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Giving Back: It's a Family Affair
"Are we there yet?" is a phrase parents often hear as they embark on family vacations. As more families incorporate philanthropic principles into their vacations, perhaps they will begin to hear a new question: "Are we making a difference yet?"
"Summer is a great time for families to explore social, cultural, educational, and environmental experiences together -- while still having a good time."
As a philanthropic advisor, I help individuals and families make their charitable giving more meaningful and effective. One question many parents ask is, "At what age should we involve our children in our philanthropy?" I believe it's never too early to start. Cultivating a philanthropic perspective takes time, and children learn best by getting involved in charitable activities at an early age.
Summer provides an ideal opportunity for families to explore social, cultural, educational, and environmental experiences together -- while still having a good time. Following are some tips to help parents broaden their children's perspectives on the world. Whether you're planning an intensive international volunteer experience or a trip to the local park, there are plenty of ways to spend quality time as a family, while doing some good.
Plan as a family. As you work to develop socially conscious children, it's important to involve your children in your discussions about volunteer opportunities. By bringing them into the planning process, you will help your children understand why you want them to be involved.
Decide what you're looking for in a volunteer experience. Increasingly, volunteer organizations are providing opportunities for the whole family to volunteer together. You may want to consider a domestic or international volunteer vacation, but getting involved doesn't have to be that complex: How about getting started in your own community? VolunteerMatch can help you find opportunities to give back when and where you want to. The key is to figure out what works best for your family.
Determine the impact you want to have. Are you looking for a onetime experience, like a park cleanup, or a weekly or monthly project? Do you want to support one project, like building a house with Habitat for Humanity, with a definite end product and timetable? Or would you rather volunteer at a community center, school, retirement center, or hospital?
Find age-appropriate activities. Naturally, a toddler shouldn't be wielding a hammer on a construction site. When looking at options for your family's volunteer experience, consider the needs and abilities of your own family first. This will also make you more effective in helping others.
Determine your comfort level. Are you looking to roll up your sleeves and get sweaty, or would you prefer to work with children or seniors in an air-conditioned building? Make sure everyone in your family is aware of what they are getting into.
Incorporate your family's interests. Perhaps you have a child with a strong environmental interest. Or one who likes music. Or a science buff. Whatever your children's interests, try to incorporate them into your volunteering to make the experience more meaningful and valuable.
Build excitement. Volunteering can be fun! As you research and learn more about your volunteer assignment, encourage your children's curiosity and engage their interests. Have a countdown until your activity, and build in mini-events leading up to your charitable time together.
Reflect together. Throughout your experience and afterwards, "check in" with your children to see how they are doing. Volunteering together as a family can be fun, but also extremely educational. Don't miss the opportunity to instill some life lessons along the way.
Summer is an ideal time to re-connect with family and friends, as well as connect with new people, cultures, and issues. You don't need to book an eco-tour or other exotic vacation to have a purposeful adventure. Whether you're packing up the minivan for a trip to the beach, visiting family, or volunteering in your community, you and your family can become more socially engaged and establish lifelong memories.
For more information, visit www.idealist.org's "Volunteering With Your Family" section, which offers articles, best practices, helpful tips, and ways to find volunteer opportunities for your family. PBS Kids has a guide to family volunteering (pdf download) that can help you plan.
Janice Schoos leads the private philanthropy division of Changing Our World, Inc., a national fundraising and philanthropic consulting firm. She specializes in consulting with major philanthropists and families to develop targeted giving programs. Previously, she helped build and manage the JPMorgan Charitable Giving Fund, the fourth-largest donor-advised fund sponsored by a financial institution.