How to learn to give? A global question with local answers

Michael Alberg-Seberich and Gabriele Störmann

According to a recent survey carried out by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, 9 out of 10 children and young people aged 8-19 in the US are giving to charity. The Women Give 2013 survey suggests that every child, regardless of age, gender, race and parents’ income level, can learn to be philanthropic, an idea confirmed by The Growing Up Giving report, a submission to a UK parliamentary review on youth giving. But when is the right time? And what methods are most effective?

Michael Alberg-SeberichThis issue of Alliance focuses on the engagement of the next generation of wealthy families around the world. In this article, we want to widen the lens and look at how children around the world can be raised as future philanthropists and engaged citizens. In 2012, Active Philanthropy, as part of a report commissioned by the German NGO Children for a Better World, identified numerous youth giving programmes around the world. We want to share our findings on how these educational programmes try to impart the spirit of philanthropy to future generations, and our conclusions about how philanthropy education works best.

First of all, there are lots of places and occasions where children and young people can learn to give, be it in the family, at school, in out-of-school programmes led by foundations, in youth clubs or other organizations, or in self-initiated and youth-led projects.

Second, learning to be philanthropic is not a question of age; it is rather a question of age-appropriate topics, tasks, opportunities and guidance. With the right mix, even the youngest children can develop philanthropic behaviour.

Third, philanthropy education seems to work best with programmes that include different aspects of giving and combine different approaches. Combining grantmaking with some kind of volunteering or engagement in youth-initiated projects has proved to be most effective.

Finally, adults like teachers, parents, foundation staff or youth workers have to relinquish control, supporting and encouraging young people to make responsible decisions without interference from adults putting forward their thoughts and arguments.

Philanthropy education in the family

Learning to give starts within the family. As parents are the first people children learn from, they are natural role models. Practitioners providing financial education for young people or next generation programmes for wealthy philanthropic families confirm that parents play a critical role in helping their children to develop self-esteem and awareness of other people’s needs. As Sam Davis and Alison Sole point out in a guide published by the National Center for Family Philanthropy, what parents do, and how they act, has to be congruent with what they say.

The most recent Women Give survey, on the other hand, has shown, that ‘talking to children about charity has a greater impact on children’s giving than role modelling alone’. Children who have conversations about giving with their parents are more likely to become charitably involved. According to the survey, the effect of talking is significant even after controlling for other factors that affect giving, including whether the household donates to charity. To encourage their children to become philanthropic individuals, parents should explain why they give or don’t give and to which charity by emphasizing the direct benefits the people being helped will experience.

Besides acting as role models, parents should allow their children to experience giving and charity in practice. By taking children on visits to charities and discussing their impressions within the family, children learn about pressing challenges and ways to tackle them. In this context, parents can even allow their children a small budget to give to charitable causes the children choose themselves. A good start for this is the introduction of three savings boxes: one to spend, one to save, one to give money. In order to keep children interested and engaged, it is important to choose topics and organizations that are relevant and interesting to them. A good example of this kind of work is the Little Givers programme, initiated by a group of Brooklyn mothers to teach their kindergarten kids about the meaning of giving.

More and more wealthy families who have a strong philanthropic tradition practised through a family foundation or fund are establishing special junior boards to encourage the next generation to get involved. The tasks and responsibilities of those junior boards may vary from family to family, but normally they have joint activities like site visits and a certain budget to donate to charities individually or as a group. This shows that, in every family, in the end it’s about creating experiences and reflecting on giving.

Philanthropy education at school

School-run programmes are ideal to teach giving and civic engagement as they automatically include all pupils of the school or of a given year. Many schools now offer project days or weeks where pupils develop and run their own projects in order to help others through some kind of voluntary work or fundraising. Examples are school classes helping to clean the community park or spending afternoon hours with residents in retirement homes, or school lotteries and bake sales for charitable causes. In many countries, there are also dedicated programmes teaching civic engagement and citizenship that include learning about giving.

