Where do you learn to be charitable?

February 04, 2020
6 min read

Willie Cromack

Director, Charitable Impact Programs

Teaching kids about giving charitably

As a parent, I have wondered if my children are learning how to care about others and to give charitably — or are if they are just being trained as fundraisers. Enter Charitable Allowance. The program, created by Charitable Impact, encourages children and youth to learn about the causes they support and discover how they can make an impact.

As a father of three, I spend a lot of time in schools and at youth sporting events. And, I have also received all types of requests for support and charity. My children’s schools and sports teams have fundraised by selling chocolate almonds for a cause, asking friends and family to contribute for educational or cultural trips, and reaching out on behalf of charities in our community and beyond. 

As a result, I have felt fatigued by trying and wanting to support it all. Plus, I have been frustrated by the surface-level nature of these requests. The calls-to-action sometimes seem to lack actual care or connection to the causes they are supporting. 

Typically, the request entails a sale or a fundraising requirement to get from point A to point B. It’s rare for the young person tasked with fundraising to understand or have an opinion on the cause, or to contemplate how they could further contribute to it. 

The cycle involves three steps: raising money to meet a goal, fleetingly feeling good about oneself, and then moving on.

For instance, my youngest came home one day and asked for a toonie to give to the Terry Fox Run (held annually in support of Canadian hero Terry Fox’s efforts to raise funds and awareness for cancer). This is one cause I feel connected to personally and am always happy to support.

Out of curiosity, I proceeded to ask my nine-year-old daughter who Terry Fox is and what the money was going towards. “I don’t know, but I get a freezie!” she responded. 

She made the sale, but also made me think more deeply about our role as parents and adults in teaching charity. Are we simply teaching our youth to be salespeople and fundraisers, or are we truly teaching them to care and become invested in supporting worthy causes? If we do expect young people to care about communities in need, then who is responsible for teaching them to do so?

Who is teaching charity to young people?

Traditionally, denominational leaders have taught about charity, but involvement with organized religion is declining among younger generations. While valuable, this approach to cultivating more generosity in society has become unsustainable. 

Few institutions are truly teaching about charity and how to give, complete with all the nuances related to being charitable. At the same time, it seems that Canadians’ level of engagement with the charitable sector is instead declining. Research from Imagine Canada is estimating a domestic funding gap of $25 billion in funding for social programs and services by 2026.

A thriving social economy requires educated and sophisticated participants. So the big question inevitably becomes: How could we begin to teach charity? Enter, Charitable Allowance.

What is a Charitable Allowance?

It’s exactly as it sounds. A monthly allowance for students and youth that can only be given to charitable organizations. It’s a gift to young people to support the causes they personally care about. It’s all made possible through the support of our donors who donate major gifts in support of the program.

The motivating theory is that if one doesn’t have to raise money and instead focuses on where to give, then the learning about charity can deepen and grow. The simple act of needing to give money away to what one cares about leaves people having to solve that problem first.

At Charitable Impact, we didn’t simply theorize that the Charitable Allowance program would work. We tested it by putting it into action in 2019, giving away over half a million dollars in Charitable Allowances to young people. A few thousand youths participated, and the beginning of their charitable journey was a joy to behold. We made sure to support those that received the opportunity to give away charitable dollars with our insight.

As a result of the program: 

  • Young participants explored and supported hundreds of charities.
  • Our conversations with participants focused on causes. 
  • School groups were created, bringing together young people with similar interests in charity to support causes they felt passionate about.
  • In a survey of a Charitable Allowance program for students in grades 6 and 7 at a school in British Columbia, one teacher responded: “Some students were really affected and even started donating their own money… Many students would ask me when we got to donate next, or talk about it among themselves in the hallways, ‘who did you donate to?’ or ‘why do you always donate to the same place?’”

“Some students were really affected and even started donating their own money… Many students would ask me when we got to donate next, or talk about it among themselves in the hallways, ‘who did you donate to?’ or ‘why do you always donate to the same place?’”

We realized that the Charitable Allowance program was moving young people away from the standard fundraising machines towards better vehicles for social change. They were asking questions about how much of an impact they were having and where their donations were going. 

Now, it’s our goal to continue growing. This year will see the unveiling of a massive nationwide Charitable Allowance campaign. Charitable Impact aims to bring teaching charity to the forefront of supporting our communities. 

Are you interested in becoming involved in the Charitable Allowance program as a donor, partner, educator, or parent? I would be very grateful to hear from you at [email protected]. Together, let’s inspire and advance generosity among young Canadians. Imagine a brighter future. Let’s make it happen.