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4 Ways to Raise a Philanthropic Kid

When parents teach money lessons to their children, it's a good time to incorporate the idea of charitable giving.

Many children are naturally compassionate and there are ways parents can guide those thoughtful impulses. Experts in the philanthropic sector say parents can start at a very early age to encourage a charitable mindset in kids, even before children fully understand the concept.

Jacob Harold, president and chief executive officer at GuideStar, which collects and presents information on U.S. nonprofit companies, says his 14-month-old son is starting to show signs of generosity, which he and his wife are trying to encourage.

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"In the last few weeks, he will take some of the food that my wife and I give him, and he tries to give some of it back to us. We always try to accept and celebrate that generosity that he is starting to exhibit," Harold says.

As children grow, there are ways to encourage giving, and experts offer age-appropriate tips on how parents can raise a philanthropic child.

Communication. Talking about what children may see in their daily life is a good way to teach them how to connect their world and charitable acts.

Peter Borish, chief strategist with Quad Group and founding member of the Robin Hood Foundation, which works with families in New York's poorest neighborhoods, says when families volunteer, particularly when there is interaction between volunteers and those being served, it's important to talk about the experience.

"Say if you serve at a soup kitchen, you can facilitate a discussion. Ask, 'what did you see and learn?' One shouldn't be embarrassed or uncomfortable in a situation with people who are different from you or who are in less-fortunate circumstances. If you don't speak about something, it eventually becomes unspeakable," Borish says.

Harold says some parents might only point out problems that need to be addressed, such as homelessness, but philanthropy also looks at the good people have done to benefit others. He says visiting art or science museums are a great way to talk about the people who built them and the need for that type of philanthropy.

"Those are chances to educate in general, but also to help kids to understand that there are problems and opportunities, and it takes human action and human resources to address those problems and capture those opportunities," he says.

Time, treasury, talent. Stacey Rago, executive director of Chicago Charity Challenge, which teams businesses with charities to support employee giving, says philanthropy comes in three forms -- donating time through volunteering, donating money or donating skills -- and they all have value.

"When you're 5 what do you have to offer? You offer your time. And believe me, seniors (at nursing homes) think kids are the best thing ever. Now that my kids are teens ... we've talked about the talent piece. My kids sing carols at the hospital," for instance, Rago says.

Lisa Petersen, volunteer manager at Horizons for Youth, a Chicago-based social service agency, says even kindergarteners can volunteer time, which shows them that their time is valuable as a resource. Age-appropriate activities help children tie what they are doing with the cause.

Rago says when it comes to volunteering, it's important to do it repetitively so the lessons sink in.

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Parents can also talk about when it's appropriate to donate time, treasury or talent, as not every action is desirable at the same time. Rago says sometimes volunteers are helpful, while other times nonprofit organizations can spend the money more efficiently.

Make it fun. Bringing friends can also make volunteering fun, Petersen says. This way children don't feel like they're by themselves, and older kids don't feel like they're stuck with parents.

"If they're doing it with a friend, they're bonding and building that relationship. It seems more fun than it would be by itself," she says.

Parents can encourage kids to research topics, including which organizations are doing good work, how to find them and how to decide if the organization is a good fit, Harold says.

"Making the world better is often fun. And it can be really interesting, too," he says. "We can capture not just compassion, but also capture curiosity."

Harold says websites like are helpful for people seeking volunteer opportunities because nonprofits post what they need. The website has a filter for kids' activities, along with other filters.

Let them choose. Once children have had a few experiences volunteering, they may want to choose their own causes, Borish says.

Choosing their own charities is not unlike the way parents let children choose their own hobbies.

"It's similar to, when you're young, asking your child, do you like basketball, do you like baseball or ice skating. You're sort of indifferent to it, as long as they're doing something that they like, you're happy," he says.

Parents who give allowances can start three money jars labeled spend, save, donate, and in the beginning parents may control how to divide resources. But as the child ages, Harold says letting him or her decide how much to put in and where to spend it gives the child some control.

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"There's a sense of agency, so it's not put upon them. Parents (should) suggest and provide framework, but figure out ways to have the kid own that sense of choice," he says.

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