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Charitable Contributions Can Be Lessons in Gratitude: Helping to Guide the Younger Generations

Madeline Valente, CFP® is a wealth advisor at BlueSky's Pleasanton office.

Proven recipes are a must for many of us in the kitchen. A sprinkle of this, a dash of that, and you’re on your way to a predictable and enjoyable finished product. If only that same recipe could be applied to all areas of our lives! One area that is foremost on the minds of many parents and grandparents, especially this time of year, is gratitude. More specifically, how can we help to teach and instill a sense of gratitude and giving in our children and grandchildren?

Gratitude, of course, takes a wide variety of forms and its meaning is different from family to family. Despite that, there are some general things we all can do that can go a long way in helping to instill a grateful attitude in the younger generations. One of these is to model it ourselves. Be present in the moment and when we feel gratitude for a particular reason (an especially good meal, time with family, good health, a promotion at work) express it out loud so that our children or grandchildren can hear us. It can be more effective, at times, for the younger generations to hear others express what we ourselves are grateful for rather than being told directly what we think they should be grateful for. Ultimately, we want to help them learn to identify things that they are grateful for on their own, and those things may be different from what we think they should be grateful for.

Often, we are presented with opportunities to include more active participation in gratitude lessons. If charitable contributions are an annual or ongoing occurrence in your house, consider involving your children or grandchildren in the decision-making process. I tend to do the bulk of my annual giving towards the end of the year, and when my kids started to get old enough to understand the concept, I had them each pick out a cause that had meaning to them and we selected a charity together that worked to support that cause. Aside from the awkward year when one of them inexplicably wanted to donate to “a chicken charity,” this has worked well for my family.

The recent large-scale disasters of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, as well as the widely-destructive fires for those of us here in Northern California, lend themselves to a lot of opportunities for discussion, empathy, and answering the question of “what can we do to help?” Doing what we can to encourage any ideas that come out of those discussions can do wonders to not only help those in need but also nurture a budding attitude of gratitude.

Get creative! Give each child $20 (or any denomination of your choice) and have them shop for nutritional food to donate, while also trying to stretch that money. I like this activity because it’s also a lesson in budgeting and provides an understanding of how hard it can be to feed a family well on a tight budget. Brainstorm random acts of kindness that you can do together to help someone else or just brighten their day. This time of year, the opportunities multiply: giving trees, adopt-a-family, volunteering opportunities, Toys-for-Tots, etc. Try selecting one that has meaning to your family and get everyone involved!

Not every idea will be a home run. Take note of what works and what doesn’t for your family and keep at it. An ongoing mindfulness in this area does require some time and effort, but the rewards will be well worth it.