Words Stronger Than Actions When Teaching Kids About Giving

Actions may speak louder than words – except when it comes to teaching children about charitable giving.

Talking to children about charitable giving is even more effective than “role-modeling,” or actually giving to charity, according to a new study released today by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Role-modeling alone does not appear to be as effective as talking to kids about giving.”

“Women Give 2013” found that children whose parents talk to them about giving are 20 percent more likely to give to charity than children whose parents don’t discuss giving with them. The increased likelihood was found across all demographics, regardless of gender, age, race or family income. The effect of talking is significant even after accounting for other factors that affect giving, including whether the household donated to charity, according to the study.

“This research provides a clear, effective path for parents who want to encourage their children to be generous and caring,” said Debra 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,” she said.

Children living in households who have a parent who talks to them about charity have a 0.125 greater likelihood of donating compared to kids whose parents do not talk to them about giving. “Holding all other factors constant, the predicted probability that a children will give to charity if the parent talks about giving is 0.765 while the probability of giving if the parent does not is about 0.640.”

The study followed the same 903 children, ages 8 to 19, during 2002-03 and 2007-08. More than half of all children gave in both years and a third gave in one year while only about 1 in 8 did not make a contribution in either year. More than half of the children in the study also volunteered at least once during the two time periods but in general, girls are more likely than boys to volunteer – a pattern that continues into 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 makes 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.

Women Give 2013” is the fourth in a series of reports by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, which partnered with the United Nations Foundation on this latest study.