Philanthropy and Family

Whether you have ten dollars or $100,000 to give away, involving children in philanthropic giving helps connect them to the world, their own values, and the power of generosity.

My husband and I have always wanted our family to have a strong philanthropic focus. We want our kids to be involved in deciding which causes and to whom we give money. As our kids have grown, the ways we’ve done this have changed.

Mason JarsWhen they were little, they had three Mason jars one for saving,–one for spending, and one for giving. Their allowance was divided into the three jars more or less equally. They then each decided where to give the money in their “Give” jar. They had 100% autonomy around that money. (You can read more about how we nurtured a philanthropic focus in our family here).

Now that our children are older, we’ve involved them in more complex ways that also gives them more power in our family decisions around giving.

Last night, we had our annual family charity meeting. Some years, all this entails is a quick conversation and we call it enough. Other times, we do something like what we did last night.

Philanthropic categories

  • I wrote on pieces of paper the major categories any of us wants to support.
  • Then each family member got an equal number of poker chips that represented 1/5th of the total amount we have allocated for philanthropic giving for this year.
  • Then, each of us put our chips in the categories we are most committed to helping. Doing that gave us a sense of what areas matter most to us individually and as a family. (Democracy, animal rights, women’s rights, and the environment were top for us this year.)
  • Then we had pieces of paper with the names of specific charities we have supported in the past or want to support this year and we did the same thing as above.
  • We cross referenced the causes against the actually charities to be sure we felt good about that alignment.
  • Each person got equal say in how our funds will be given. We also got to see how others allocated their chips possibly influencing personal choices.
(A portion of our family’s giving comes from my husband’s financial planning firm, Abacus, which donates 1% of all revenues to charity. We get a say in a portion of how that 1% is allocated.)

We’ve done this exercise before but it gets better every time and as the kids get older their passions are more, well…passionate. The discussions about how to best make a difference are vibrant and engaging. But they wouldn’t happen magically now and in this way if not for the seeds planted back in those Mason jars with pennies and quarters.

Sow the seeds you want to see grow and water them thoughtfully through the years.

About Dr. Britta Bushnell

is a writer, teacher, storyteller, and mentor who blends her eclectic training, years of experience, and areas of study into a unique offering for individuals, couples, professionals, and groups. Britta is currently deep at work writing her forthcoming book, Transformed by Birth: Illuminating cultural ideals to enhance the experience of childbirth.