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

Learning to Give Curriculum Overview

Learning to Give is a set of standards-based, teacher-tested units designed to transmit knowledge about philanthropy and how it works, develop skills in giving and serving, and encourage young people to embrace ownership of their democratic society.

Grounded in academics and linked to real-life situations, the Project’s lessons were created by “in-the-classroom” teachers. Tied to existing educational standards and benchmarks, the Project lessons are field tested in at least three classrooms other than that of the teacher(s) who created the unit. A diverse Fairness Review Committee examines the lessons to ensure sensitivity to ethnic, race, gender and cultural differences.

Learning to Give creatively ties its four philanthropy themes (Definitions of Philanthropy, Philanthropy and Civil Society, Philanthropy and the Individual, and Volunteering and Service) to standards-based academic content.

The program is funded by a number of individual donors and charitable foundations, and led by a Steering Committee made up of nonprofit leaders, foundation executives, and educators from around the country. Representatives from key philanthropic organizations guide its work.

Learning to Give, working in conjunction with practicing classroom teachers, has identified what a child should know about the nonprofit, philanthropic sector at grades 5, 8, and 11. These ideas are woven into the history and activities of our culture, but often are not “named” or identified for children.

The following abbreviated learning expectations by grade level are a guide as you think about what you want your children to know and understand. Because the formal Project curriculum is linked closely to the school curriculum, you will also learn what your child is studying in the classroom and how it ties to ideas about philanthropy.

The philanthropy curriculum is separated into three groups at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. The four Philanthropy Themes and their underlying concepts are then woven into a pool of hundreds of lessons available free to any parent or educator on the Learning to Give Web site.

Grades K-2
Grades 3-5
Grades 6-8
Grades 9-12

The following four areas define what children will learn about giving and serving through the Learning to Give lessons. These ideas provide the underlying curriculum framework and also give parents excellent ideas and topics for thoughtful discussions with their children.

Theme I: Definitions of Philanthropy

The graduating American high school student should be able to define philanthropy and compare and contrast the independent or nonprofit sector to business, government and family.

This theme provides young people with definitions, concepts and a mental map of how this nonprofit, independent sector works in society. Your family work in philanthropy, your service as volunteers and board leaders, and the daily newspaper all provide opportunities to discuss the characteristics of philanthropy and its relationship with other sectors of society.

You could visit a church-sponsored soup kitchen, a local restaurant, your local food stamp program, have a family meal, and then discuss with your children how and why these different settings feed people—and how they interact with one another. Your family could volunteer to work in a soup kitchen as an experience in charity, and then establish an urban gardening cooperative program in a poor neighborhood as an experience in philanthropy.

Theme II: Philanthropy and Civil Society

As children develop some working definitions of philanthropy, they will begin to see how the sector relates to the larger community. This theme explores the relationships between the philanthropic sector and the major concepts that are normally taught in the social studies: economics, government, geography, and history. The first major concept is the underlying principle of “common good.” Children should know about the tension between individual rights and community responsibility.

As you walk or drive with your children, there are many opportunities to discuss this idea relative to the use of common resources such as air and water, common space such as parks and nature centers, or common services such as ambulances and libraries.

Help your children look for and appreciate the many different ways philanthropy is expressed in various cultures. Initiate conversations with people from other cultures during your travels, read books that describe various cultural traditions, and seek opportunities to expose your children to people with different life experiences to help your children see philanthropy in its diversity.

As you are discussing schoolwork with your children, you might become aware of opportunities to deepen their understanding of their homework by discussing it from a philanthropic perspective. Economics, geography, government (civics), and history are filled with examples of philanthropic ideas that are not directly addressed in classroom teaching.

Theme III: Philanthropy and the Individual

This theme looks at the internal motivations and values underlying philanthropic behavior, and the possible career opportunities for children wishing to make giving and serving a part of their life’s work.

Read autobiographies of philanthropic role models (Mother Teresa, Madam C. J. Walker, Benjamin Franklin) as a way to begin to discuss why people are altruistic. The daily newspaper with articles about appointments to local nonprofit boards, or acts of giving by local people can help children make this concept concrete.

Volunteering offers children opportunities to meet professionals who work in the nonprofit sector. If your children are interested in careers in the sector, they might consider attending a college or university with an academic program in philanthropy; or take time between high school and college, or between college and graduate school/career to try out philanthropic work. Americorps, the Peace Corps, Teach for America, and other young adult volunteer opportunities can help shape philanthropic values forever.

Outside of the public school setting, this theme can be deeply explored as a part of your children’s religious education. Virtually all religions have a commitment to philanthropic values. If religion is a part of your family’s beliefs, religious education will help support this theme.

Theme IV: Volunteering and Service

Finally, your children should have a variety of experiences in volunteering and serving. These experiences will provide the “application” of the principles you are teaching, and will build your children's sense of personal worth. If a particular volunteer situation is not fun or rewarding, keep searching for the right fit.

Young children can help a neighbor, someone in their family, or even outdoor animals. Young children relate especially well to small animals and younger children. Your child might be responsible for feeding the birds or filling the birdbath, taking the mail in to a neighbor, or singing to a baby. You should be giving them the language that they are “caring” and “sharing.”

By middle school and high school, young people can assume considerable responsibility and should be exposed to situations of trust and authority. Many traditional youth organizations (such as Boy Scouts , Girl Scouts , Camp Fire Girls , and 4-H ) do a fine job in developing service skills as a part of their age appropriate programs.

Philanthropy Theme Ideas: Family Examples

The complete Learning to Give themes cover over 432 specific concepts that children should know by the time they reach fifth, eighth and eleventh grade. A sample of these ideas specifically organized for families (Role of Family in Philanthropy under the Definitions of Philanthropy and Reasons for Individual Philanthropy under Philanthropy and the Individual ) is listed below. This brief sample shows how the concepts build from elementary to middle to high school, and will be helpful when you talk with your school administrators about philanthropy education.


The philanthropy concepts have been reviewed for age appropriateness by over 100 classroom teachers from public and private school settings across a variety of socio-economic and geographic regions. A complete listing of concepts that children should know can be found by visiting the Philanthropy Curriculum page.