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Charity: How to Teach Your Kids To Give

My daughter's preschool prides itself on teaching the importance of giving to charity. This is a lesson I've struggled to explain to my four-year-old. While I used to think she was too young to understand, I now realize I was just going about it with the wrong approach.

About a year ago, I introduced the idea that our family is fortunate and that many people in New York City (where we live) have far less than us. I then started giving my daughter an allowance and encouraged her to split the money into three piggy banks: one for spending, another for saving and a third for giving. My charity lesson was so unsuccessful -- my little girl had no idea what I was talking about -- that I abandoned the exercise and decided I would try again when she gets older.

After chatting with Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator, a website dedicated to evaluating philanthropic organizations, I now see where I went wrong. Saving money and donating it is just too complicated for young children to understand, she says. Instead, it's better to find a more tangible way for kids to relate to "giving". Miniutti recommends planning an activity that youngsters can participate in. Last year, for example, Miniutti visited her child's kindergarten class and asked the students to make Thanksgiving themed goody bags filled with treats and toys that she then donated to a local food bank.

I also found some ageless advice in Kimberly Palmer's new book, Generation Earn: A Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing and Giving Back, that I thought I could use with my daughter. In her chapter on philanthropy, Palmer recommends finding an organization that moves you and learning as much about it as you can. Translate this for a four-year-old and it means I should search out a charity that she can relate to. So giving to battered women is out (although I think this is a very worthy cause) and donating books and toys to needy children is in.

Since there are plenty of groups that collect books and toys for kids, I plan to choose a local one by logging onto Charity Navigator. According to Miniutti, I should look for a group with a three or four star rating and that puts at least 75% of its donations toward philanthropic programs. Good point. The last thing I want to do is support an organization that wastes money on excessive staff salaries and fundraising activities.

How do you teach your children about charity?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Hungry Caterpillar image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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