The generosity gene: Raising children who give
Professionals in philanthropy and family relationships found a simple way to promote philanthropy among your offspring.
Vince Schmitz raised Annie Schmitz McBournie and her siblings to always be empathetic to families living in poverty. In fact, Schmitz was one of 11 children raised in a single-parent household. (His father died when he was four.)
His life helped inspire McBournie to create a foundation that gives the working poor more educational choices for their children.
“My dad sat my siblings down and said, ‘When mom and I die, we want you to help families like our family,’” McBournie said. “So I slept on it, woke up the next day, and called him. I said ‘Dad, we aren’t going to wait until you die. Let’s do this together.’ And we started it together.”
Thus began the Schmitz Family Foundation, a Denver-based organization aimed at helping low-income families pay for faith-based education for their children.
By continuing to share her dad’s desire to help low-income families, and acting on it, McBournie bore out a finding of a recent study: donors beget donors.
Parents’ power as legacy builders
The report, Transmitting Generosity to Daughters and Sons (PDF), examines the role of gender in philanthropy and the influence of parents on their children’s giving. It found that adult children whose parents were philanthropic are more likely to donate themselves — and that a parent’s giving has more influence over a daughter’s tendency to donate than a son’s.
McBournie was among the panelists at a recent Wells Fargo Private Bank event in Denver who shared results from the report, which is part of the Women Give project from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Wells Fargo is the official sponsor for the launch event for Women Give 2018; the research was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Although the study didn’t explore how parents pass on wealth to children, it did find that parents’ giving helps transmit a legacy of generosity to succeeding generations. According to the study, donors gave an average of $950 a year to charity.
The survey shows parents’ power as legacy builders, said Beth Renner, head of philanthropic services for The Private Bank, and a board member of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.
“Preparation of the next generation is vital in the continuance of philanthropy,” said Renner, who was also a panelist at the Denver event. “As the survey clearly showed, what parents do matters to future generations.”
Also important, said Katherine Dean, head of Family Dynamics for The Private Bank, and also a panelist, is being intentional about sharing your giving philosophy with children so they know why it’s important.
“Look for a teaching moment to make the invisible, visible,” Dean said. “My parents set the tone for me when I was young. Even when we didn’t have enough money to pay the bills, they never took the money they planned to give back. That always had an impression on me.”
Dean recommends that parents periodically ask their children what it means to be a member of the family and then sit back and listen to gain the most from such teachable moments.
“We can learn a lot from our kids, and teach them about giving at the same time,” she said.
McBournie has drawn on lessons learned from her father — and her own philanthropic tendencies — to make giving back part of her everyday decisions. It’s why she’s started devoting the same amount of family time for charitable activities as participating in sports.
“We spend so much time driving our kids around to various sporting activities, it is important to expose them to various charitable organizations any chance you can get,” she said. “There are so many opportunities to give in each and every community, and it doesn’t have to be about money. Your time is equally valuable.”
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