10.03.11 / Category: Volunteer Spotlights

Raising a Philanthropist

One of my daughter's and I during Indy's Race for the Cure last year

When the shock of a twin pregnancy wore off and I did my gender-finding ultrasound to discover two girls, my husband’s mind immediately went to the financial woes of raising girls-proms, college, weddings AND shoes! My concerns went somewhere different-I didn’t want to raise bratty kids. I hate that so many kids these days seem to have this sense of entitlement and girls can easily fall into the trap of brand name clothing and expensive sports and lose sight of what is really important.

I was lucky enough to be raised in a family where I recognized my privilege and was taught at a very young age that giving back, in one form or another, was expected. My father served on multiple non-profit boards. He has the universal blood type, so he gave blood every 60 days or so, recognizing that it was a small gift he could give. As for my mom, I knew if I stayed home from school sick on Thursdays, I’d do a ride-along when she delivered Meals on Wheels for a few years. The biggest lesson I learned through their outreach, was humility. Most of their service and philanthropic giving was never boasted about and usually went unnoticed by their friends and colleagues.

My twin girls are four and I’m sure that my husband and I will struggle with the topic of privilege and entitlement their entire lives. I hope philanthropy (and community service) are concepts you consider introducing in your family to help combat these issues. Here are a few tips I’ve compiled to help you do it.

Practice What You Preach: Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge solidified the importance of “Modeling the Way” when they researched and taught it as one of the five pillars of leadership behavior, but every parent has seen the impact of this statement as they navigate the parenting journey. It’s one thing to talk to your kids about being a good neighbor, it’s another for them to help you make a meal for someone in your neighborhood going through chemotherapy or signing up for a park-clean up day. The example you set will stay with them and the time you spend together doing it is an added bonus.

Passion is Hereditary: Some people are lucky enough to get paid to do what they love to do. Every parent will tell their kids to follow their dreams and find their own passion in their lives. However, the vast majority of people never do. They work to pay their bills, support their family and live. If this is you, don’t settle, keep looking. The most passionate people I know don’t do the work they love for a living, they earn a living doing other things so they can support (in both dollars and time) the causes for which they feel passionate. I’m beginning to uncover this in my work through the Circle of Sisterhood Foundation and hoping that when my girls see my passion for this cause and this work, that they will learn passion can be found in philanthropy.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: I LOVE this divided piggy bank that allows kids to allocate their pennies into four categories: Save, Spend, Donate and Invest. This is a perfect way to explain to very young kids the idea behind charity. There is a growing trend in charitable birthday parties for kids. This is an easier concept for older kids who realize the ‘stuff’ doesn’t last and toys are typically outgrown long before they should. Kids can determine to ask party attendees that in lieu of traditional gifts, a small monetary contribution be made to a charity they care about. If parents feel awkward about collecting money, you can ask each child to bring their favorite book to donate to a local women’s shelter or a toy to donate to a holiday toy drive. Make sure you are following up on your own lessons and consider hosting your own fundraising event and make your own charitable contributions. Better yet, talk to them about the Circle of Sisterhood Foundation and how they can raise money to give girls across the globe the education they frequently take for granted.

Support Local: Yes, you can probably get a better deal at the big-box stores, but many small, local businesses are committed to philanthropy and when you support them, they can better support the charities in your area. My family recently opened a small, gourmet food & wine store. They continue to illustrate to me the importance of being an engaged member of the community, hosting events benefitting the local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Autism Society.

Find your Medium: My girls are very different, one is inquisitive and eager to learn, she loves to read. I was gifted a great children’s book by Carol McCloud called Have you Filled a Bucket Today?  It’s an easy read with beautiful illustrations about acts of kindness and giving. It can be very literal for young learners and more abstract for older kids. One of my daughters caught on to the concepts of the book very quickly and references it when she experiences kindness or gives it. My other daughter is a mover and a shaker, she is active and energetic. We’ve registered for various 5K Run/Walks in our area and each time she loves the activity and we are able to talk to her about the cause and the importance of raising money and awareness. Find the medium that reaches your own family, consider their age, gender, interests and emotional development.

Take Pride in Small Victories: Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Conversations about poverty and injustice are deep and hard for adults to have, so know that your child’s perspective won’t change immediately. However, over time you can introduce new topics and new approaches. Celebrate when you see them practicing any of the things you’ve discussed and don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen all the time.

So, moms, dads & philanthropists–what advice do you have for raising a philanthropist?

Aimee Ash is a volunteer for the Circle of Sisterhood. She is the Executive Director of Gamma Sigma Alpha National Fraternity/Sorority Academic Honor Society and resides in Indianapolis, Indiana with her husband and twin girls. (Disclaimer: I am not raising the perfect philanthropists at the ripe age of 4 and do not claim to be schooled on this topic, just doing what every mom is doing and waking each day to a new adventure!) The Wall Street Journal published an insightful article on this topic that can be found here.