Intergenerational giving: How our charitable practices influence our children—and vice versa
August 16, 2017
By Ann Gill
It’s summer—a time of long, sun-washed days, family vacations, and, at Vanguard Charitable, an annual tradition we call Community Days. These volunteer outings are one of the most gratifying ways we take time off work, as each team member chooses from a collection of service opportunities that have been developed in tandem with local nonprofits. This year, team members will cage and protect young oak trees in a nearby land preserve, cheer on elderly individuals in the Olympics-style “Golden Games,” and support at-risk youth at a back-to-school event—to name just a few of the options. This time out of the office is time well-spent; the tradition of Community Days helps us put our values to work and our mission into action.
Tradition often goes hand-in-hand with philanthropy, and our philanthropic efforts are most meaningful when we include others. A recent study on intergenerational giving, conducted by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and supported by Vanguard Charitable, indicates that giving or volunteering with our children, rather than simply encouraging them to do so, is a much more effective way of passing along our philanthropic legacy to future generations. But the findings suggest that intergenerational giving also works in reverse. Our kids may inspire us to donate to their alma maters, or, through internships they hold, or volunteer activities they participate in, introduce us to fantastic nonprofits we’ve never heard of before.
“We should do something about that,” my daughter told me, upon learning of the underserved children in her own classroom.
When she was in the first grade my eldest daughter learned of an initiative by a local nonprofit to provide school supplies, clothing, or funding for the next class trip to students in her very own classroom that could not afford these things.
“We should do something about that,” she told me when she got home that day. It was her indignation and determination that made me reconsider my own view of philanthropy. I had always been interested in supporting the less-fortunate, but it was my seven-year-old who helped shift my focus from far-off people in need to those that were underserved in our very own community. And for my daughter, this early exposure to philanthropy was an important catalyst. In the coming years, her requests for charitable action grew.
Re-examining our philanthropic habits can be a valuable exercise. Traditions are important, but they don’t have to limit our giving. Many families make a point of giving generously at the end of the year, but 96% of charities would prefer to receive year-round support. Making a contribution now, in the off-season, so to speak, is often even more meaningful, and can alleviate the logistical logjam that occurs around the holidays.
We associate the summer with family vacations, but we can also associate it with family giving traditions. We can learn about the causes that inspire our children, or our parents, or our friends, and, in turn, we can share with them our interests. We can work to expand our philanthropic impact, and extend our giving legacy. We can help the people in need across the world, and those across the street.
Ann Gill is Chief Philanthropic Officer at Vanguard Charitable.
The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s “A tradition of giving,” the first study of its kind to examine giving patterns across three family generations, can be found here.