Since becoming involved in establishing Kids in Philanthropy (KIP) in 2012, I’ve noticed an increasing number of children engaging in giving and change making. One factor that has contributed to this is an evolving understanding that philanthropy is not just about writing cheques—it’s also about connecting with organisations and communities in need in other ways.
Another factor is the realisation that no one is too young to make a difference. There are many ways we can educate our kids about giving, from spending time volunteering with them, taking them on site visits to local organisations, helping them execute their fundraising ideas and exposing them to people and organisations doing great work in the nonprofit and social enterprise space. Through this journey, our kids will realise that philanthropy involves time, talent, creativity and innovation rather than just money. For kids, this is empowering.
For the last two years, KIP has held Hangout for the Homeless, a fundraiser and educational event where families are sponsored to sleep out on cardboard boxes overnight at Federation Square in the heart of Melbourne. On the night, they participate in educational and hands-on activities, such as packing toiletry kits to be handed out on the streets, meeting people from organisations who work with young homeless people and building cardboard shelters. Kids aged 3 to 15 have attended, together with their parents.
After Hangout for the Homeless last year highlighted the need for warm blankets for people on the streets, my then-10 year old daughter, Hannah, had the idea to organise a blanket drive for an organisation that works with young, homeless people.
Hannah’s rationale was: “You don’t need the biggest fundraiser in the world. You can do things like ask your school, friends and family for blankets. One blanket from each person will make hundreds of blankets, which can make a huge difference.” She later went on to make a book about ways to change the world in which she set out the top 10 ways to make a difference. (Download a pdf copy of Hannah’s 10 ways to change the world here).
Once kids (and parents) realise how easy it is to help others, the possibilities are endless.
Another great way to engage and educate kids is to take them on site visits. It’s really important for kids to see communities that are a little out of their comfort zone and be exposed to a range of social issues from homelessness, to aged care, to disability. By visiting local organisations, kids learn that people in need don’t just live in faraway places but there are also people they can help who live just around the corner.
Involving kids in hands-on giving and doing also broadens the conversation around the dinner table. In addition to discussing the news, school and sport, our family talks about the organisations we have formed relationships with, the visits and experiences we have shared, and the incredible people we have met along this journey. We recently had a talented young social entrepreneur over for lunch and my husband, Quentin, and I took much pleasure from hearing our kids grilling him on his social business model. As my 13-year old son, Zac, said to me afterwards “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to work in an organisation like that where I can earn money and help other people at the same time.”
How young is too young?
The ideal age to start involving kids in philanthropy depends on the way in which they are being involved. Involving kids on the board of a family foundation is probably most effective from around 12-15 years and older; anytime from age five is a good time to start hands-on volunteering with kids and to speak to them about social issues.
For example, since sleeping out overnight at Hangout for the Homeless, my now six-year old son, Gabriel, often asks when I am putting him to bed on cold rainy nights, “What are the homeless people doing tonight? Are they ok? I am so grateful to have a warm bed and parents who love me.” By developing an awareness of life outside our bubble of comfort, we have created a sense of empathy in our children.
In my role working with family foundations at the Myer Family Company (MFCo), I see families bringing kids as young as 12 into discussions around the philanthropic vision for their foundation, the problems they’d like to tackle and how they should go about it.
At MFCo, we recently held a family workshop with a foundation’s founders, their children and five of their grandchildren aged 10-15. This provided an opportunity for the founders to share their vision for the future of the foundation and for the next generation to express their thoughts and ideas.
A conversation about the values of the family is a wonderful opportunity for a rich discussion about what is important to the family. Involving kids in a family foundation provides an educational opportunity around governance, finances, community awareness and decision-making.
Taking it to the classroom
In order to create change on a large scale, giving and change making should be woven into the school curriculum. KIP program, Agents of Change, offers workshops for schools and teachers around change making and philanthropy. We have a series of workshops for middle years students that marries up with the IB MYP curriculum. We also run professional development for teachers, parent information sessions and family workshops. Recently, we ran a family philanthropy workshop for NAB staff and their children, which was a great opportunity to engage staff on social issues together with their children.
Developing empathy is the key aim of involving and educating kids in this space. Until kids feel empathy for others, they will not be motivated to act. As Hannah said to me one afternoon after we had cooked meals and delivered them to elderly people living in housing commission flats, “I now realise that it feels so much better to give than to get.” All three of my children have asked for donations rather than presents for their birthdays, and the larger the total raised, the happier they are!
Educating kids about giving and change making is most effective when it’s engaging and hands-on. Making it a shared family activity is equally important. Not only will parents and children share meaningful and fulfilling experiences, but they can work together to bring ideas and projects to life.
When parents embark on the giving journey with their kids, they send a message that it is a priority for the family and that it is a valuable activity worth spending time doing together. This is how we will grow a generation that is both passionate about giving and empowered to make a difference.
Amanda Miller is Client & Research Manager, Philanthropic Services at Myer Family Company and heads up the Melbourne chapter of Kids in Philanthropy. Follow her on twitter: @miller_amanda