What do you recall about your childhood worries about the world?
As a little girl, I was terrified about the Cold War and the possibility – immortalised by singer Sting – that perhaps the Russians might not love their children enough to resist pushing the nuclear button.
As an older child, my focus shifted to the growing hole in the ozone layer, as well as Japanese whaling – both issues which still trouble me in adulthood – but I often struggled to channel my concern into practical action.
One of the joys of working with Australian Philanthropic Services (APS) is getting to know our clients and their families. Last year, our 193 clients collectively gave away close to $40 million and while most of them aren’t household philanthropy names (yet), they represent an inspiring cross-section of some of Australia’s most entrepreneurial and generous individuals. Wonderfully, many of these individuals have children, some of them very young. And while most of them recognise the importance of getting kids involved in philanthropy as early as possible, it can be hard to identify exactly how to do this.
APS has spent time analysing children’s needs and developing practical, family-friendly tools to support our clients – or indeed, any parent or educator – to cultivate philanthropic values and help children to engage constructively with community issues.
Children are innately compassionate (though not always with their siblings!) and generally care deeply about the world. They want to understand why the world is so hard for so many, why inequities exist, and what the adults in their life – as well as the politicians, leaders and decision-makers of society – are doing about it. Children can be (justifiably) impatient about the seemingly slow rate of change, which can lead to demoralisation, or disengagement with their concerns altogether.
There is a window of opportunity in which children’s enquiring minds and compassionate hearts can be recognised, nurtured and channelled for community purposes. The ‘golden age’ for this usually occurs between 6 and 14, before teenage indifference, self-consciousness and insularism can set in. (Of course, the latter doesn’t always occur: teenagers can be the most radical of activists!)
Our top three tools for engaging children in philanthropy are:
- MAD Workshops. APS has developed an interactive ‘Make A Difference (MAD) Workshop’ for school-aged children between the ages of 7 and 17. This 45-minute session gives children an opportunity to have their concerns about the world heard, while also respecting their parents’ perspectives. The process gives them some great, practical ideas and actions to take away for getting involved in the community.
- The Giving Game. There’s nothing better than a board game to get kids interested; only it’s not Monopoly, it’s philanthropy! The aim of The Giving Game is to accrue as many generosity points as possible over the course of a player’s journey to Heart’s End: a journey that features wise words, community scenarios and issues for discussion, as well as random acts of kindness. Importantly, The Giving Game takes the ‘oh-so-seriousness’ out of philanthropy – it’s a fun and quirky 30-minute exercise that’s guaranteed to inspire kids and prompt them to take action in the real world.
- Power-sharing. Money is power, even in philanthropy. One of the simplest and most tangible ways in which philanthropists can engage their children is to get them involved with the practicalities of grantmaking. Some of our clients give each of their children an allocation of funds to expend on community issues that are most compelling to them (unsurprisingly, these often differ radically to their parents’ interests). APS offers support with proposal development and pitch coaching for younger philanthropists, helping them to articulate and share their passions with family members and other foundation decision-makers.
These three initiatives are designed to cultivate children’s natural generosity, channel it constructively, and lay the foundations for a lifetime of philanthropy (in all its forms).
Perhaps more importantly, these tools offer an antidote to the sometimes-paralysing power of children’s fears about the world’s biggest problems.
Finally, they send a clear and compelling message that children can ‘be the change’ they wish to see in the world, thus affirming the wisdom of 18th century Irish statesman Edmund Burke, still relevant in the 21st century: “Nobody made a greater mistake than (s)he who did nothing because (s)he could only do a little.”
Fiona Higgins is Grantmaking Specialist at Australian Philanthropic Services, a leading provider of PAF establishment, administration and grantmaking services in Australia.