Teaching philanthropy – yes, it works!

Ellen Remmer
Thursday, September 19, 2013

I’ve always said that when it comes to influencing your children to be charitable, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.  Guess what, I was wrong.

Hot off the presses, the latest Women Give 2013 research on charitable giving by girls and boys has some interesting and surprising findings.  It found that children whose parents talk to them about giving are 20% more likely to give than those whose parents don’t.  And it found that talking actually matters more than role-modeling when it comes to parents influencing their children’s philanthropic behavior.

Well I guess I’m going to have to change my story.   Talking works!

It’s not that I don’t believe in formal philanthropy education.  TPI created one of the first strategic grantmaking seminars for donors nearly 20 years ago and continues to do countless workshops around the country.   And the philanthropy education field, after many years grasping for air, is actually becoming a “field.”  The Kellogg Foundation made the first major investment in k-12 philanthropy education materials through its Learning to Give platform, which includes formal lesson plans and resources for schools, teachers, faith groups and even parents.  It is now part of a global youth service movement in partnership with generationOn.  More recently, Doris Buffet started the Learning by Giving Foundation, which has provided $10,000 grants to colleges for student-led grantmaking in the context of full-credit courses in philanthropy  (disclosure, I helped to get a grant for my alma mater, Wesleyan University, from this program) and this year, launched the first ever Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called Giving With Purpose.  At Stanford University, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen announced the Giving 2.0 Project U a few months ago where she is making available all the materials, case studies, syllabi and guides from her 13 years of teaching philanthropy at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

But, I confess that I’ve always thought that philanthropy education was primarily aimed at those who already “got it.”  What was missing was definitive proof that talking about philanthropy, in the right way, actually influences the decision to give.  The new research by Indiana University’s Women’s Philanthropy Institute shows that it does.  “Focused, intentional teaching by talking to children about charity is what works.”

So hurray for what this research means for the future of donor education and the ability of parents, aunts and uncles, teachers and mentors to influence future generations to become more philanthropic.