Charities: What the Research Says About Raising Giving Children

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Is there research on kids giving service? A s a young fundraiser for nonprofits helping children, nature, and the arts, I was amazed at the generosity of people and fascinated by their reasons for giving, which were as varied as the people themselves. As a graduate student in public and nonprofit administration at the University of Utah, I made it my business to research those motives so that I could be a more effective fundraiser and administrator.

Now, as a stay-at-home mom raising two young boys, I'm making it my business to acquaint them with the many and diverse needs there are in our community, and the simple ways that they can give. In doing so, I'm drawing upon that same graduate-study research to help educate my efforts in raising giving children because, in many ways, nonprofit donors and kids are not that different. This can educate your efforts as well.

For instance, a 1996 article in the journal Nonprofit Management and Leadership (Mount, vol. 7, no. 1, Fall 1996) identifies four primary reasons that people donate:

  1. Involvement, or the belief that one is part of a greater whole and that making a donation will help effect change for others.
  2. Means, or a donor's feeling that they are financially secure and able to share.
  3. Self-Interest, i.e., to get a tax-deduction or recognition
  4. Predominance, or the fact that donors tend to give most to large nonprofits, schools, or causes.

A 2010 survey by Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy showed similar motives, with "being moved at how a gift can make a difference" still leading the list, but with the addition of "giving to an efficient organization."

At first glance, it doesn't seem like these motives would have anything to do with our children. They don't have vast sums at their disposal or need tax deductions, and they tend to be fairly self-interested. But they can surprise you.

Recently, I collected pink lids from Activia yogurts and had my 8 year-old son enter the unique codes found on the underside of each one at For every code entered, Dannon donates 10 to 20 cents (depending on the product) to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. I explained to him what breast cancer was, that it can take moms away from their sons, and that by entering the codes, we could help some of them. We entered 16 codes, then I asked him to calculate how much of a donation that would make. His eyes went wide when we finished and I told him that he'd just helped some boys not lose their moms to breast cancer. Whoever says kids can't be motivated by a feeling of "involvement"?

And whoever said kids can't be motivated by self-interest either? We should not discount that reason when trying to motivate our kids to give because, while it may not be the noblest of motives, it still prompts a good share of the gifts with which many noble things are done in today's nonprofit world. For adults, this means giving so that a plaque can be put up in their honor, or so that they can claim a good tax deduction. For kids, this means giving (with sums that, while not as large, are clung to just as tightly as adults) for that plaque on the fridge, or the candy they're offered afterwards. So, to the parent that wonders how to motivate their kids to give, I say: think about what motivates you to give of your money or time, or what would motivate you if you had lots of money, and just translate it to their level. Research says that's okay.

What steps do you take to make sure your children understand the importance of giving back?

Photos courtesy of Keerati and David Castillo Dominici.

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