13 December 2010


It's that time of the year. I work for a non-profit; our end of year appeal letter just went in the mail. I'm on the board of another; I had to write that letter. At the same time, I'm bombarded at home with mail solicitations from charities of all stripes, ones we've supported in the past, and ones we haven't.

This year, I decided to do something a little different. Usually, I just sit down and write checks as I see fit, with little or no input from my family. But I thought it was time to involve the seven year old in the charitable giving, to try to get her to think about something other than buying more things for her.

We keep a container of pennies in her homework caddy, because they are easy to manipulate when discussing how 5 + 5 = 10, but 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 also equals 10 (and so forth). I rounded up all the rest of the pennies I could muster - and counted them: there were 79. The pennies were to be the stand-in for the donations - so that we could allocate our giving budget in a visual fashion.

I then took a stack of index cards, and wrote down the names of a bunch of charities that we've supported before and that I felt pre-disposed to, pre-selected, if you will. We all sat down at the table, and I talked through each of the organizations: this is where I work, this is where you swim, this is where you went to day care, these guys help feed hungry people, this place helps women internationally, this one vaccinates poor children around the world, and so on.

I then started the allocation by placing 10 pennies on the card for my college. The seven year old then made all of the rest of the allocations - 2 pennies here, 5 there, 6 for that one, 10 for another - until most of the pennies were accounted for. At that point, I asked her to talk about what she thought was missing, and as a result, we added in the library in our town, as well as the library in Granny's town. My husband asked that Greenpeace be included, and we were done.

I'm not sure that she completely understood what we were doing, but she did get a chance to voice her desires and move pennies from one organization to others, rebalancing our giving portfolio. Because we weren't working with real money - the pennies could just as well have been buttons - it was perhaps too cerebral for her.

On a somewhat related tangent, there's a YouTube video that's been making the rounds in my arts-related non-profit world, called Explaining an Arts NonProfit. It is hysterically funny and painfully sad as it points out the disjunct between what an arts organization needs, and what the public understands.

After watching it, I added the Octarium to my list - not least because hardly any of our budget had been allocated to arts and culture.

I was syndicated on BlogHer.com


FreshHell said...

Sigh. I've spent my entire career working for non-profits. I still have to explain why a cash gift to the Red Cross is better than dropping off a bag of old sweaters.

I'm not a mogol.

the queen said...

On one of my first days at a non-profit I had to ask, "What's a urine solicitation letter?" Someone just need to enunciate year-end.

Mom always thought the visit to the poor family we went on one Christmas just escaped me. She was entirely wrong. I just didn't say much about it.

Life in Eden said...

I think this is a great way to get her involved (perhaps I'll steal this one too, like the breakfast birthday party)! I have found myself writing the year-end checks too. This is the first year we've really been able to do substantial giving, and I'd been wishing for a better way to approach it. Next year for sure. (my teacher gifts are all charitable donations in their honor, hope they like it:)

Julia said...

Try having her write the dollar amounts (the numbers) on the checks.

When our tax refund comes in each year we allocate $20 to each child for personal spending (their share of the family 'wealth'), and $100 to give to the charity of their choice. If we give online, we fill out the form with the kid's name, so the thank-you and the follow-up solicitations come to the kid.

Also, if your child gets interested in a particular cause, run with it. When my #4 was in first grade she became very concerned with the need for clean water in Uganda. The Water Aid site allows you to set up a personal fundraising page, so we did that. She then emailed all the grown-ups she knew to ask for donations. She also got up in church and gave a speech and got over $100 in donations. Some of her friends set up a lemonade stand that summer and donated the $35 in proceeds. All in all she raised over $1K. We now sponsor a child in Uganda, to whom she writes.

We talk about stuff as if comes up in the news, or when we see an ad for something on the subway. The more you talk, the more they notice. It helps. Sounds like you're off to a good start!

Harriet M. Welsch said...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry over that video. As someone who used to work for a professional chorus, I have had about 900 of those conversations. I love the way you got your daughter involved with giving.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh. I barely have enough patience to listen to that moron in the clip, let alone place myself in an actual conversation like that with someone. I wanted to do some hitting.

I don't think it matters whether you used actual money or not, the example was made. In my experience, kids do not think that parents' money is real. When it is their own, you can bet they understand.

painted maypole said...

i think it's a great idea. something to build on, for sure. And a discussion about WHY you give.

That video killed me. There's a similar one, which I saw first, about trying to explain life as an actor. "You should be on broadway!"

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

The Starbucks line at the end was the kicker.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I think your idea of involving your daughter in your allocations is fantastic.

Debbie D said...

Good for you! Teaching her and giving her a voice on giving is a wonderful learning experience. It empowers her. Wish more parents would do this.

mayberry said...

Even if she didn't get it exactly, it's surely a good start. And I love that she came up with some ideas of her own.

Lady Bear up there was so calm in the face of doofusness. I admire that.

susan said...

I love the idea of using pennies to visually represent the donations. We do a tzedakah night during Hanukkah, when we empty our collecting-money-for-gifts piggy bank and decide where to allocate it, usually by talking through what we think is important. But I love the idea of representing donations. (We also empty the bank for gifts a few other times during the year, around our birthdays.)