Service learning
A particular method of teaching civic engagement is ‘service learning’, a teaching method that combines social engagement with teaching. Teaching on charity-related issues and student volunteering are part of the school curriculum. The pupils’ engagement is planned and discussed in class, and linked to their curricula and teaching plans.

Learning to Give

One such service learning programme is Learning to Give. Learning to Give develops lessons and educational resources that allow teachers, parents, youth workers, faith groups and community leaders to effectively teach giving, volunteering and civic engagement through service learning. The curriculum was developed by the Council of Michigan Foundations. After being piloted in Michigan, Learning to Give was transferred to the global youth service movement generationOn to be rolled out and integrated into the core curricula of schools worldwide. Parts of the programme have already been implemented in South Korea, for example.

Running programmes with foundations
Most of the programmes teaching giving at schools have been developed by, and are run in some kind of cooperation with, foundations. Many programmes combine volunteering or active civic engagement with grantmaking, with the money to be donated coming from the foundation. Some programmes also include a fundraising component or a competition where classes of one or several schools pitch their projects to the other pupils.

Penny Harvest
Penny Harvest is one example of an effective programme that is run at schools and supported by foundations. It is probably the largest and broadest-based philanthropy programme for children aged 4-14 in the US. The one-year programme of the organization CommonCents is divided into four phases and involves volunteering, collecting money for charity, pupils developing their own projects and making grants. In the first phase (October to December), pupils collect money in their local area together with their classmates. Subsequently (January to April), they work in small groups to analyse social problems in their area, identify charitable organizations tackling those problems, and make donations to the organizations that they think are most effective. In the third phase (April to June), pupils are encouraged to develop their own projects in cooperation with experienced groups, or to volunteer with established programmes. The fourth and final phase encompasses reflection and additional planning. In the US, Penny Harvest is supported by several community and family foundations.

Penny Harvest has also been the inspiration for youth giving programmes in Europe and some pilots on other continents. In South Africa, schools compete in the YIPPSA (Youth in Philanthropy South Africa) programme run by Inyathelo. Pupils and young adults aged 14-35 collect donations for a charitable organization of their choice. Selected members of the YIPPSA Social Committee then represent their school in a competition. To promote a culture of giving and responsibility among young people, Inyathelo has published the Youth Philanthropy Action Guide, which provides ideas, advice and tips, as well as information on the donor world, fundraising, etc, for teachers and learners.

In France, the Edmond de Rothschild Foundations have adapted the American model to local needs by dividing it into six phases, adding a theoretical section on philanthropy in class and a culminating donation day, where all participating schools meet and present their projects to one another. After piloting the programme, the foundation is currently working to transfer the programme to its own charitable organization, with the name L’Ecole de la Philanthropie.

Go Givers and Giving Nation
In the UK, the Citizenship Foundation has developed two programmes to enhance giving. In Go Givers, primary school pupils decide how they want to be involved (giving time, knowledge, money) and choose an issue that they believe is important. They develop a campaign, which generally includes fundraising activities and volunteering, and the competition culminates in a meeting of all the schools involved and the presentation of awards to campaigns. Giving Nation is aimed at 11-16 year olds and encourages them to develop their own social projects, run campaigns or take part in existing projects. School classes receive £50 in seed money for their projects.

Youth and Philanthropy Initiative
In the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI), secondary schools adopt the programme and make it a part of their curriculum for a given year and all pupils of that year actively participate. Following an introductory workshop, the pupils work in small teams to identify funding needs, research and analyse charitable organizations tackling those needs, and make site visits to selected organizations. Afterwards, pupils deliver a ten-minute pitch to a panel of local authorities, teachers and parents on ‘their’ organization. The panel awards the winning team a certain amount of money to be donated to the charity concerned. Developed by the Canadian Toskan Casale Foundation, the programme has also gained traction in Europe. In the UK, YPI is supported by the Pears Foundation under the direction of the Institute for Philanthropy; in Scotland the Wood Family Trust is its chief sponsor; and in Northern Ireland it is the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Out-of-school programmes

Programmes encouraging young people to run their own projects
Children and young people also have a variety of opportunities to learn about giving in programmes that are not based at schools. Numerous NGOs and foundations have launched programmes encouraging children and young people to develop and run their own projects and support them with advice, training and/or money.

