Charitable Giving

Writing a check is a great way to support a cause, but it may not be the most effective way to involve your children in the giving process. Even young children can get excited about charitable giving if you follow our strategies. Along they way, they’ll learn valuable lessons in money management, philanthropic values, empathy and community involvement. All of us can be philanthropists — no matter how much money we have to share. Here are some ways to begin a tradition of charitable giving in your family.

Holidays and celebrations

Special occasions can be the ideal time to introduce charitable giving to your children. For example, make a donation to the local humane society each year on your pet’s birthday. Or collect money for UNICEF while out trick or treating at Halloween. Your family could throw a holiday party and have the guests bring canned goods or supplies for a homeless shelter as an “admission fee.” Or on the invitation to a family member’s birthday party, you could state: “No gifts, but we welcome donations to ___________.” Think of creative possibilities for family reunions, religious holidays, Valentine’s Day and Independence Day.

Dinner Table Foundation

Planned giving isn’t only for the very wealthy. Susan Crites Price, in her book The Giving Family: Raising Our Children to Help Others, suggests that several times each year your family sit down with all those solicitations you’ve received and have each family member choose a charity you’ll give to. Or decide as a group where the money should go. (Added bonus: When those solicitation calls come in, you’ll have an easier time saying, “Thanks, but we’ve already decided where to donate our money.”)

Contribute to a giving box

Design your own giving box to collect your family’s charitable donations. One family adds money to the box each time a positive event occurs in their lives, as a way of sharing the good fortune. Other families collect loose change in the box or have each member make a weekly donation from their earnings or allowance. When it’s full, decide together where the money will go.

Fundraise for charity

Raising funds as a family can be a fun and rewarding project. Gather everyone’s ideas on the type of fundraiser to hold and which charity you’ll focus on. You might organize a car wash, bake sale, a play or talent show, dinner party, carnival or yard sale. Invite family and friends. Local businesses might donate items or help with advertising. And to raise awareness – and even more funds – try to get press coverage for your event.

“Share checks”

This novel gift idea gives to the giver, the receiver and charities, too. To celebrate birthdays and holidays, present the kids on your list (your own children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren) with “share checks” or “charity checks.” The idea is that you supply the funds, and the child chooses the charitable recipient. You can give this “gift of giving” in two ways: You can write out a check, leaving only the Pay to Order space blank. The child fills in the charity and mails in the donation. Alternatively, look into a formal organization call Charity Checks ( Here, the “charity checks” can be donated to any IRS-approved exempt nonprofit in the United States. (Because your name is not on the check, you avoid being placed on the mailing lists of the charities the children choose to support.) In either case, children begin to learn to determine their charitable interests, evaluate charities and make wise giving choices.

Form a giving circle

This is an increasingly popular way to make charitable contributions. Get together with like-minded families and pool your funds to donate to mutually agreed-upon nonprofits and causes. Together, members can evaluate organizations, discuss causes and have a greater impact in their charitable giving. Find creative ways to involve children in the process. For more information, contact The Giving Forum or Minnesota Toolkit for Giving.

Buy and donate an animal

Buy a goat, sheep, rabbit or pig to help a family in need become self-reliant. Start by browsing Heifer International’s “Most Important Gift Catalog in the World” to choose one of 11 animals that you can buy and donate to families in Papua New Guinea, China, Mexico and other countries. (If you’re intrigued, read Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier to your child and learn about the difference a donated goat made in the life of a young African girl’s family.) Find more information at

Adopt an animal

For $20 or more, you can “adopt” a wild animal. Your money will be used to protect animals and their habitats through education, research and conservation projects. You’ll likely receive a photo of the animal, adoption papers or sponsorship certificate, and possibly a newsletter or magazine subscription. Some websites to get you started: Defenders of Wildlife National Headquarters, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, and Pacific Whale Foundation. Your local zoo may also have an animal sponsorship program.

Sponsor a child overseas

With this approach, the sponsor family agrees to pay about $24 per month to support community projects where the sponsored child lives, such as building a school or a community clinic. In return, the family receives a picture and description of the child and periodic updates and letters. The sponsor can in turn write letters to the child and sometimes send gifts. Some possibilities include: Save the ChildrenPlan USA, and World Vision. Always research an organization before beginning any sponsorship arrangement.

Make a loan through Kiva

The Kiva website, offers fascinating stories of low-income entrepreneurs who are seeking assistance. Kiva lets your family actually pick whom you will lend to — a farmer in Senegal, a clothier in the Philippines, a retailer in Peru. Later, when your recipient repays the loan, you can choose whether to re-lend to support another person in need. Also consider starting a Kiva family team, and invite other friends and family to join you in your efforts.

Donate goods instead of money

A great hands-on idea: Instead of mailing a check to your favorite charity, find out what it needs and use your family’s “giving” money to buy it. Your efforts may even entail organizing a collection among your friends and neighbors. Some goods that may be needed: diapers or socks for a local homeless shelter, books for African kids, food for a food pantry, toys for Ronald McDonald House playrooms or shoes for orphans. Or you can buy blankets, pet supplies and food for the local humane society. The possibilities are endless!