How to create a family charity tradition

Fri Dec 23, 2011 2:36pm EST
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By Jilian Mincer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Like most families, Susan Colpitts has many holiday traditions, but she particularly values one that she started several years ago. At Christmas she gives each of her children a blank check for $25. Her three daughters - now 23, 21 and 17 - have a week to decide what charity will receive the money.

It's one of the ways Colpitts, a financial adviser in Norfolk, Virginia, teaches her children about philanthropy, something she thinks parents need to encourage on a daily basis through discussions, donations and volunteering. "So many of the values we teach our children happen across the dinner table," she says. "It's not just giving, it's also about volunteering."

Colpitts has a lot of company, according to philanthropy experts. Many families use the holidays as a time to have multi-generational discussions about giving, reports Bruce Boyd, a principal at Arabella Philanthropic Investments Advisors, a firm which helps families manage their giving programs. Some families even schedule volunteer activities, retreats and guest speakers.

Boyd himself has volunteered with his children. Why? "We are incredibly fortunate," he says. He wants them to know "they won the lottery" being born to a lucky family.

My husband and I have used many of the same strategies and traditions with our own children. We've cooked at soup kitchens, cleaned playgrounds and read at shelters. It wasn't easy to schedule with competing soccer games and swim meets, debate tournaments and birthday parties, but those experiences were invaluable.

It was time together that enabled us to help others but also to learn that those in need have much to offer.

But other than the typical charity race or school fundraiser, we didn't involve our children in our charitable giving decisions until a few years ago, and that was accidental. We had, over the years, collected thousands of coins, and the bank only wanted them if they were wrapped and counted.

Three extra sets of hands makes counting $441 go a lot faster. We decided to let the kids decide where to give the money. They chose well - a homeless shelter where they volunteered, an international relief organization and a local hunger group.   Continued...

<p>A boy eats a bowl of rice at a soup kitchen for people on low incomes in Berlin October 16, 2006. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski</p>