Getting the philanthropy conversation started

Stick people family

For many families, charitable giving involves much more than writing a check to support a local nonprofit or further a worthy cause during the holidays. At The Pittsburgh Foundation, we help individuals, couples and families to go beyond their basic, year-end philanthropy by strengthening deeply held values and creating a shared family legacy that will be relevant for future generations.

Whether giving is accomplished via time spent volunteering or money donated to a cause, there are strategies that allow families to grow together by giving to organizations whose missions match their established values.

Getting on track & giving back

It’s important to remember that charitable giving is as much about values as it is about money. To effectively discuss philanthropy with their children, parents first need to clarify their own attitudes and concerns about money. What money messages did they internalize as they grew up? What messages do they want to impart to their children? Children ask questions when they’re taught something new, so it’s helpful for parents to be on the same page before initiating a discussion about philanthropy. Once parents are in sync, it’s wise to talk to children early and often. It’s never too late to introduce them to philanthropy, but parents do miss a window of opportunity to share values if they hold off too long. Younger children learn by observing adults around them and then by doing, so it’s important to give them opportunities to practice giving back. Children can help rake leaves in a neighbor’s backyard or can bake cookies for a charitable fundraiser. Other examples include families volunteering for a day at a non-profit or buying socks and blankets for the homeless.

When the King children were younger, my wife, Peggy, and I began a Christmas tradition. We gave fewer presents to each other and more to those who are less fortunate. On Christmas Eve, our family would make gifts, of cash, food and other needed resources to those in need. By working as a family toward a common cause, our children learned to understand and appreciate the importance of giving back.

Lessons & techniques

Aside from frequent discussions and real-life examples, there are strategies that parents and grandparents can use to teach their children about the benefits of philanthropy:

Use allowance as a tool. Sit down with children as soon as they start receiving an allowance. Work with them to separate funds into three buckets: Spending, Saving and Giving. This will help children budget their money and develop the habit of giving back from an early age. It also teaches children the value of money beyond spending power.

Value card game. At The Pittsburgh Foundation, we often use Value Cards – first with parents, then with the family as a whole – to identify core values. The cards are an interactive opportunity for starting the conversation about family values (and to align the family’s giving with its shared ideals).

Family value collage. A fun technique that we have used with our clients is creating a shared family value collage in which families cut out pictures from magazines that represent who they want to help or the impact they want to have on the world. Collages allow grandparents, parents and children to come together and share what they value most. The range is as broad and diverse as the personality traits of family members themselves – from environmental causes to animal care to disaster relief and beyond. Once the collage brings these values together, the family can choose from among the many interests, identify commonalities and move forward with a giving plan that includes volunteering or donating toward these efforts.

By anchoring philanthropy to family life, especially through including children in conversations about giving, parents can create and sustain a philanthropic legacy for many generations to come.

Maxwell King is a guest blogger for Ramparts. He is president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation. With a career that spans four decades in newspaper journalism and philanthropy, he also continues as a senior fellow at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media.
Jennie Zioncheck is a guest blogger for Ramparts. She is the director of development at The Pittsburgh Foundation where she works closely with donors, financial advisors (including Fort Pitt Capital Group, Inc.), CPAs and estate attorneys in identifying strategies and solutions for charitable giving.
The Pittsburgh Foundation is a long-time client of Fort Pitt Capital Group, Inc. This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to be an endorsement or recommendation of Fort Pitt Capital Group, Inc.