How To Turn Grandchildren into Philanthropists

When you get kids involved in charity, you give them a gift that lasts a lifetime.

By Bambi Holzer

You don’t have to look far these days to find people in need of a helping hand. Earthquake survivors abroad, flood-ravaged communities at home, and other victims of natural disasters have urgent need for large-scale, airlifted donations. At the same time, less-epic events, like the housing crisis and the rising cost of everyday goods, are forcing many families to seek help from local charitable groups, which in turn need their resources bolstered by individual contributions. So now is a good time to start teaching your grandchildren about the importance of charitable giving. Here are some tips to get you going.

Teach By Example

As with so many things in life, the best way to impart a lesson to your grandchildren about the importance of charity is to set a good example. That means being open with kids about the causes that matter to you, the volunteer work you do, and the money you donate. It also means involving them in your charitable efforts.

* If you’re writing a check to your favorite cause, explain to grandchildren why you've decided to support it. Visit the organization’s website together to show the kids how the group helps others.

* If there’s a volunteer activity that your grandchildren can join you in, ask them to take part. I have one client who volunteers at a soup kitchen once a month and brings his granddaughter with him to help. Not only do they help feed hungry people in their community, they get to spend time together, too.

My own grandchildren know that giving both money and time to charity is the norm in our family. I often talk with them about my involvement in various charities, and they see me heading off to meetings and events. But at the same time, I don’t make a big deal out of it, because I don’t want them to think there’s anything unusual about what we do — it’s simply the way we live.

Tap Into Their Interests

When you're involved in causes that affect you personally — for example, running in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure because you're a breast cancer survivor — you can expect grandchildren to be eager to get involved themselves. But you can't automatically assume that all of your pet charities will become theirs. Sharing your own charitable priorities is a good way to introduce them to the concept of giving back to the community, but it's important, as they grow up, that their own charitable projects come from their own interests.

Pay attention to their hobbies, to the topics that interest them most in school, and to items that catch their attention on the news. My own grandchildren spend hours watching nature shows on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel, so we’ve spent time talking about the environment and global warming, and I’ve encouraged them to think about making donations to groups that address those causes.

Start Early

Like learning a foreign language, preparing your grandchildren for a lifetime of charitable giving is best started when they're young. Pushing a baby grandchild or a toddler grandchild as you do a charity walkathon will make a great photo op for his or her baby book. Later it will become a tale you can tell them of how they were active in charity even when they were little.

Age 6 or 7 is a good time to start involving your grandchildren directly in your charitable causes. Many families, unfortunately, have a close relative who has some kind of serious health issue. A cause like that is often a good place to start. You can also consider causes that are close to kids' lives, like schools, libraries, children's hospitals, or religious institutions.

You can help grandchildren get started by funding, at least partially, their early charitable efforts. When my husband and I give our grandchildren money today, it always comes with a caveat: They can spend half on whatever they want, but the other half must go to a charity of their choice.

Charitable giving is its own reward — we know that it feels good to do good. By helping your grandchildren get involved in a cause, you’ll be giving them a valuable gift yourself: The knowledge that they have the power to help make a difference and become a positive force in society.


Great articles. My husband and I have always volunteered at and supported animal rescue facilities but usually children must be a certain age before they can volunteer. These articles have given us good ideas for ways to get our self-absorbed grandchildren interested in helping others. Thanks on 2013-01-08 09:40:26

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