By Sharmila Rao Thakkar
Co-director, South Asian Philanthropy Project and Family Foundation Program Staff
No matter what age your kids are, this time of year feels like a new beginning, with back to school, new routines, schedules and activities, perhaps work projects, and fall and winter holiday planning. What this time of year is also known for is events, fundraisers and charitable giving. If you haven’t already, it’s likely that you will start to receive invitations, requests and prompts for charitable contributions and/or volunteer participation by nonprofit organizations new and known. For many of you, that’s your child’s school or activity centers.
Many families around the world look forward to their holiday giving of time and resources and make it a family event, inviting children and relatives to identify causes together, in making a holiday gift and/or on where to give time. And while at least one-quarter of charitable giving by individuals takes place during the holiday season of the fall and winter (Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University), here’s a push to start thinking about your philanthropy before the traditional holiday season begins. This way, you are not rushing to identify causes and organizations and balancing charitable giving and volunteering with budgets and schedules tapped out with holidays, travel, shopping and spending.
This year, my family set aside a specific place for the kids to collect toys and clothes for donation throughout the year. This could include items they’ve outgrown, books in good condition, or unopened gifts. It’s allowed them to be mindful of what they have and what others may need. We taught them about the value of money and how it’s used and gave each one a save/spend/invest/donate piggy bank. They devised their own ways of utilizing the four options and methods for withdrawals. We added a few extra items to the grocery list to be donated at upcoming food drives. And we researched shelters or churches where we could volunteer to help out throughout the year.
A few years ago, the adult members of my extended family decided to make a family contribution to an organization in lieu of exchanging individual gifts. How enlightening it was to engage in a process of getting to know each other’s values and motivations and then to ultimately see a compounded gift go a distance further in achieving something good. Who knew — until we asked — what each of us was involved in, cared about and where our interests and goals overlapped.
What issues are important to all of us (we all have various personal causes, but what’s the common denominator), how much can we/do we want to give, and what might we want to achieve? This dialogue is actually a quite critical piece of the act of charitable giving, whether you do it collectively as a family or couple or individually.
Other questions that came up in our family discussions:
- In these tough financial times, why should we give (time and/or dollars)?
- How do we as donors decide which groups to give to or spend our time with?
- What information should we review to make sure our time and resources are well-spent? Where can we seek out good advice and guidance as we make decisions?
- And how do we evaluate charities and causes before and after our gifts?
- What tools exist to make giving back easier, more impactful and lasting?
Some tips to get started on giving back with your children:
- Talk to each other – Share what you see, what they see, what they hear, what they have questions about.
- Tell them about your job/career – Why do you work, how and where does money come from and what it is used for.
- Share what giving back is all about – Why is it important and how it makes you feel. Your child may get allowance or cash as birthday gifts. Consider having them set aside portions to save, spend, donate and invest.
- Start small – It might be your child putting a few of their coins into the collection tin. Eventually, she might choose to make a donation to a specific cause in lieu of birthday gifts.
- Identify interests and make a commitment – Giving back comes in many forms: time, resources, skills, money… Have a conversation about what works best for your child/family and decide on something specific.
- Volunteer together – Make it a family affair by selecting an activity together. While you may be interested in serving Thanksgiving meals at a food pantry, your child may love animals. Perhaps a visit to the local animal shelter would draw your child’s interest.
Whatever routes you choose to bring your family into the fold, know that it’s an invaluable component to building stronger individuals, families and communities. It’s an opportunity to discover and learn about other people, other places, current events and important issues; it’s a way to understand the world and how to relate to others; it opens up possibilities to grow as people, and to be together. Giving back is not only personally fulfilling, it generates an awareness of one as connected to something bigger.
Learn more and access resources about this topic at www.SouthAsianPhilanthropy.org.
The South Asian Philanthropy Project is a forum that inspires South Asians to become more involved in philanthropy and volunteering.
More about Sharmila
Sharmila Rao Thakkar has been working and volunteering in the nonprofit sector for the past 17 years. From her early days as a grade school hospital candy-striper to tutoring children as a teenager and now mentoring young professionals, Sharmila brings a keen awareness and passion to her nonprofit and philanthropy work. Currently, she oversees grantmaking and administration at a family foundation in Chicago, IL. In addition to making funding recommendation, she provides technical assistance to foundation grantees, leads the board’s strategic planning and board development activities including stewardship of the next generation