Show Me (And Talk to Me About) The Money

Healthy Family Conversations About Giving

I remember the first time it registered with me what it meant to give well.  Our church was launching a building campaign and many members were standing up at a worship service and sharing what they were going to sacrifice for this new vision. 

In the midst of the powerful sacrifices people were offering, the most vivid moment came when a couple slowly walked to the stage.  The man was very ill with Parkinson’s disease so it took a while for his wife to help him navigate his way to the platform. 

The couple explained that they had decided to offer her wedding ring, probably the most precious thing she shared with her husband.  I was touched, as was the entire church.

Later that night after our family arrived home, my dad pulled me aside and told me that he had given the pastor enough extra money to cover the value of the ring so that the woman could keep her wedding ring. My dad explained that he and my mom wanted to do this because they felt it was right. More importantly, this was something that was to be kept private within our family. We were not to be proud about what we had given, but humble for what we had received.

It was then that I began to understand the value of giving with integrity and humility. I would continue to learn this, as my parents would involve me in different decisions that would require me to decide for myself how I wanted to contribute. I began to learn what my parents were passionate about and that in turn gave me a chance to share the same with them. 

As I’ve experienced, there is great power in a parent asking a child how they want to help. It not only breeds responsibility, but also ownership in the joy that comes from sacrifice.  Regardless of your family’s financial situation, you as a parent have the chance—and maybe even the responsibility—to talk with your kids about your giving philosophy and practices.


The Power of Our Example

One study analyzing the relationship between the giving tendencies of parents and children found that the giving practices of young adults often mirror those of their parents.  Fifty-five percent of young adults who observed their parents donating money to churches or ministries during their adolescence now do the same.  For youth whose parents did not donate, only 24 percent now make charitable contributions. 1

While Millennials are known for giving the least, around 56 percent actually give to charitable causes and give an average of $341 a year. Forty-two percent of these young donors actually give directly to the organization instead of through a website or fundraising device. 2  With immediate and constant access to the Internet, this group is best at becoming evangelizers for an organization and getting the word out. They are very open to talking about where and how they give.

In 2010, Russ Reid, a leading fundrasing agency, released a study that stated that above education and household income, parents’ giving patterns have a greater impact on the potential for their children to give. In fact, parental involvement in nonprofits increases the odds of their children’s involvement by 80%. 3


Not Taboo:  Talking About Money

Our Sticky Faith research has shown us that parents are more than just the initial launch pad for their kids' journey, but that they continue to shape them as ongoing companions and guides.   Based on our Sticky Faith research, we encourage parents to share about their own spiritual journeys with their children, and giving is often a part of that spiritual journey. In chapter 6 of Sticky Faith we give the suggestion of using your time at the dinner table to ask how you see God working in your daily lives. This may be a good time to share how God has been working through your giving, especially if you’ve received a recent update from a charity or ministry that shared stories of its impact

Charles Collier, the author of Wealth in Families, stresses the need to ask what he calls the “Big Questions.” One of the most important questions according to Collier is “How can we nurture the growth and development of our family members, and what role does money play in their life journey?" 4   The art of discussion helps you begin to understand your child as an individual with their own unique burdens and callings, and then gives you the opportunity to help them act on those passions.

For as much time as we spend having conversations about the things our kids should avoid, why do we often skimp on talking to them about things they should take part in? By opening up conversations with our kids about giving we are not only showing them the value of stewardship, but also giving them the opportunity to share in someone else’s story. The seeds of generosity that we plant now will take root and grow throughout the rest of their journey.


Simple Steps Parents Can Take

The Fourth Partner Foundation recommends the following steps for parents who want to educate and involve their children and teenagers in their family’s giving, whatever the family’s giving potential and practices might be. 5

1.    Expect children and teenagers to give: Creating an understood expectation can sometimes be more beneficial than a requirement. When parents give children an expectation to do something, parents give them the responsibility to choose and then rise to the standard on their own.

2.    Show children and teenagers what you give: Too often giving is a family secret for any number of reasons. By showing children and teenagers what parents give to, children are educated not only in the reality of what their parents give to but also what they are passionate about.

3.    Match children’s and teenagers’ giving: When parents financially match their kids’ giving, parents begin to understand what touches their kids’ hearts and kids discover that parents also value those causes.

4.    Take kids along:  Parents are often surprised at how much children learn just from being with them and being included in ministry visits or meetings. This practice can open up all sorts of conversations about what people are doing and give kids memorable experiences. Parents are often surprised at how much teenagers absorb just from watching and being exposed to the work they are involved in. In time, they may want to go on their own and they will know what to ask and for what to look for in a ministry needing support.

5.    Celebrate children’s and teenagers’ giving:  Parents can find ways to let their children know they are noticing and are proud of their giving. If God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), then it's okay for parents to show their teenagers that giving can be joyful instead of merely a grim duty. 

I’m glad my parents told me about the gift they gave to our church, which enabled that precious married couple to keep their wedding ring.  It’s not just a memory from my past, it’s part of what motivates me to give in the present, and fills me with a vision for how I might be able to give in the future.  May we all be able to pass on that type of giving legacy to the teenagers in our lives. 

Action Points

  •  Talk with someone you trust: Is there a parent you know who is already talking about their giving with their kids? Spend some time with them to see how they have approached the subject.
  • Start a conversation with your kids by asking them to describe their idea of giving and what they have learned from you or any type of involvement they have had so far. From this you can start thinking of ways to involve them further in your giving patterns.
  • Start a project together. If you are currently not involved in an organization or haven’t included your kids in the work you have done so far, take the opportunity to start a new giving project that you decide on as a family. This could be sponsoring a child, sponsoring an entrepreneur through Kiva, or even volunteering monthly at a local outreach 

Additional Helpful Resources:

1. The Learning Community

2. Learning to Give

3. ShareSaveSpend

4. Family Giving News: 6 Tips on Raising Philanthropic Children

Published Feb 27, 2012
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