I once asked a 13-year-old boy during a family foundation meeting why he thinks his family works so hard to help other people. His parents looked mortified when he answered, “I don’t know, but I don’t get my allowance if I don’t participate.” It turned out that he was not particularly interested in the mission of the foundation, which supported grants for STEM programs, but as he and his siblings got more involved, the mission changed to support STEAM programs, which included the arts and was much more in line with his passions.
“How do I instill my values into my kids?” is a common question and one that I quickly try to encourage parents to reframe. While most families have some shared values, the question would be better posed as, “How do I help my kids identify and live out their own values?” Here are some considerations to help frame these important conversations.
- Move the conversation from responsibility to humanity. Generosity is not unique to those with wealth, but it can feel like a mandatory burden when it comes to families with significant wealth. Try pointing out news stories of how people gave back, especially when it does not involve money, and in turn, it made the world a better place. The definition of humanity is both “to be human” and “to be compassionate and generous.” Foster conversations about our shared planet, history, and humanity as reminders that we are all in this together.
- Help them understand their value. People often think that philanthropy and charity are exclusively about giving away money. Remind your family that in order to make big changes in the world, people must lend their time, intellect, networks, and resources, too. A simple way to remember this is using the categories of time, treasure, talent, and ties. Create an inventory of all of the resources your family has to offer, beyond just financial resources, and brainstorm ways to best use what you have to solve a problem important to you all.
- Utilize service-learning opportunities. I often see well-intentioned families send their children to volunteer abroad or spend time at orphanages or hospitals. While lending a helping hand or an extra ear can be inspiring to those volunteering, it is imperative that we remind the next generation that simply being present does not mean they are adding value. The majority of the time young people won’t be able to fix the big issues in the world simply because they have money. They may not even understand the true problem. Before encouraging your kids to volunteer to tackle complex problems, help them answer the question, “How can we listen and educate ourselves in order to create sustainable change?” Search for service-learning opportunities that ease the administrative burden on cash-strapped charities. Encourage curiosity, but help the young people in your life walk through the proper steps so that they may acquire the skillsets needed to make a lasting impact on the causes they care about.
Model generosity, both big and small. While some families have the capacity to donate buildings, create large-scale programs, and leave behind substantial assets to charities, those acts may not be relatable to young people. Look for opportunities to model the generosity you hope to instill in your children. Help others directly by mowing your neighbor’s yard, walking dogs at the local animal shelter, or running errands for the elderly. Invite your kids along and allow them to see face to face the impact that they are having and to feel the connection of giving and receiving.