The most generous among us were home schooled.

In generosity, that is.

The earliest and longest lasting stewardship education begins at home, as parents and grandparents talk and walk the importance of giving to others. To paraphrase the author of Proverbs, when we train up children in the way they should go, the training sticks – including when it comes to stewardship practices.

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So it was and is for me. Likewise for the generous folk with whom I’m privileged to rub shoulders at church, in my community, and through my work as a consultant to faith-based nonprofits. To be sure, it’s possible to become generous sans role models. But most of us discover the joy of giving by mimicking the adults in our lives.

That’s the thesis of A Tradition of Giving, an e-document jam-packed with new research on giving and volunteering within families. A joint venture of Vanguard Charitable and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the report looks at how generous practices are transmitted across generations — children, parents, and grandparents — and “the effects they have on each other’s charitable giving.”

I hope you’ll read (and then save) the document. It’s a valuable resource for families, religious leaders, and fundraisers.  Until you get there, and to whet your appetite for the full buffet, here are some tasty tidbits from the pages of A Tradition of Giving.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Parents who give financially to charitable organizations are more likely to have children who also give financially to charitable organizations. Parent volunteering has a two-fold impact on children; parents who volunteer have children who volunteer and give.

What does this mean for parents? Get bang for your buck: Spend your time volunteering, with or without your children. Children who witness, or even better, experience, parents’ volunteerism are more likely to volunteer themselves—and to donate, as well.

Grandparents can . . . cultivate their grandchildren’s philanthropy by actively engaging with them in charitable ventures, like attending religious services or artistic performances together. While the philanthropic priorities of parents and their children are more closely matched than those of grandparents and grandchildren, grandparents still influence giving.

What does this mean for grandparents? Cultivate your grandchildren’s philanthropic interests by participating in charitable activities together. Create an experience; for example, volunteer with them at a soup kitchen, take them to the theatre or a museum, or provide them with donation envelopes to give at church.

Parents and grandparents who actively engage the younger generations in financial giving and volunteering are more likely to have children and grandchildren who actively pursue their own philanthropic endeavors. While the specific types of causes the generations support shift over time, the value of “giving back” certainly gets passed down.

What does this mean for families? No matter your background, you still influence your family’s philanthropic behaviors. The best step: volunteer together or give together. Engaging in a charitable activity together is more effective at promoting charitable interests than simply encouraging giving.

While financial giving and volunteering take place during one’s lifetime, estate giving is another way intra-family generational influence occurs. Younger relatives seem to indirectly influence their older relatives’ giving, as parents said they supported organizations and causes related to their children. For example, families often make donations to their children’s or grandchildren’s schools.

What does this mean for nonprofit organizations? Tap into the giving traditions within families. Volunteering is a great tool to do so: Consider developing intra-family volunteer opportunities that allow the entire family to participate (e.g. multi-generation-friendly activity that is offered outside the work day) and develop the natural interests that are born from engaging together.

On a personal note, the attention given in A Tradition of Giving to the role of grandparents in the home schooling of a new generation of generous stewards, delights me. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles – the entire clan – there’s room for us all in the amazing ministry of raising up men and women who are rich toward God.

For more on encouraging generosity in children, see:

A seven-step plan for raising more generous kids

Teach your children (to give) well

Remembering my father who taught me well that generous matters

What's your take on this topic?

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