You can certainly make an impact in the world by donating money and time to nonprofits and investing in companies that share your values. But, if you want to exponentially multiply your impact, you have to get your whole family involved in giving. In a recent study on giving in retirement, Merrill Lynch asked thought leaders on giving from around the country to identify the best practices for teaching generosity to the next generation.
“The most popular response was ‘being a role model,’” says Richard Wald, a managing director at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “That answer was given almost twice as much as the next most popular answer, which was ‘creating a family tradition for giving.’”
If philanthropy is important to you, don’t assume that your kids will automatically inherit that value. It’s common for successful people to talk to their kids about their investing strategies or how they built their wealth, and entrepreneurs often bring their adult children into the family business to ensure their legacy continues. Treat philanthropy like any other value you want to pass on — be purposeful about sharing your beliefs and the lessons you have learned about giving. Talk to your children and grandchildren about the organizations you support, tell them your giving strategy, and invite them to attend meetings and events.
While it’s never too early to begin discussing philanthropy with kids, Wald says they are likely to be most receptive in middle school and high school. That’s also a great time to start some family traditions around giving. Robyn Silverman, a frequent speaker and author of several parenting books, says her family has a tradition of working together to create “breakfast-to-go” bags for their local food pantry.
“We sit at the kitchen table and each of us puts in a big Ziploc bag the following: granola bar, juice, shelf-stable milk and fruit cup,” Silverman says. “We talk about those who are in need and how we can help.”
The thought leaders in the Merrill Lynch study also reported that involving children in family giving decisions is an effective way to teach generosity. Discuss as a family which organizations you want to support, and have older kids earmark a portion of their allowances for philanthropy. When his daughters were young, Wald asked them each to find one nonprofit they wanted to support. He says they each found causes that spoke to them.
“They did all the research, and then we discussed how we were going to fund it,” Wald says. “Part was from our family giving fund and part was out of their allowance, which teaches kids that others are not as blessed as you are and you should share what you have.”
As you begin to involve your children in family giving discussions and decisions, use these other strategies recommended by the thought leaders from the Merrill Lynch study:
- Create a list of family giving goals so that values can be discussed and shared among family members.
- Create a shared family giving fund so that family members can better understand how to budget responsibly for their giving priorities.
Of course, giving your time can sometimes be just as impactful as donating your money — not only for the people you’re helping, but also for your own family. In fact, 71 percent of retirees surveyed in the Merrill Lynch study said that volunteering together deepens family relationships. Be proactive about finding opportunities to volunteer with your children and grandchildren.
Silverman says a particularly meaningful way for even young children to give to others is by sharing their talents. If your little one plays an instrument, sings, or is great at reading, art or even building with Legos, he or she may be able to brighten someone else’s day.
“For example, a child can read to someone who is blind, sing for someone who is sick in the hospital or garden for an elderly neighbor,” she says.
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