Make Giving Tuesday a Thoughtful Family Tradition

by Carrie Howe November 15, 2016

Two girls planting a tree

November 29th is “Giving Tuesday” – a day to encourage global philanthropy and to kick off the beginning of the holiday charity season.

For the past five years, this event has been marked by a large-scale social media campaign encouraging individuals to give. Last year alone, more than 700,000 people in 70 countries participated, donating more than $116 million to charitable organizations.

As a parent, I want to teach my children early about their responsibilities as citizens. Making our society better is a complex challenge – one fraught with issues of power, privilege, and social justice. I want them to understand their role in that challenge. Philanthropy is only one part of the puzzle, but it’s an entry point for young children who might not be able to grasp the complex conversation about how social change is achieved.

When I engage my children in conversations about giving, I want to do so in a genuine way that asks them to think about why the organizations we are supporting need our help. This creates connections between them and the people who use those organizations, which, in turn, encourages my children to see the recipients as individuals rather than as “other.”

Conversations with toddlers and preschoolers are typically limited in complexity. But as kids get older, the seeds that you plant early can help them think more deeply about charity and social change in a society that will likely continue to face challenging issues of inequality. In fact, research has demonstrated that having explicit conversations with your children about charity can be even more important than role-modeling charitable behavior.

Here are some ideas for how to engage your children in thoughtful giving on Giving Tuesday. In order to ensure your kids are on-board willingly and not begrudgingly, be sure to give them some choice, and make the whole experience fun by engaging in it together.

Take a vote

Have your kids think about the things that are most important in their life. Is it having good meals to eat, being healthy, the love they have for the family pet, or having heat when it gets cold in the winter? Almost anything they come up with will likely connect to a local charity. Teach them about the various charities and the good work they do. Then ask them to “nominate” one to receive a donation on Giving Tuesday.

Once you have a list of family nominations, identify the total amount of money you can set aside and vote on their top choices. You can give it all to one charity, or distribute it according to votes received. Make the voting process an opportunity for healthy negotiation!

Give a family meal

Ask your children to identify one or two of their favorite family meals. Make a list of the ingredients for each of those meals, then highlight the ones that are nonperishable. Go to the grocery store together and shop for the ingredients for one or two meals. Donate the non-perishable items to your local food pantry or find a local venue that will allow you to make and deliver a meal (such as Meals on Wheels or the Ronald McDonald House).

If you want to take it a step further, take a copy of the receipt and have your child add up the total cost of the meal. Engage them in a discussion of how much work they might have to do to earn enough to buy that food.

Dress a friend

Have your child identify everything they need to get dressed for school. Think about all of the items that go into having what you need for the day – from shoes and socks to a warm coat and gloves. Take your child to the store to purchase a complete outfit for a child their age or younger. Donate the outfit to an organization that serves children and families.

Make sure you find an organization that is looking for clothing before you purchase. Examples include homes for mothers and children, emergency shelters, domestic abuse agencies, or “giving tree” programs where children’s needs for the holidays are designated. Check for a “wish list” of items they are interested in, and talk to your children about how those items will directly help someone like them.

For more helpful tips on getting the conversation started, visit “Talking to Kids About Charity” on PBS.

Carrie Howe


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