With so many people needing so much help right now, you have a unique opportunity to teach younger family members the value of giving back. Seeing your values in action can teach children generosity in their personal and financial goals as they approach adulthood.
Here are three ways to make giving an activity that will bring your family closer together while making a real impact on the world.
1. Volunteer together.
Resources are getting stretched thin at charitable groups around the country right now. But perhaps the most in-demand resource is volunteers. Social distancing recommendations have made it very difficult for some organizations to open their doors. Many would-be volunteers are reluctant to step outside their household bubbles.
However, moving some critical operations online has created new kinds of virtual volunteering opportunities as well. If your family is still spending most its time at home, you could all take a turn at the computer donating your unique talents. Mom and dad could volunteer as reading tutors or help with basic remote administrative tasks. Your daughter's photo editing skills could come in handy with a graphic design project. Your son might have an innovative idea for spreading the word about an important campaign on social media.
Whether in-person or online, volunteering together can be a powerful family bonding experience. It can also help reinforce giving back as a family value that children will want to carry on.
2. Design a family donation strategy.
For children who are still getting an allowance, you can separate the dollars into three jars: Save, Spend Give. Allow your kids to have a voice in what causes they donate to. You could also use this discussion as an opportunity to share some family history. Explain to your children what your own parents and grandparents taught you about giving. Tell stories that inspired you and your spouse to start giving and explain why you've chosen particular causes or organizations. Ask your children or grandchildren what causes are important to them and discuss including those causes in your charitable budget.
As children get older, you can include them in the research behind charitable giving. Charity Navigator is a great tool for comparing charities, and helps you to understand the level of impact every dollar makes. It can be shocking to see how much of a donation is actually used for good. Children who are old enough for social media are bombarded with crowdfunding campaigns and well-produced pleas for help. If they have their own bank or credit accounts, it's all too easy for them to click SEND. Remind your kids that larger, established organizations have pipelines and oversight that ensure their money reaches people who truly need it.
My husband and I have a monthly "spending" spreadsheet (I know, I know, we're nerds). In it, we list everything we spend on "fun stuff" and on charity. This spreadsheet does two things for me:
- It makes sure that my dollars match up with my priorities. In most months, I try to spend about the same amount on charities as on fun - a 50/50 split. During times of crisis (which we've had a lot of in 2020!), my charity spending tends to take over the budget. And during the holiday season, it helps me to rein in my gifting budget to see when I'm spending way too much on presents.
- It helps me practice gratitude. Every week, I go back and list out all of my fun purchases and all of my donations (although most of those are on automatic pilot). I get to remember all of the great stuff that happened that week and evaluate it against the dollar cost - hey, that family walk to Rite Aid for $2 ice cream cones was much more fun than eating a $60 restaurant dinner! And by putting my charitable donations on the same sheet, I remind myself that I should be grateful for even the most basic parts of life - having clean water, quality public education, and food in our bellies. Oh, and Wikipedia, too.
Keeping your family budget together can help strengthen your family values at the same time: Live together, give together!
3. Start your family foundation.
Some couples establish charitable trusts or sustained giving through their estate plans. But if you have long-term philanthropic goals, why wait?
Family foundations, trusts, and nonprofit organizations come in all shapes and sizes. An annual golf tournament or food drive could grow into a meaningful event that draws big community involvement. If you want to establish a larger foundation, you could include smaller discretionary or donor-advised funds that your heirs can use to spearhead their own initiatives under the family banner.
Whether your family decides to give back through volunteering, philanthropy, or some combination, your charitable plans will affect your financial plan as well. Careful budgeting of your time and your assets could impact when you decide to retire and the things you want to accomplish once you do.
How do you give back as a family? What are your main charitable goals?