Raising Kids Who Care

March 15, 2006       Marla Nobles      

After the tsunami hit Southeast Asia in December, 2004, Save the Children ( STC) received more than 26,000 donations from children. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) calculates close to 70,000 visitors to its family-friendly Animaland Web site each month. The nonprofit Learning to Give has, since this past January, distributed more than 3,000 copies of The Giving Game, an interactive philanthropic tool for the whole family.

The concept of family philanthropy — of engaging parent and child in philanthropy — is a new one for many nonprofits, and one that is finding a very receptive audience.

“It really comes down to, can you create an interaction between the parent and the child that instills some awareness of your organization and your mission in the child, but frankly, more importantly to most nonprofits out there, also creates some value for the parent?,” said Kristin McCurry, principal, MINDset Direct in Arlington, Va. The idea of family philanthropy, said McCurry, will not only put a charity ahead of the pack in the parent’s mind, but it also has the potential to create a lasting relationship between the organization and the child.

According to the American Psychological Association ( APA), children show signs of empathy and concern at an early age. The most important thing a parent can do to nourish these traits is to consistently display them. Another thing a parent can do, advised the APA, is to find organized and interactive ways for their children to get involved in acts of philanthropy.

 

The worldwide family Web

The 2005 study, Kids and Teens: Blurring the Line Between Online and Offline, found that in the United States in 2004, more than 13 million children, ages 3-11, and approximately 18 million young adults, ages 12-17, were Internet users. In 2005, that combined total neared 33 million. On the heels of this digital age, nonprofits capitalized on the overwhelming penetration of the Internet across all ages; and most recently, children.

The New York City-headquartered ASPCA launched the Animaland Web site (www.animaland.org) in 2001. It was designed to attract the growing audience of technology-savvy children, and to acquaint them with the organization. “Kids are online, so it’s the place to be,” said Pune Dracker, the Web site’s editor. According to Dracker, Animaland has gone from approximately 40,000 hits per month in 2001 to more than 70,000 hits per month in 2005, and many of its visitors are the parent-child duo.

“A lot of parents go on Animaland with their children,” said Dracker. “It’s a good tool for parents to instill caring and knowledge, planting the idea of philanthropy at an early age. And it’s fun and entertaining, which helps.”

The Web site includes multi-level educational games, a Q&A section where answers come directly from ASPCA staff, a pet care guide, an animal encyclopedia and a career center, which highlights a rotation of animal-centric professions. To appeal to older children, the “Real Issues” section was added to the site during 2004, and the ASPCA has plans to develop a teen site, said Dracker.

“One of the most common questions (we receive on our “Ask Azula” section) is, ‘How can I help?’ The Web site is a vehicle for children — for parents and children — to learn about animal awareness together, and to help together,” added Dracker.

The ASPCA isn’t alone in its Web efforts to engage the whole family. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), in Reston, Va., offers through the Kidzone page on its Web site (www.nwf.org/kidzone) an online version of its popular Ranger Rick magazine and other publications aimed at children as young as one year. The link, “Just for Parents,” illustrates how parents can explore the site with their children, who can play online games, take polls and express themselves through poetry, stories and book reviews.

“We publish a lot of exploration and activities that families can do together, rather than publish kid sites where the child will just sit there and play games,” said Todd Christopher, manager of online media at the NWF. “We really do treat them as family publications, to the extent that we publish (the monthly e-newsletter Caregiver’s Corner), and that is full of activities for families to do together.”

The organization also publishes the NWF Green Hour (www. nwf.org/greenhour), a blog post updated weekly by the organization’s vice president of education, Kevin Coyle. The blog, said Christopher, advocates for kids and families to take one hour each day to enjoy green spaces, and equips parents with simple five- or 10-minute activities they can do with their children. The Kidzone site draws traffic in the hundreds of thousands, he said, and has twice been recognized by The Association of Educational Publishers as a finalist in its distinguished achievement award category.

In 2005, the Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) Kids Web site was ranked among the top five media/entertainment sites by the Nielson NetRatings. Designed for children between the ages of 2 and 12, the site offers several channels aimed at children and parents, including www.pbskids.org, www.pbskids.org/go and www.pbs.org/parents. One of the most extensive sites out there for children, it offers environmental education, downloadable .pdf workbooks for kids and parents, and an array of other philanthropic-minded resources.

“PBS has always felt parental involvement is critical,” said Sara DeWitt, director for the PBS kids and parents interactive at the Alexandria, Va.-based organization. “A lot of our programs focus on things that cultivate volunteering in your community, and ask the question, ‘How can you extend this experience by doing things with your child?’”

The site was launched in 1997, and in late 2005 received a face lift with the addition of EekoWorld, a section designed to teach children between the ages of 6 and 9 about the important role they can play in taking care of the Earth. “Everything that we do we hope will entertain and educate. But we also want to make kids better citizens and prepare them,” said DeWitt. “Giving parents a role bolsters this.”

