May 12, 2010

Charitable Instincts and Kids

The June, 2010 issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine contained an intriguing statistic (among many stats about people's current thoughts concerning their financial situation):

Among parents age 35 to 44, the financial virtue they'd most like to pass on to their children was generosity! The 31% who chose that virtue were followed by 29% who chose thrift and 25% who chose business sense.

Doesn't that seem a mite counterintuitive, given today's tough times? Especially since the same survey found that 41% of this group said their financial situation was worse today than two years ago, with a majority of them "struggling." And it's a safe bet that this group has reduced its charitable giving, as has occurred pretty much across the board.

But maybe it's actually a matter of cause and effect, and these struggling parents want to make sure that their belt-tightening doesn't dampen their kids' sense of generosity.

If so, it raises an interesting question: How can the nonprofits of the world best help them -- and thus foster the next generation of donors?

The first thing that comes to mind is to think about kids and families when planning volunteer opportunities. I've observed many nonprofits treat young volunteers as an afterthought, or even an inconvenience, with little more welcome than a demand that they be accompanied by a person over the age of 18. How about creating a family day of volunteering with your group, or coordinate with schools for particular projects?

Another possibility is to address the matter of kids' awareness of charitable giving in your newsletters and website. I know of families that decide how much they'll give to charity, then involve the whole family in the decision of which charities to choose -- or even require the kids to set aside a portion of their allowance for the charity of their choice. You can educate and encourage parents about such possibilities.

While we're at it, for the kids who are actively engaged in choosing where to donate, could you create a separate kid-friendly Web page explaining where their donations go, and what a difference they make? You might think that your donation pages are already clear enough for anyone to understand, but look again -- many websites offer a confusing array of options, assuming a certain level of financial sophistication, with language like, "Please consider an unrestricted gift," or "tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law."

I'll start keeping my eyes open for charities that do a good job at this, and report back!