Now's the season to train kids in the ways of charitable giving

PERSONAL FINANCE

Getting kids into the habit of giving

December 04, 2007|By EILEEN AMBROSE

The message of giving is all around us now. That makes the holiday season a good time to develop philanthropic habits in children.

Children are empathetic by nature, but charitable impulses need nurturing in a climate where kids are bombarded with messages to look out for No. 1, philanthropy experts say.

"There's so much media blasting them all the time about the things they need to get themselves," says Susan Crites Price, author of The Giving Family: Raising Our Children to Help Others. "We really need to counter those images and show how they can give back to others."

You can start lessons on sharing and giving to others before children reach kindergarten. The earlier you start, the more likely giving will become a lifelong practice. But as well meaning as your intentions are, don't force the issue on kids. You don't want them to grow up thinking that donating and volunteering are punishments to be avoided.

Here are some tips:

Get very young children involved with giving through small acts, such as throwing money into a collection plate at a house of worship, dropping loose change in a bell ringer's kettle or taking them with you when you volunteer.

As children get older, encourage them to volunteer or give their own money. Price says some parents pay children who volunteer with the understanding that the money would be used for charitable purposes. Or, encourage giving by matching your child's contributions, say, dollar for dollar.

Be reasonable if you're setting guidelines on how much your child should donate, says Carol Weisman, author of Raising Charitable Children. She hears kids gripe that they must donate a higher percentage of their allowances or birthday money to charity than what their parents give. Demand too much and kids will begrudge giving.

Let children decide where they donate their money. Help narrow their choices by discussing what is important to them.

"Find out what their passions are," Price says. "Those will change over time."

Once you know the causes your child cares about, search online together at GuideStar.org for charities involved in those missions. You can read about the charities and how they spend their money on GuideStar.

If your child does not have money or does not want to part with a penny, encourage volunteering. Look for activities that will interest him or her.

Don't require a child to make a large time commitment, like working in a soup kitchen every weekend for three years. Let children try volunteering at different places to find out what interests them, Price says.

Children can volunteer close to home. For example, they might help elderly neighbors with yardwork.

Or, encourage volunteering when it's your birthday by asking your child to do something nice for someone else as a gift to you, Weisman says.

She recalls a breast cancer survivor asking her three sons to walk with her in the Susan G. Komen race for the cure. The boys initially balked. Now they do the walk every year and have enlisted friends to do so.

Involve children when you are deciding where the family donates each year.

Susan Goering, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, says that for the first time a year ago she invited her son, now 12, to help pick charities. The pair perused the stack of solicitations that had come in the mail. They divided the donations among three types of causes: civil rights, the environment and helping the poor.

"He got a good feeling about it," Goering says.

Since then, Goering opened a donor-advised fund with the Baltimore Community Foundation. With a donor-advised fund, you make a contribution to the fund and get a tax deduction upfront. Later, you can advise which charities you would like to receive donations from the fund. Goering hopes her son some day will take over the role of advising on donations.

Recognize a child's charitable acts. "Praise them to reinforce the behavior," Price says.

And don't forget to be a role model. Your children won't think giving is important if they don't see you donating.

A new scholarship

The Central Scholarship Bureau yesterday announced a new competitive scholarship financed by a $400,000 grant from the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds. The Meyerhoff Maryland Scholars Program will award 14 scholarships worth up to $28,000 to Maryland residents who will be sophomores at a Maryland public college in 2008-09.

Family-adjusted gross income must be less than $150,000. Recipients will receive awards of up to $7,000 for sophomore, junior and senior years, plus an additional $7,000 to pay off college debt if they maintain a grade point average of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. For more information, go to www.centralsb.org.

Questions? Comments? Want to share your own financial tips with readers? Contact Eileen Ambrose at 410-332-6984 or by e-mail at eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com.

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