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Talking about giving with your kids & grandkids

Why do you give to your favorite causes?

We were listening recently to a very generous 92-year-old. She mused aloud, “I don’t know exactly why I give. I feel an obligation to others who are not as fortunate as I am. My mother never had any money to give while we were growing up, but she did care about people and shared what she had: her smile, compassion, food. I suppose I learned to give from my mother. Oh, and also I learned that giving makes me happy, so now I do it for me too.”

So many of us first learned to care for others when we were small, at home, at the knee of a parent or grandparent. Many, too, give with compassion for those who have not been as fortunate as we. Perhaps you have also discovered what the National Institutes of Health found in brain MRIs: we experience a “helper’s high,” good feelings that drive better health outcomes for each of us, when we help others.

We often hear from clients who want to pass on what they’ve learned about giving to their own kids or grandchildren. What do you do if you’re worried that talking about your values will come across as lecturing? Consider inviting the next generations to give with you. Here are a few ideas:

  • Establish a family giving vehicle. For most families, this can be as simple as a dedicated account in which you accumulate charitable funds. If you want something more structured, although many people used family foundations in the past, perhaps opt for donor-advised funds now. You can set one up in minutes and use a tax-smart asset like appreciated stock to fund it, and there’s only one receipt to find at tax time. Once it’s set up, use the family fund together. Bonus: you can teach all kinds of financial and investment topics through the family charitable fund.
  • Host regular family meetings about giving. At each meeting, let a different member, including the youngest, present their favorite charity and why they may want to volunteer or give money to that organization. Vote annually on a joint contribution. Many families like to do this around Thanksgiving.
  • Match the gifts of young children or grandchildren. To encourage the young philanthropists in your family or network, grow their gifts. One family doubled the gifts of their teenage sons and tripled them when the two kids gave to the same charity together, hoping to encourage not just giving, but siblings working together.
  • Volunteer together. There’s no lesson more powerful than seeing you get your hands dirty. Invite others to join you as you clean up a stream, ladle soup, bathe a stray dog or blaze a forest trail. We once heard a 13-year-old observe, “Grandpa got really excited about cleaning up this park. He played here as a kid, but we live out in the suburbs, so I’ve never been here before. He said the kids who play here now are just like him.” This grandpa didn’t argue with his grandson about why it mattered. Instead, he was a role model and told stories about his early life.

Contact a BMT Wealth Advisor to help you think through your giving today.