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Make philanthropy part of your kids’ lives

Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick is a freelance writer and editor who contributes regularly to SheKnows, MintLife, AOL, iVillage and other sites. In her articles, Elizabeth covers a variety of subjects including relationships, pregnancy, paren...

How to raise charitable children

Being short on disposable income doesn’t mean you can’t teach your child about empathy, philanthropy and the importance of helping others. Here’s how to encourage a lifetime of charitable giving in your children.

Little girl making a donation

Even if a tight cash flow and carefully managed budget don't allow you to be as monetarily charitable as you might like, there are plenty of other ways that you can set a good example for your kids and teach them about the importance of philanthropy.

Give early,
give often

"Philanthropy is a lifestyle that should be part of your family values and traditions," says Eileen Heisman, CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust. By helping others on a regular basis, your child will see you doing charitable work and recognize that giving back is a natural and important part of your family. So start young and get kids involved. "Allow them to choose an item for the food drive, encourage them to give away gently used toys and clothing or ask them to select books to donate," Heisman suggests.

Diversify your interests

Personal reasons often motivate people to donate their time or money to specific charities. Expose your children to a variety of organizations so they too can choose the causes that are most meaningful to them. "Some kids will naturally gravitate toward specific types of charity; others may need your help," says Heisman. "Maybe bringing food to the local animal shelter will be the spark that ignites your child's charitable spirit." Social organizations like the Boy Scouts or Girls Scouts include a community service element -- this could be a good choice for your son or daughter as well.

Just remember to keep your child's temperament in mind. "Volunteering at the children's unit of your community hospital may be traumatizing for a sensitive child but could serve as a nice way for your healthy child to see how lucky she is," Heisman adds. "Try to match your child's personality to volunteer opportunities with minimal risk for negative emotional impact, but don't miss out on potentially life-enriching experiences for fear of potential unpleasantness," such as volunteering at a nursing home or helping the disabled. As your child ages, you can engage them in more sophisticated charitable activities that blend philanthropy and youth.

Create charitable traditions

In addition to regular charitable donations, you can start traditions with your children that they'll look forward to year after year, recommends Heisman. For each new toy received, your child must select one old toy to give away. Make a trip to the local nonprofit thrift store or homeless shelter as part of each year's birthday activities or designate an annual "family volunteering week."

Discuss charitable giving

If you set aside a portion of your income or time for charitable causes, encourage your kids to do the same with their allowance and time. "Let them see how you give and participate, and talk to them about your efforts and reasons for philanthropy -- even if it's just 25 cents in a Salvation Army kettle," says Heisman. "Don't forget to also discuss your choices not to donate. If you decline to give to a panhandler, for example, explain to your child that you donate or volunteer to organizations that know best how to provide the right services and care for such individuals. And don't be afraid to acknowledge that these are hard choices to make, even as an adult."

Even a day or an afternoon of volunteering can be incredibly fulfilling. Keep an eye out for ways to contribute to your community and influence your kids' philanthropic future in a positive way.

Read more about raising charitable kids

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