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How Parents Teach Children About Charitable Giving Matters, New Study Finds

In partnership with the United Nations Foundation
In partnership with the United Nations Foundation

Talking to children about charitable giving has a greater impact on children’s giving than role-modeling alone, Women’s Philanthropy Institute research shows

The complete Women Give 2013 report is available here.

Parents who talk to their children about charitable giving significantly increase the likelihood that those children will give to charity, according to Women Give 2013, a new study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

That finding holds true regardless of the child’s sex, age, race, and family income. Children whose parents talk to them about giving are 20 percent more likely to give to charity than children whose parents do not discuss giving with them.

“This research provides a clear, effective path for parents who want to encourage their children to be generous and caring,” said Debra J. Mesch, Ph.D., Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. “The way parents teach their children about giving matters. Talking to children about charity is effective across all types of U.S. households, pointing the way to raising future philanthropists.”

The IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy study is among the first to analyze and compare what parents can do to encourage their children’s charitable behavior. It examines two approaches through which parents teach children about charitable giving: (1) talking to children about charitable giving and (2) role-modeling charitable giving. For this study, role-modeling is defined as parents giving to charity. The study also investigates whether girls and boys participate differently in giving and volunteering, expanding the Women’s Philanthropy Institute’s exploration of how gender affects charitable giving. It follows the same 903 children over two time periods, 2002-2003 and 2007-2008.

Role-modeling alone does not appear to be as effective as talking to children about giving, the researchers found. Parents who want to raise charitable children should talk intentionally with them about their own philanthropic values and practices throughout childhood and adolescence in addition to role-modeling, they say.

Children are philanthropic, according to the study. Nearly nine out of 10 children, ages eight to 19, give to charity. The study also found that girls and boys are equally likely to make monetary gifts to charity; however, girls are more likely than boys to volunteer, a pattern that continues in adulthood.

“Understanding how children learn about charity has important implications for the future of giving in America. Studies like this benefit parents, teachers, nonprofit leaders and policy makers as they seek to engage the next generation in philanthropy,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., Director of Research at the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, located on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) campus.

The United Nations Foundation partnered with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute on Women Give 2013.  Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the UN Foundation said, “This study confirms what we at the UN Foundation view as one of the most powerful trends of our time: Young people are a force for positive change in the world. From grade school students raising money to fight malaria to teenage girls advocating against child marriage, today’s young people aren’t waiting to make a difference – they’re doing it now. As more parents talk to their children about the importance of giving, we will see new philanthropists emerge to help create a brighter future for all of us.” 

Women Give 2013 is the fourth in a series of research reports conducted at the Women’s Philanthropy Institute that focuses on gender differences in giving. Prior research has demonstrated that men and women exhibit different motivations for giving and different patterns of giving. Little is known about how girls and boys learn to become charitable adults. This new study uses data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and its Child Development Supplement, the nation’s largest nationally representative sample that tracks giving patterns among the same households over time. It builds on academic research conducted by Wilhelm, Estell, and Perdue (2012) which explores issues around raising charitable children.


About the Women’s Philanthropy Institute
The Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) is part of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. WPI increases understanding of women’s philanthropy through rigorous research and education, interpreting and sharing these insights broadly to improve philanthropy. Learn more

About the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is dedicated to improving philanthropy to improve the world by training and empowering students and professionals to be innovators and leaders who create positive and lasting change. The School offers a comprehensive approach to philanthropy through its academic, research and international programs and through The Fund Raising School, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.

About the United Nations Foundation
The United Nations Foundation builds public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the United Nations through advocacy and public outreach. Through innovative campaigns and initiatives, the Foundation connects people, ideas, and resources to help the UN solve global problems. The Foundation was created in 1998 as a U.S. public charity by entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner and now is supported by global corporations, foundations, governments, and individuals.