Young Philanthropists: How Teaching Philanthropy Shapes the Future of Giving

November 18 2016 • Avani Desai


“What this world needs is a new kind of army—the army of the kind.” –Cleveland Amory

When people think of “philanthropy,” they think of the rich setting up charities, large non-profit organizations such as UNICEF or Doctors Without Borders, and six-figure donations made by powerful families. These surely all fit beneath the umbrella of philanthropy—but so does that extra bowl of soup that an unfortunate family makes to share with the even more unfortunate family. So does the hours spent helping at the animal shelter, the retirement home, or the local community center. So does donating your textbooks or your clothes to a classmate, friend, or stranger who can’t afford them. So does that pocket change you handed over to the Salvation Army or the Red Cross instead of buying something for yourself. So, what does philanthropy mean—- it’s essentially about helping fellow human beings who need help, and it’s a practice that can never be initiated too early in life.

As an increasing number of adults and children begin to grasp the broadening concept of philanthropy, research is also accumulating on the subject of philanthropy’s benefits for the giver. Developmental psychologists explain how children who perform actions of kindness experience increased well-being, popularity, and acceptance among peers, ensuing in better behavior and achievement within academia and beyond.[1] Nancy Phillips, founder of DollarSmartKids Enterprises Inc., gets to see many of these effects firsthand; she explains that “by witnessing their ability to help others locally or globally, kids realize they have a power to make a positive difference.”[2]

“A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses.” –Chinese Proverb

By practicing philanthropy from an early age, children:

  • Cultivate awareness, empathy, and gratitude. Exposure to other peoples’ hardships and challenges not only builds on children’s empathy, awareness, and knowledge of the world, but it also stresses the importance of helping and ignites their appreciation for their own personal blessings.
  • Enjoy greater self-esteem and self-confidence. Once children realize that they have the power to positively affect the world, they’re much more likely to do so. Volunteering and giving are acts that infuse the brain with feel-good chemicals such as oxytocin anyway; partaking in a recipient’s joy and gratitude or a fellow volunteer’s camaraderie and positively are definitely added bonuses. Knowing that his or her actions and contributions are needed, recognized, and appreciated also allows a child to feel valuable.
  • Are more likely to become good citizens and fellow human beings. Taught philanthropy from a young age, children are far more likely to continue to give and volunteer throughout the course of their adulthood, adopting philanthropy as a lifestyle—a lifestyle that continues to let them reap the benefits of what they sow, bettering themselves as they continue to improve the world.

Remember that kids are givers by nature. We’re all born
with empathy and the potential to cultivate great compassion. Note how generous toddlers can be in their formative years, and encourage this; experts suggest teaching charitable acts to children between the ages of three and five. Older kids, too, have the majority of their lives ahead of them, so leading by example and doing generous acts as a family can leave a huge lasting impression while helping to mold a more philanthropic attitude and character.

“Nothing in life means anything unless someone cares, and the whole trick is to keep being that someone.” –Robert Brault

As a parent, teacher, or older role model, you don’t have to be elaborate. Sometimes the simplest gestures are the most profound. As you teach children about the benefit of saving up for themselves with a piggy bank, include a second piggy back for saving up to help others. It’s good to share anecdotes and stories about philanthropic individuals and groups, but it’s even more important to take on a hands-on approach. As a family, you can plan volunteer trips to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, emergency relief programs, animal shelters, and care centers for the elderly. When evaluating summer camps, after-school programs, or community groups, seek those that embrace values of volunteering and philanthropy to further enforce the practice and to surround your child with positive role models and like-minded people.

You’re investing in your child’s character, direction, and future—yet also in that of the world.

Avani Desai is a member of 100 Women Strong, a member of the board of directors of the Central Florida Foundation and a fund holder at the Foundation. To learn more about 100 Women Strong, click here.