Many of us take the opportunity during the holiday season to reinforce to our children the concept of giving. We initiate conversations about giving back and try to involve our children in our charitable efforts, buying presents for children in need, offering a few coins to the Salvation Army.
But are we doing enough to make sure this concept gets woven into their everyday behavior? How do we raise charitable children who give because they want to and not just because mom and dad say they should? And how do we get them to think about doing this all year, not just during the holidays? (Which many of us are guilty of as well.)
Sometimes it’s tough to involve children, particularly young ones, in charity. But charity: water, a nonprofit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries, has seen great success in involving children in their mission. In fact, more than 2,400 of charity: water giving campaigns have been run by kids, who have raised more than $5 million.
Scott Harrison, the founder of the organization and father of two, shares insight on how his organization inspires children to give back and provides tips on what parents can do to raise charitable children.
What are your thoughts on instilling social good in our children? Do you have tips for parents who would like to raise charitable children and instill these values at a young age?
I think content is important. Reading books about different issues, showing them videos. charity: water made a pretty long video series for kids [“The Journey”] as a way of speaking to younger kids — talking about the water crisis, talking about some of the solutions, taking them inside the culture, really trying to engage them and speak their language, trying to make it fun for kids and bringing it alive.
I think giving at a young age is a great thing. I know several parents who will give their kids money at a young age to give away. They then force their children to do research on different charities and determine where they would like to give. And, kids will find their interest through that. Are you interested in education, health, an issue like water? They become a steward of their parents money initially and then you hope that one day they will want to give their own money away.
Can you talk about your birthday and birth campaigns? How have parents been able to utilize their birthdays and their kids’ birthdays to raise money?
We have asked millions of people around the world to give up gifts for their birthday and instead we ask them to raise their age in dollars. So it occurred to me a couple of years ago [when son Jackson was born] that birth campaigns would also be a great idea. We are bringing kids into a world of privilege. We are bringing kids into a world where they will never drink dirty water, they will probably never go hungry, [and] they will probably always have a roof over their heads. But yet so many kids are being born into situations where they have never had clean water, going to bed hungry. So if we could celebrate the life of our children and instead of getting . . . what if these births could actually help other kids.
You have had several kids support your organization through birthday campaigns. These children have chosen to sacrifice birthday gifts and instead collect money to donate to those less fortunate. How have you gotten kids involved in giving back and supporting your mission?
The birthday is a great thing for kids but it is actually quite a feat if a parent can get their child to donate their birthday. I will say that if you speak to kids the right way, and I think that is visually, showing them photos and video, kids are moved to tears. And in some way, they lack the cynicism that many older people would have around charities and bureaucracy. Kids will say “why isn’t everyone drinking clean water?” They can’t fathom why these injustices exist in our world. I think it sparks some great conversation. If I can get an hour with any kid, they are going to give up their birthday. If they see the photos, they see the video, they understand the issue.
Every kid, if they really understand, will pick goodness, happiness, health for others over material possessions. I think it is the job of parents to give them the opportunity. Introduce them to these stories, images, videos, these issues. … You don’t know what is really going to resonate with your kids, but something will. It is in all of us.
We have had a 7-year-old kid go door to door asking for $7 donations and raised $20,000. One story is this 9-year-old girl named Rachel who had donated her birthday. She tragically passed away in a car accident right after her birthday. But the story of her birthday wish, really her final wish, moved so many people throughout the world. Over 60,000 people, strangers that gave $9 or more in her honor, ended up raising $1.3 million dollars. From a very humble dream of helping a few people she ended up helping 40,000 people receive clean water.
So I think it is an idea for anyone, anyone reading this, that they could donate one birthday.
How do you plan to personally expose your own children to charitable giving?
When Jackson was born, I did a birth campaign for him. I was really surprised at how generous people were. We raised $250,000 to help people in Niger get clean water. We helped 7,700 people get access to clean water. At some point I want him to go and meet those people maybe six-to-seven years in, maybe even earlier he would start to comprehend. I hope to connect that loop, that you were born and your friends and family welcomed you into the world. And just that act of being born improved the lives of 7,700 people.
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