Teach Giving With Three Empty Jars

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A simple lesson can start a child on a lifetime of philanthropy.

Philanthropy is an instinctive impulse. Watch a roomful of toddlers, and you’ll see how even very young children naturally are concerned about other children who are upset. Part of this is human nature, and part of it is nurture. The early lessons we teach our children about caring for others, including through our gifts of time and money, are lessons they carry with them always.

One of the simplest ways I know to invest in your child’s philanthropic spirit is by using three empty jars.

Starting as early as preschool for some children, but definitely by elementary school, begin the practice of preserving a little money to share with others in need. For example, pay a weekly $1.00 allowance with three quarters, two dimes and one nickel. Place three clean jars in your child’s room labeled “save,” “spend” and “give.” Encourage your child to place two quarters in the “save” jar each week, one quarter in the “spend” jar and the two dimes (or 10% of earnings) in the “give” jar. Then allow your child to decide where the final nickel should go.

Discuss what each jar means and what the money in it might be used for, then set goals. If your child craves a new electronic gadget, explain how many quarters will be required to purchase it and suggest that your child add quarters to the “save” jar for that purpose. You might even tape a picture of the gadget to the outside of the jar as a reminder and incentive. The “spend” jar could be set aside for smaller purchases, such as books, small toys, treats or even inexpensive apps.

For the “donate” jar, discuss a few basic needs in simple terms, then allow your child to choose a cause that feels important. A child who loves animals, for example, may want to help animals find homes. One who loves art may wish to help other children learn art. And most children will understand that sometimes other children don’t have enough to eat or a place to live and will want to help. When your child feels a connection to the cause he or she has selected, watch how often that extra nickel goes into the “donate” jar!

At the early elementary ages, it’s not necessary to have your child evaluate different organizations that address the needs he or she cares about. “Helping puppies find homes” is plenty, and you can find a suitable organization to accept your child’s donation. But by middle school, you can begin to talk about what different organizations do to address their issue of choice (which by now will probably have evolved from the early elementary years). Take your child on “site visits” to two or three organizations or, better yet, volunteer together to learn firsthand about the needs the organizations address and how they go about their work. If international needs are top of mind, then research organizations together online. Discuss the pros and cons of making a larger gift to one organization or smaller gifts to multiple ones. Then allow your child to make the final decision about which organization(s) to support.

Around the time your child enters high school, begin to include him in family discussions about giving and provide the opportunity to leverage his donations by piggybacking on yours or to pitch his own ideas for your consideration. If you happen to have a family foundation, this is also a perfect time to introduce your child to the idea of serving on the foundation board one day. Depending on the number of children and their cousins, you might even consider creating a youth board as a training ground for eventual board service.

This article was originally written for and published by Forbes.

© 2018 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

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Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, has helped to transform the impact of top global philanthropies for almost 20 years. A member of the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame and named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers. Author of the award-winning book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, which was named one of “The 10 Best Corporate Social Responsibility Books.” For more ways to improve your giving, visit Putnam Consulting Group.

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Our evaluation work with Putnam was essential to supporting one of the most significant grantmaking endeavors our foundation has ever had. Kris helped our board see the importance of looking beyond the grant award itself, and we are looking forward to doing more evaluations like this as our organization matures.”

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