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Parents, Grandparents Influence Kids’ Giving and Volunteering

New research shows that family elders influence charitable giving and volunteering behaviors of younger family members. According to results of research released today by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Vanguard Charitable, understanding the intra-family generational dynamics that lead to charitable giving decisions can help families, charitable organizations, and advisors to better plan for the future.

The report is titled A Tradition of Giving. “This study can help families, nonprofits, and advisors better plan for the future,” said Jane Greenfield, president of Vanguard Charitable. “Parents and grandparents can encourage children to give and volunteer by incorporating more shared experiences into their philanthropic support. Nonprofits can in turn offer those kinds of experiences to families to attract future support. And advisors may be able to provide better guidance to family members if they recognize the influence of older generations on the younger.”

The report presents findings from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy Panel Study (PPS), an ongoing study of the philanthropy of the same 8,000 families over time and across generations. The report’s conclusions are supplemented by interviews conducted among families who are clients of Vanguard Charitable, one of the nation’s largest donor-advised funds.

The study examines how closely parents and grandparents match their children and

grandchildren in terms of philanthropic priorities, as well as how socio-demographic factors explain the similarity or dissimilarity in philanthropic priorities between parents and their children.

“Generational giving differences — among Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials, for example — receive a lot of attention, but looking only at those differences can obscure other factors that affect individuals’ giving and volunteering decisions,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., director of research for the school. “This research demonstrates the impact of intra-family dynamics on giving and volunteering. It offers new insights into the factors associated with generosity between family members and provides a first-of-its-kind look at the transmission of giving behaviors from grandparents to grandchildren, in addition to exploring the parent-child dynamic.”

The research shows that “families have much in common across generations when it comes to their philanthropy,” said Amir Pasic, Ph.D., the Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “However, it appears that those specific shared interests and approaches diverge as new generations are added to the family over time. Parents and grandparents who hope to influence the philanthropy of younger generations of their family may need to focus on instilling a commitment to philanthropy while respecting that their children and grandchildren may choose to implement that commitment through different causes and practices than they themselves might have chosen.”

Key Findings

The findings point to three key patterns that influence charitable giving: Philanthropic priorities are strongly shaped by family behaviors; parents’ socio-demographic characteristics, including age, marital or relationship status, helping behaviors and religious practices, as well as income, wealth and education, can affect the giving and volunteering actions of their offspring; and, generational differences are seen in non-family estate giving to religious and secular organizations.

Philanthropic priorities are strongly shaped by family behaviors. Namely, parents and grandparents who give and volunteer are more likely to influence their children and grandchildren to do the same. According to the research:

* Parents and their children give similarly to religious organizations, international charitable organizations, environmental organizations, and arts-related organizations.

* Parents’ decisions to volunteer with charitable organizations positively influence their children’s decisions to volunteer with, and give to, charitable organizations.

* The giving priorities of parents and their children are more closely matched than those of grandparents and their grandchildren.

* Grandparents and grandchildren give dissimilarly to basic needs-related organizations.

* Grandparents who are high-net-worth and their grandchildren give similarly to arts-related organizations.

Parents’ socio-demographic characteristics, including age, marital or relationship status, helping behaviors and religious practices, as well as income, wealth and education, can affect the giving and volunteering actions of their offspring. The study showed that the giving behavior of children and parents tend to match more closely if the parents: 

* Are closer in age to the children (less than 30 years older);

* Have not experienced a marital transition (divorce, permanent separation, widowhood, or other relationship change); and,

* Spend time helping their children in any way.

Children’s religious giving was affected by a number of socio-demographic factors — race, gender of the household head, education, income and wealth, and attendance at religious services. The report showed a stronger influence on children’s religious giving by:

* College-educated parents than by non-college-educated parents;

* High-net-worth parents than by non-high-net-worth parents;

* Parents in male-headed households than in female-headed households;

* Parents in white households than in black households; and,

* The attendance habits of parents at religious services. Children of parents who regularly attend worship services and give to religious organizations are more likely to give to religious causes.

Generational differences are seen in non-family estate giving to religious and secular organizations. The study found that people prefer to leave their estate to relatives rather than to charitable organizations. But secondary to family, the study showed that:

* Grandparents prefer to leave their estate to religious organizations; and,

* Parents and children want to leave their estate to secular organizations.

The study, which includes ways parents and grandparents can engage children in philanthropic activity, is available at

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