Raising Kids with Giving Hearts

by Ken Mueller on January 25, 2013 · 16 comments

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Friday is for experimenting here on the blog. It’s not about marketing. It’s about whatever I want to write about at any given moment. So here’s the latest edition of my Friday Blogging Experiment.

Here we are, exactly one month from Christmas and the biggest giving season of the year. In January, giving is often the last thing on our minds. We’ve spent all of our money in December, we did our year end giving to nonprofits to beat the tax deadlines, and now many of us are thinking about paying off our bills. But giving is important throughout the year, particularly in terms of giving to nonprofits. In fact, if we gave more during the year, we might not be bombarded with as many mailings, phone calls, and year-end pleas from organizations looking to meet their budget at the final hour.

I love giving. In fact, I actually love giving more than I do spending on myself and buying stuff for me.

I think a big part of that was the way that I was raised, and it’s a big part of how we’ve raised our children. I love that all of my children have giving hearts, and like to give. They give of their time by volunteering, and give of their hard earned income as they help support a variety of nonprofit organizations. All without being told to.

I grew up in a home with a father who was a pastor. We were not a “well-off” family by regular standards, but we had a good life and never wanted for anything. Additionally, we were encouraged to give. Being actively involved in the church, we took seriously the practice known as “tithing,” or taking 10-percent off the top right away and giving it to the church. Any other giving we did was above and beyond that.

We have tried to do the same with our kids. When they were very young, we bought all three kids special banks that had three compartments: one for saving, one for spending, and one for giving. When they were young, we gave our kids a simple allowance: 75-cents a week. We taught them to put one quarter in each of the compartments. If they wanted to buy something, they took the money out of the spending compartment. Every once in awhile we would empty the saving compartment, and put the contents in their savings accounts. And somewhat regularly we would empty the giving compartment so they could put it in the offering at church, or to give to some other good cause.

Like I said, all three of our kids are givers. Our youngest, Eric, seems to have been gifted with an incredibly compassionate and giving heart. When he runs to the store, he often comes back with something that he has bought for us as a gift. He wants everyone to be included and hates when he feels someone is being left out. A few months ago he came to us and told us he wanted to give some money to…something. We talked and he decided that each month he would give a little something from his earnings to a different organization. One month might be the local homeless shelter, another month might be something related to animals, and yet another might be an international organization dealing with human trafficking. We haven’t started this yet, but it was his idea, not ours.

I’m incredibly proud of my kids for how they like to give of their time and money, and if I were asked to offer up a “formula” for how to raise and nurture kids with giving hearts, this is what I would say are the key elements:

1) Model giving in your own life – Kids will be more likely to give if they see that giving financially, and volunteer, if they see you doing the same. Kids mirror what they see from their parents.

2) Make them part of your giving – Don’t just let them see you giving; let them participate. It might even be as simple as letting them put the money in the offering plate, the Red Kettle, or donation box. Over the years we have sponsored children through World Vision and Compassion International, and we’ve let the kids help with writing letters or sending pictures they had colored. They also helped us shop for gifts we gave through Operation Christmas Child and the Angel Tree. By making them active participants, our kids felt a sense of ownership in our giving.

3) Let them help you choose – Perhaps you can let your kids choose, with guidance, which organizations they might want to give to. If your family gives to a cause that they chose, they will feel like they have really helped and have a sense of pride.

4) Let them be creative in their giving - Sometimes it’s not a matter of just giving from the money they have, but being proactive and raising funds or collecting goods for nonprofits. A simple lemonade stand or bake sale in the yard can help kids extend their giving. One local girl started selling pencils to help build wells in Haiti and it turned into a full-blown nonprofit: Digging Wells for Hope. Let your kids come up with ideas and help them execute them, rather than telling them it can’t be done.

5) Help them make wise choices – Not every organization asking for money is necessarily a “good” organization. Help your kids make discerning choices by showing them that it’s important to look at both what the organization does and how they use their money. Help them choose organizations that are accountable and transparent about how they spend the money they receive.

Work alongside your kids and model smart giving for them, while encouraging them to give on their own. Help them understand the joy there is in putting others first. Help them understand what matters most.

With that in mind, I’m helping my son start his idea of giving to various nonprofits. I have a $50 Giving Card from Razoo that I’m going to let him use. He can go to the Razoo website and choose a nonprofit to which he’d like to make a donation. He can choose local or global. He can choose animal welfare, humanitarian, education, or something related to the arts. Whatever it is, I want to give him the chance to give to an organization that he believes in, and understanding that he is helping to change lives and bring about change.

What can you do, or have you done, to cultivate giving hearts in your kids? What are some of your favorite ways to give?

 Raising Kids with Giving Hearts
Erin F.
Erin F.

My mom used a similar concept to the one you used with your kids. She also taught us to give of our time and talents.

My favorite ways to give? I love doing something for someone else. It's why I don't mind all that much when I'm low on cash. It means I get to think more creatively about giving. What can I do? What would this person appreciate?


My parents always took all of us to a charity organization or to a volunteer work every now and then. We kind of have a routine every few months. I am glad it has rubbed off. Though all of us volunteer different - at hospitals, at schools, for the homeless; we make sure we are useful to fellow humans. My sister has two kids (aged 6 and 4) and she takes them along to charity work whenever she can - believes that giving back really needs to start early, in whatever way we can!

Latest blog post: I don't need you


Great post, Ken. My wife and I take a similar approach for our two sons. They get X amount for allowance, with 10 percent going straight to savings and 10 percent for donating. They can do what they want, within reason, with the balance. Our hope is that by requiring this, and modeling decent financial behavior, they'll take it as natural as they get older.

KenMueller moderator

@Erin F. That's the cool thing about giving: it doesn't have to be money or expensive. It can be very simple and still mean a lot to the receiver.

KenMueller moderator

@Hajra  That's a great way to do it. Some people just leave the kids at home, believing that they are too young to make a difference.

KenMueller moderator

@teamccloud That was our goal as well, understanding that each of our kids are very different. Some are more into spending than others, haha. But they all like to give to varying degrees, so that makes us happy. And with spending, over the years we started with some veto power, because early on there was the temptation to just buy whatever caught their eye at the moment. As they got older, they had more freedom, but if we thought they wanted to purchase something that wasn't quite right, we might speak up and try to use logic to explain why they might not want to purchase a specific item. 


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