the common good. Teach them that there are many ways to be philanthropic, but that it is important for each of us to find the way that suits us best. Some will give time, some will give talent, some will give treasure. Each will learn to give based on their personal experiences; those with more experience are likely to better understand the joy of giving, be wise and effective givers, and inspire others to give.

Enid Ablowitz is the Vice President for Advancement at the University of Colorado Foundation, Inc., and Director of Advancement for the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities. She has been working as a donor advocate for more than a dozen years. Her book, Making Money Matter: Eight Steps to Thoughtful Giving was recently published. For information on how to obtain a copy, contact her at enidablowitz@hotmail.com.

March 30, 2005