Giving Begins at Home: Key Steps to Promote a Culture of Philanthropy in Your Family

By Julie Harkins, Executive Managing Director, First Republic Bank
May 15, 2019

"It’s better to give than to receive."

That well-worn saying effectively summarizes the financial and emotional rewards of philanthropy, particularly when an entire family is actively involved in the process. There’s no mystery on how to instill philanthropic values in a family, and with a little guidance you can better ensure your children will uphold your family values and make philanthropy part of their lives for years to come.

Start young

One of the first steps to promoting a philanthropic culture in a family is to start young. Children who are accustomed to the practice of giving from a young age naturally grow into adults who recognize the importance of philanthropy in a variety of ways, financially and otherwise. To get them started, strategies can include donating their unused toys to a children’s shelter or giving them money they can then donate to a favorite cause or charity. As children get older, giving levels can be increased accordingly.

It’s also valuable to help children understand that giving need not be limited to monetary donations. For instance, activities such as walkathons or working at a food bank are not only valuable from a financial standpoint but also emphasize the value and satisfaction that come from personal effort, and can help them feel the power of doing good.

An added benefit comes when children feel an emotional tie to a cause or group. For example, youth who are fond of animals can be encouraged to get involved with the SPCA; sports enthusiasts may enjoy activities associated with a boys’ or girls’ club. The more the topic resonates, the greater the level of energy and commitment.

A philanthropic mission statement can be an ideal solution for a family looking to think through and establish an overall giving strategy.

Finding the right cause

Philanthropy starts by choosing the issue you’d like to address. Regardless of age, finding a suitable cause will ensure investment, both financially and emotionally. One simple way to select an appropriate cause is to watch family members’ reactions to news and other events. For instance, your young daughter may become upset when she sees a news program about homeless women and children. Ask her how she feels about that and see if she might be interested in doing something about the problem.

Next, choose how to become involved. A simple donation might suffice. On the other hand, more hands-on involvement may be appropriate, particularly for older children and teenagers who may be looking for something more than just giving money. Options can range from helping to serve meals at a soup kitchen to delivering mattresses to a homeless shelter.

An understandable challenge for many families is working out differences of opinion as to which causes and charities are worthy of support. Some family members may be particularly attached to one organization or group that others may not be interested in at all (or even dislike outright). In those situations, it can be helpful to allot both money and activities. For instance, a portion of donations for a certain cause can be decided upon by the family as a whole, while other, smaller contributions to other groups, can be chosen by each individual.

Put it in writing

A philanthropic mission statement can be an ideal solution for a family looking to think through and establish an overall giving strategy. In this document, which can be drawn up by family members alone or with outside assistance, families can effectively lay out the ground rules for giving. That can range from very broad topics such as the environment or health care to more focused goals, such as helping people in a particular foreign country gain greater access to drinking water and other necessities. This mission statement can also be of value to young children who can grow up with a formal statement of philanthropic philosophy in place.

Whatever the particular objective or the means with which to achieve it, it’s valuable for family members to remember that the goal of philanthropy is doing what is necessary to benefit someone in need.  And, in doing so, embracing the emotional satisfaction of giving when someone or something could dearly use the help.

This article was updated in 2019. The strategies mentioned in this article may have tax and legal consequences; therefore, you should consult your own attorneys and/or tax advisors to understand the consequences of any strategies mentioned in this document. This information is governed by our Terms and Conditions of Use