Well-known programmes in Germany are Think Big, developed by the Deutsche Kinder- und Jugendstiftung (German Foundation for Children and Youth) and now supported by Telefonica Germany, and ‘JUGEND HILFT!’, a competition initiated and run by Children for a Better World.

In Switzerland, the Mercator Foundation and infoklick, a leading Swiss association to support children and youth, have added a special twist to their Mercator Youth Project Fund. In order to promote responsible and sustainable allocation of resources, young people who initiate projects pay the money back once they have successfully implemented the project. If they cannot do so, they provide a social service to the amount of the support received. The Canada-wide initiative Youth Scape, which was developed by the J W McConnell Family Foundation and implemented in partnership with local government and national partners, has a special focus on disadvantaged young people, encouraging them to get involved with projects in their area.

Youth committees and councils
A growing number of NGOs and foundations also offer opportunities for young people to participate in their governance and giving. The most common tool seems to be the establishment of a youth (advisory) committee, which either provides the organization with ideas, insights and views on its work from the perspective of young people or decides on certain grants the organization intends to make. Most of the existing youth advisory committees today were inspired by the Youth as Grant Makers programme, developed and piloted by the W K Kellogg Foundation and the Council of Michigan Foundations in the 1980s and 1990s.

Youth Advisory Councils or YACs
The programme consists of Youth Advisory Committees, or YACs, which are responsible for local funds established within community foundations. YAC members develop yearly funding programmes, assess charitable organizations, and decide on grants to be made to them. Often they have to present their decision to the foundation’s board in order to get the final approval.

Based on this programme, community foundations in Canada have developed Youth in Philanthropy Canada, which is now probably the densest network of youth councils among any group of foundations in the world. The programme comprises two elements: the councils themselves allocate grants to projects developed and run by young people, and young people are trained to develop and organize their own projects, as well as to prepare funding applications.

Whereas most of these programmes address young people aged at least 12-13, the children’s advisory committees of Children for a Better World in Germany involve children as young as 8. So far, CHILDREN has established children’s councils in five German cities. Each meets twice a year to discuss pre-identified projects assisting children and young people from all over the world and to allocate a total of €5,000 to those projects. Two weeks before each meeting, the children receive material on the pre-selected projects. This helps them to prepare a presentation, which is made to the group during the meeting, as well as to make up their minds about the projects. Each council has an adult coordinator. He or she prepares the meetings, encourages, facilitates and guides the discussion during the meetings, and takes minutes. The coordinator’s role is that of an enabler: the children are left to manage the meetings on their own and reach their own decisions.

Youth-initiated and youth-led organizations
Participating in a philanthropy education programme or initiating a project sometimes leads young people to establish and run a charitable organization on their own. This is true of YouthBanks. They are largely run as independent organizations led by young people aged 14-25 who decide which of a range of projects initiated by young people to fund and run. Local YouthBanks operate as autonomous entities, although adults provide advice, training and support where necessary. YouthBanks are often located alongside youth organizations or community foundations, which may also provide funding. Private family foundations are another source of funds.

YouthBanks first appeared in Northern Ireland in 1997. There are now more than 200 YouthBanks worldwide; they exist in the UK, France, Germany, South Africa, Australia and the USA, and in many East European countries. Since introducing the YouthBank model to Armenia in 2007, the Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF) has worked to support the idea across the Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. With support from the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, EPF is currently expanding the initiative in five areas, in Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. In South Africa, the Greater Rustenburg Community Foundation set up a YouthBank after participation in a European Foundation Centre seminar where the model was presented. It is currently advising the Uthungulu Community Foundation in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, to develop a similar initiative. The C S Mott Foundation, together with a number of partners, has made a donation of $200,000 over two years to the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI) to assist with the global expansion of the YouthBank model.

