How To Raise a Philanthropist

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If asked, most people could readily name several influential philanthropists. From Bill and Melinda Gates to Bono and Mark Zuckerberg, some people are well-known for their generosity. However, ask the same people how parents can raise children to emulate this type of generosity, and the response might be slower, if at all.

The fact is that while many would like their children to help make the world a better place, they may not know exactly how to inspire philanthropy in children

Why is this important?
By fostering the idea of giving from a young age, children can learn the values and joy in helping, sharing and giving to those who are less fortunate than them.

Instilling core philanthropic ideals in our children’s lives can also help them develop a sense of purpose and self. The key is to educate and give them something to emulate.

Giving comes in multiple forms
When hearing about philanthropy, most people automatically think of financial giving, but that’s just the beginning.  There are many ways to be a philanthropist—giving personal time or volunteering, engaging in advocacy, or donating material goods are other ways philanthropists can make a positive impact.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Volunteering in the United States 2015 survey, 26.6 percent of teenagers (ages 16-19) spent time volunteering. Philanthropy is so popular among Generation Z, this generation has even earned the nickname “philanthroteens.”

Little actions can have big results
It is also important to help children realize that it’s not always the size of the gift that matters. According to the Giving USA: 2019 report, giving by individuals totaled an estimated $292.09 billion in 2018, proving that $20, $10 or even $1 contributions can make a huge impact. Teaching children how their contributions, regardless of size, can make a difference to someone is extremely important in establishing giving values.

The more we do it, the easier it comes
As with anything, frequency helps establish habits. Being mindful of tying in philanthropic lessons in everyday life will help children understand there are more than enough opportunities to help—it’s just a matter of recognizing them. A few suggestions:

  • Share family values and any time devoted to a charitable organization. By making this part of normal conversation, it becomes natural for children to talk openly about giving habits.
  • Consider establishing a fund in your child’s name at a local community foundation.
  • Use allowances as a tool for teaching both money management and charitable giving.
  • Promote everyday acts of kindness, particularly for those less fortunate.
  • Ask children what areas of concern are important to them and actively support.

Age is just a number, but giving is forever
Philanthropy is possible at all ages—it just takes a little creativity. Here are some ideas for toddlers to high schoolers.

How to Inspire Philanthropy in Children Ages 3 to 11

  • Make a “charity” jar for a portion of their allowance. Let the child decide when and where to donate. Consider matching your child’s donation.
  • Visit a charity or event, asking the child for input in selection and planning.
  • Throw a charitable birthday party, where instead of gifts, guests bring an item to support the child’s charity of choice.

How to Inspire Philanthropy in Children Ages 12-14

  • Give your child a charitable budget and ask them to conduct research and make decisions about distributions.
  • Encourage children to research and select their own volunteer opportunities.
  • Identify neighbors who may need help and look for opportunities to assist. Picking up sticks after a storm, writing letters, making and delivering a snack or simply spending time with someone are personal activities that can make a lasting impression.

How to Inspire Philanthropy in Children in High School 

  • Research and plan a volunteer day with friends or make a long-term volunteer commitment.
  • Find out what is needed by an organization, then collect clothes, canned goods, paper products and personal items.
  • Use social media and public advocacy through school, church or social groups to help and highlight good work being done by organizations.
  • Explore alternative spring-break trips to spend time volunteering.

Raising a philanthropist takes time and is a conscious commitment. Giving children the examples and tools they need to create and live philanthropic values can empower them in creating an empathetic society that continues to make the world a better place.

—Alicia Beck is vice president, director of philanthropy at UMB Bank. She can be reached at

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