 

Sharing is caring

In recognition of the influx of donations for the Southeast Asia tsunami in December, 2004, Westport, Conn.-based Save the Children ( STC) thanked its youngest donors by sending each a Moonjar moneybox. “We were definitely surprised at the number of children who responded with fundraising activities,” said Gail Arcamone, associate director of direct marketing at STC. According to Arcamone, more than 26,000 children across the United States contributed to the relief efforts.

Arcamone suspected that parents had a hand in it. “So we just tried to think of something that we could do to recognize the efforts of the parents and the children,” she said.

In 2001, Eulalie M. Scandiuzzi, a Seattle mom, released the Moonjar moneybox, an idea conceived out of a desire to instill in her children the importance of money management and of philanthropy. A simple concept, the moneybox consists of three cardboard (also available in “retro tin”) chambers, one for saving, one for spending, and the third for sharing money.

The objective, according to Mary Ryan Karges, Moonjar spokesperson, was to offer children and families an interactive and educational tool. “With kids, you need to get them actively involved, and this is a way to do that,” said Karges. “And for us, the gist of it is that philanthropy is a part of money management.”

For STC, the moneyboxes were an opportunity to reach out to a new audience, said Arcamone. “This was really our first step in building a more interactive and long-term relationship with parents and child. This is the beginning of a whole new type of fundraising for us – family fundraising, that is.”

The organization, said Arcamone, customized the more than 26,000 moneyboxes it sent to its young donors with pictures of children, mission statements and other profound messages related to its young beneficiaries around the world. STC has since ordered an additional 4,000 moneyboxes, and from the end of December, 2005, through the middle of January, 2006, the organization fulfilled more than 1,000 online requests.

According to Jaydee McPhetres, an attorney and mother of two from Evergreen, Colo., “Parents can write all the checks they want, but unless you get your kids actively involved in the process, they don’t get it.”

In 2004, McPhetres caught wind of a concept still in its formative stage, The Gifting Game, and decided to perform a test run with her then 9-year-old daughter’s Brownie Girl Scout troop. “It was just wonderful because it engaged them in the idea of charitable giving, but it also engaged them in debate and compromise and the thought process together,” said McPhetres.

Dubbed the “allocation” game, Douglas K. Mellinger and his company, Foundation Source, released The Gifting Game in March, 2005. The premise was simple: parents allot money to each participating child and assist as they research charities online. The child can then either give all the money to a single charity, or allot portions to several.

“(The Gifting Game enables) a child to play everything from being a board member (of a nonprofit), to having their own discretionary grantmaking accounts. They learn how to communicate their ideas to other children, and to be able to develop their own belief system,” said Mellinger. “But most important, it teaches them how to believe different things, which is a very, very big problem within families today.”

Close to 3,000 copies of the game have been distributed — oftentimes free of charge — since March, 2005.

Later that same year, Learning to Give ( LTG), a nonprofit that produces and distributes resources to teach young people the importance of philanthropy, acquired The Giving Game (not to be confused with The Gifting Game). The game was originally intended to be utilized in classrooms as a part of the curriculum.

“But what we found was we were getting calls from parents asking, ‘What can we do? What are some ideas to raise charitable children?’ So we took what we had for teachers and translated that for parents,” said Kathy Agard, executive director at LTG. The organization has received more than 3,000 requests for copies since it began distributing the game this past January.

According to Agard, this was an unusual move for LTG. “For a long time, children were seen as being the problems that needed to be fixed. And only recently have we really begun to talk about the fact that young people have a lot to give themselves.”

The game, according to its creator Brien Moakley, was conceived in response to two things: a desire to move beyond the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in a positive way, and the message illustrated in Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel, Pay It Forward.

The Muskegon, Mich.-based organization’s Web site (www.learningtogive.org) receives more than 140,000 visitors each month, a number far greater than the game’s previous 3,500 registered worldwide members under Moakley’s ownership.

The concept is simple: to play, all a participant needs is a game card and an imagination, said Moakley. The participant completes an act of kindness for someone else and leaves the card behind for that person to then use. Each card has a unique ID number and can be tracked online as it makes its way from person to person. Game cards can be printed and registered free of charge at givinggame.org.

According to McCurry, these games and Web sites facilitate what she calls a ‘teachable moment,’ anything that takes the charitable-teaching process out of the charity’s hands and puts it in the parent’s. They also facilitate a beneficial service for nonprofits.

“If I am an environmental organization and I’m able to go into my file and find out that 60 percent of my members have a child in the home between the ages of 5 and 12, and I communicate to them and I create either a game they can play with their child, or something else, I’ve suddenly become more solid in the parents’ minds,” said McCurry. “I become the front runner, because I’ve provided them a tool to do their most important job, and probably the most challenging job they have, which is parenting.” DRFE