Raise Kids to Be Future Philanthropists

Michael McHorney, photos by Andrea Paulseth


RINGING THE BELL FOR  Ringing the bell for  the salvation ARMY  at memorial high school
 Ringing the bell for the salvation ARMY at memorial high school

As the leaves change color, the morning air becomes crisper, and darkness descends upon the day earlier, light can be shined upon others through the act of philanthropy. And, anyone can engage in philanthropy. Yes, ANYONE!

Philanthropy dates back to the 17th century, and according to the Oxford Dictionary, is defined as “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” Often a philanthropist is portrayed as someone who has attained significant wealth, signed on to The Giving Pledge, or started their own foundation. While these philanthropists are important, not every community or cause is supported by their philanthropy. So it’s up to each community to inspire a future generation of philanthropists. A great place to start is with your own children.

Philanthropy is especially relevant at this time of year with the holidays and year-end giving, but it is really something that can be done all year round. Here are some ideas to inspire your child to engage in philanthropy.


My wife (sorry dear) has a pajama collection. Not sure if there is such a thing? I’m also not sure what else to call something that seems to literally make closing some of our dresser drawers near impossible. So I tried to make a rule that to get another pair of pajamas, she needs to give up a pair. It’s kind of working. 

This type of “get and give” can also be applicable during a birthday, holiday, or other times when presents are received. Simply ask your child to decide one of the gifts to be given to another child in need. This also helps develop decision-making skills. Do you want to give up what’s least important? Do you give something that would be really meaningful to another child? 

If you find your child always choosing clothes, change it up the next time and ask them to consider something other than clothes. You can also make it really fun by having a child decide one gift to be donated ahead of opening gifts. This can allow the focus to not be as material and more about the act of choosing to be a philanthropist. Another idea that is environmentally friendly is to forego cards at birthdays and holidays. Instead ask your child to choose their favorite charity and ask gift givers to make a donation instead of buying a card for the child.


A colleague of mine shared how he and his wife taught their two daughters about managing money and budgeting. While on family vacations, each daughter would get one of the days to plan and do the things she wanted. A budget of $50-$100 would be given, and they’d have to plan accordingly to ensure the day’s expenses didn’t exceed the amount. So often, we provide unrealistic experiences in hopes that children will learn. As children get older and older, they need more realistic and fun experiences to truly learn.

The same can be said to inspire children to participate in philanthropy. If you participate in year-end giving, involve your children. Ask them to research a local cause or organization that they think deserves a gift from the family. Allow them to choose one or more causes to receive support from the family. 

Or provide each child with a budget each year to be philanthropic. The amount isn’t important, it’s the real-life experience that can inspire a child to actually take action when they are an adult.


I’ll never forget the old saying during childhood having it drilled into me that I should save 10% of what you make as a good habit. What if we encouraged children to also give 10% of what they make? Or some percentage that is meaningful. I’ve even heard of parents matching the amount a child saves from an allowance or part-time job. This could also be done if the child chooses to participate in philanthropy. It would teach them how to respond to a challenge gift per se, another real-life example of giving.

In Horton Hears a Who!, Dr. Seuss wrote “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” I’d like to think the same could be said for a philanthropist.

Michael McHorney is executive director of the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire, which is a community partner of Chippewa Valley Family.