How would you describe the ideal philanthropist? Empathetic, fluid thinking, open-minded? You may be surprised that children ages 7-12 best exemplify these characteristics. This presents an opportunity to validate key philanthropic attributes at their peak. It also enables the field of philanthropy to promote an equitable and inclusive view of giving from the start. 

Imagine if all children grew up with a strong sense of their philanthropic responsibilities and capacities. Every child could feel responsible for making life more equitable for others. All children could have a sense of purpose beyond their own success and achievements. 

But adults can get in the way of children finding this purpose.  We relegate kids to traditional "kid-friendly service activities." While there is nothing wrong with canned food drives, lemonade stands, and cookie sales as isolated activities, kids are capable of much deeper engagement and impact. Research from the University of Kent found that “while all children regularly participate in fundraising activities, fewer than 20% were fully aware of the cause they were supporting, and less than 8% had a say in whether they participated." We can go bigger and do better. With the right foundational support, kids can both meaningfully contribute and individually flourish in the process.

At The Giving Square, we offer school-based programs and professional workshops that nurture a philanthropic disposition in ALL children. Through this work, we have learned the importance of:

  • Building for inclusion. Our programs are intentionally designed (and tested) across socio-economic demographics and learning styles. Over 60% of our programs are offered in lower-income communities due to our commitment to help address the civic education gap. We ensure that what we teach and how we teach is universal in design. 
  • Defining philanthropy more expansively. The original definition of philanthropy, “giving of oneself for the good of humanity,” is inclusive by nature as it implies the many ways one might give. Rather than using time, talent, and treasure, TGS uses a framework of Philanthropic Body Parts, recognizing the myriad ways that kids can help those around them with their ears, their mouth, their muscles, and so on. 
  • Giving kids real responsibility (not token tasks). In our programs, fourth graders give away $1,000 grants (think “kid-advised fund”), second graders endorse high-quality children’s books to be featured in bookstores, and middle schoolers host a podcast. From classroom sessions to public events, we always nurture agency and validate kids’  unique perspectives, concerns, and expertise. 
  • Building a philanthropic identity in kids. Just as a child may be seen as a baseball player, a reader, an artist, or a dancer, we can see kids as philanthropists. We can nurture philanthropic skills and identities from an early age. We can teach that philanthropy is about who we are, not just something we practice occasionally. This means finding ways for kids to contribute based on what makes them unique (their personality, their experiences, both good and challenging, and issues that concern them)—and helping kids believe that they have the capacity to make life a bit better for someone else.
  • Starting with empathy. An important aspect of helping others is building empathetic connections to the issues around us. Empathy building should NOT require us to directly witness the issue, the ”victim,” or the challenge. There are many ways to build empathy that do not require that we invade someone’s privacy unnecessarily. At The Giving Square, we use first-person narratives through videos, stories, and podcasts. We have discovered that certain books are masterful at building human connections to complicated situations. Throughout our programs, kids share their own expertise about issues such as exclusion, health, or immigration, where people of all ages share their experiences. 

Here is how funders can make philanthropy more inclusive for kids: 

  1. Start with YOU! Think about what you could learn from kids in your personal life. What are your children, nephews/nieces, neighbors curious or concerned about? Practice seeking the expertise of children. Listen to Kids Are Philanthropists Too to get a sense of how to provoke deeper conversations with kids. 
  2. Build more kid-friendly practices within your family giving practices or foundation. Reflect on your current processes. How are you currently working with kids? How are you ensuring that your efforts have an impact on both the kids you are engaging and the community you serve? Here are ways to improve:
    1. Try some of the strategies above.  
    2. Hold intergenerational experiences that validate the expertise of all participants.
    3. Give kids more decision-making authority.
    4. Nurture kids’ agency by stepping back, asking questions, and listening. 
  3. Help create the world’s first Kid Advised Fund. Let’s build on the inclusive intentions of participatory grantmaking by modifying the donor-advised fund model for children. Imagine what we could learn from kids in the process!