Another European example of youth-led organizations is the Solidarity Action Day Movement (SAME). This is a network of organizations in Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Serbia and Germany that all raise funds for social justice causes through a day of work. The young people in these organizations decide on the causes and projects the funds are to be donated to.

Some common success factors
A fundamental success factor of programmes teaching children about philanthropy, whatever type of programme, is the experience of self-efficacy and particularly the practice of active giving. This means giving children and young people the power to decide on the allocation of an (age-)appropriate grantmaking budget. Adult coordinators and advisers are important as enablers and supporters, but they have to let go of some control.

Alongside the experience of self-efficacy, the young people strongly appreciate the self-improvement and training effects that participation in a philanthropy education programme brings. Through their voluntary activity, children and young people want to broaden their horizons, skills, competencies and experiences; in some cases they hope to improve their career prospects. The training element can be reinforced by accompanying seminars and workshops on themes like public speaking, presentation, discussion, etc. Conversations with members of CHILDREN’s children’s councils as well as youth voices from all over the world have shown that such opportunities are received enthusiastically.

Learning to give is crucial to the future of many NGOs, the solution to many societal challenges and empathic societies. Our short ‘world tour’ has not actually covered the whole world, but we know from our research and many conversations that this is an issue people everywhere are concerned with. The solutions to teaching giving will be many and varied but our findings show that they should all include real-life experiences and actual giving.

Every generation poses the following questions about the next: will they take on responsibility? Will they care for our legacy? Will they be engaged? Most of the time, they take on the responsibility, but it did not just happen out of the blue. It is our responsibility to teach the values that we consider important. Teaching every child the importance of giving should be a task we all pursue as parents, foundation managers, teachers and philanthropists.

Michael Alberg-Seberich is managing partner at Active Philanthropy and Gabriele Störmann is project manager. Emails and

AnnabelleGiving Nation, UK

The students at Sandbach High School, Cheshire, took part in Giving Nation in 2012/13 and developed an ongoing awareness campaign around the issue of human trafficking, raising funds for Hope For Justice.
‘Someone needs to make a change. Our work has increased our own knowledge and interest in laws, rights and ways to change things; as well as having an impact on other people.’
Annabelle Durrad (age 15), member of the SLOTHs (Shine a Light on Trafficking Humans) campaign group

Aaron MullinsStudents at Rushcliffe School in Nottinghamshire won a Giving Nation video competition in 2008.
‘Giving up our time for others helped us realize we can make a difference. It’s created a caring atmosphere, we realize we can have an impact.’
Aaron Mullins (age 12)

David SadlerYouth Philanthropy Council, Canada
‘Being involved in the Youth Philanthropy Council gave me the opportunity to have a voice and give back to the community. At the time I was being bullied at school and didn’t have many things I could draw on to be proud of. The experience gave me a sense of pride and self-worth, and had a significant impact in my life. The experience inspired me to stay involved with youth development, and find ways to create similar opportunities for other young people.’

David Sadler, founding member of the Vancouver Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council


Children for a Better World children’s council, Germany

‘It’s fun to discuss and to consult on the projects in our group. I admit that at the beginning I found it somehow stressful to present a project in our meeting, for I wanted to reach the best result possible for “my” project. But when the group approves the maximum grant possible, it feels good.’
Sören Astaikanen (age 15), member of the Children for a Better World children’s council in Hanau, Germany

‘Thanks to my work wSarah Tith the children’s council I’m learning about other people’s needs and desires. This has changed some of my attitudes fundamentally, for example regarding food. Sometimes the people in the projects really lack the basics.’
Sarah Tabatabei (age 17), also a member of the children’s council in Hanau, Germany
Alin VaidaYouthBank, Romania

Like any young person of my age, I want to change the world, make it better. It’s not enough for me to reach a certain level; it is a must to try and help others improve as well. This is the way a healthy community is built. As a young person, it’s hard to find time to help others when you also need help. But I absolutely love it when my expertise/time/money/anything that I own is needed. It makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel valuable.’
Alin Vaida, part of the first team at YouthBank Romania and founding member of YouthBank Cluj, Romania


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