Counting rhymes help determine who is “it” or whether to eat the apple chunk or the pear slice in the fruit salad, but they are not much help in deciding where to give charitable contributions. Because we think it is important to give intentionally, our three daughters started early to learn how and why to give.
The year Ann and Elle turned seven, adults in my extended family decided to give to charity instead of exchanging holiday gifts. We involved the girls, too: each could pick a charity, and we would give $25 to it. How do you help a seven-year old (or five–year old, as Lia was) pick a charity?
We played a game like Twenty Questions, turning it into a grade-school level, secular discernment process. First query: “Do you want to help people, nature, or animals?” Ann wanted to help people, Elle was interested in nature, and Lia said animals.
So we asked, “Do you want to help a group you belong to or a different group?” Here or somewhere else in the world? Something new that is being tested or an activity that people already know works? And so on.
Ann picked helping people who need food, starting our long-term commitment to Gleaners Food Bank. Elle selected the Nature Conservancy. For Lia’s preference to help horses, I checked GuideStar.org to find an organization that also met parental expectations for accountability. This led us to Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Maryland.
We gave our children choices about their giving early, and our money has followed. Now, even their own money follows, showing perhaps a little success from our methods. But our money still keeps following their giving preferences, and the process is not confined to December.
This week, as the academic year winds down, we have made a pledge to the Gay Straight Alliance, which advocates respect and tolerance. The local chapter just elected Lia as an officer for next year, so we want to show support for the social justice mission of this high school program.
We are also writing checks for the twins’ fundraising as part of the 24-hour Relay For Life to benefit the American Cancer Society. This engagement stems from multiple motivations—memorial and tribute purposes to honor people we know, plus a desire to bring about change so fewer children die. But also note that Ann and Elle will accrue hours toward community service, which is required for their academic program. This last is important for why we are supporting this cause right now.
Would we give to this organization at the beginning of summer, when my husband’s academic pay stops for two months, if our children were not involved? Probably not.
Our gift is one of millions, so it even though we give a little, it adds up. Yet, we are giving up something else to do this.
In the end, we decided that giving matters as an example, because of the good it can do, and because it forces us to consider our choices and how we express our values on a day-to-day basis. We can find flowers on sale later to fill the window boxes, but we will not have the same chance to be part of our children's promise to their team mates and themselves to do something good.