Of the many gifts I’ve given my kids over the years, the most important ones are an awareness of the world beyond our front door and a commitment to helping others. My husband and I want our kids to be the kind of people who do their part to make our community and world better, and believe that early exposure to the concepts of compassion, gratitude, and caring are critical in shaping who they will become. Now that my daughter and son are seven and nine years old, it’s time for them to get involved in another way our family contributes: charitable giving.
Charitable giving has typically been my responsibility within our family. My professional background includes more than 20 years working in the nonprofit field, which makes me very interested in how nonprofits operate and how they fulfill their mission. I like to do my due diligence about the charities I’m interested in, checking them out on Guidestar to get a sense of their overhead rate, programmatic spending, and the amount that goes directly to serving their mission. I want to support causes I believe in—but don’t have enough hours to donate my time everywhere—so charitable giving is a way I can be part of a solution. My husband weighs in on issues he believes in as well, and we end up with an eclectic array of organizations to which we give, believing that no matter the budget we have available for giving, it can make a difference. This year, we’ve given to nonprofits that protect the environment, promote literacy, support research into cures for cancer and rare diseases, help those in need within our local community, work to end gun violence, strive to end food insecurity, and support the rescue workers in Aleppo.
Amid the last weeks of the year, in between all of our holiday to dos and events, I always put aside time to review my family’s charitable giving for the year. At this time of year, I use part of our holiday gift budget to donate to reputable charities that we may have missed earlier in the year. This act of giving reminds me about the meaning of the holiday season and helps to balance out a time of year that can often feel like a too large an emphasis on materialism. I hadn’t, though, ever involved my kids in this process, and this year, I decided to change that. When the folks at Stonyfield invited me to participate in their Pay it Forward campaign, I knew it would be the perfect way to introduce my kids to the concept of charitable giving, and to ask for their input.
My kids—despite having days when they think of nothing other than themselves, Scooby Doo, and the iPad—have embraced the concept of doing good for others. They’ve donated their toys, books, and clothes (that are in good condition, of course) to local charities, and helped me purchase holiday gifts for a local family need each holiday season, through a program organized by their school’s PTA. But they could do more.
Stonyfield’s Pay it Forward campaign supplied $50 to participating bloggers to “spread joy” in any way we saw fit, with an emphasis on giving back. One night over dinner last week, I brought up the campaign to my kids. They were intrigued (“The yogurt people gave us money to give away? Did they give us more Yo-Kids?”), and immediately started discussing what to do with the money.
The ideas flew back and forth across the dinner table. My daughter wondered if we’d need to ask the bank to give away the money (no, we could do it ourselves), and then asked if we could find someone who needed the money and give it to them (I suggested we find a charity that was working to fix a problem that bothered them instead). They got stuck on this question. After all, they’re kids: what bothers them? What do they worry about? On one hand, as a parent, I don’t want them to have worries—at least not at this age—yet, as part of their growing awareness of how the world works—the good and the bad—they are bound to encounter situations they find troubling.
After more back and forth, they put together a list of issues that worried them:
Kids who are unsafe.
An intimidating list, for sure, and one we would not be able to fix at the dinner table that night. We did have the $50 from Stonyfield, though, and it could make a difference. So, what should we do?
My kids were quiet for a moment. Then, perhaps inspired by the fact they were sitting at our dinner table, with a healthy meal in front of them, my daughter said, “Kids who are hungry. We need to help kids who are hungry.” My son quickly agreed.
I thought of No Kid Hungry, an initiative of Share Our Strength, which works to end childhood hunger in America. With 16 million Americans struggling with hunger, No Kid Hungry works to get meals to kids during summer breaks from schools when they are without access to school-based subsidized food programs, to teach parents to cook healthfully while maximizing their budgets, and to start school breakfast programs. Every $1 that is donated to No Kid Hungry equals 10 meals. That transformed our $50 from Stonyfield into 500 meals!
For 2017, I’ve decided to make conversations about charitable giving a more regular topic in my house. My kids are old enough to share their thoughts about ways we can help others, and together, we can research organizations doing the important work that matters to us. This will help them grow and learn more about the world, so they don’t just have worries—but see the possibility of solutions, too.