Let giving be a family holiday tradition

Dawn Franks

A large wooden crate seemed to hold all the decorations needed for the Christmas tree trimming I remember from my childhood. My dad would produce the crate each year, and my mother would supervise the opening and unpacking. The box held all kinds of treasures - lights, ornaments, my favorite Santa Claus and icicles.

Could one wooden box hold all the treasures? It's doubtful as I survey boxes of decorations all over my living room floor. That detail doesn't matter much. What does matter are the stories about giving the wooden box memory triggers. They connect me to generations past.

Let's fast-forward to a grown-up holiday tradition. I take out the stack of fundraising letters that have been arriving in our mailbox for several months to sort and make donations.

This new giving tradition in the form of fundraising letters at holiday time has increased in spite of ever-increasing postage. Letters arrive daily in our mailboxes, creating what could be a Scrooge moment if there ever was one. We open, do a quick scan, toss most, and save a few for check-writing before the end of the year. One more item added to the to-do list.

Whatever your style of making year-end donations, you might be missing an opportunity for a teachable moment with your children - of all ages.

Teachable moments are important, according to Richard Morris and Jayne Pearle, author of "Kids, Wealth and Consequences." Such experiences make "family glue," a sticky substance that includes shared traditions, willingness to learn and grow, genuine caring, mutual respect and trust. It creates memorable stories that can last across many generations.

Recently, my husband was surprised to run into a high school friend outside of Fresh. Linda Denson was ringing the bell for The Salvation Army, along with her granddaughter and mother. While Linda rang the bell, her granddaughter sang carols and great-grandmother sat in a chair nearby smiling and enjoying the entire event. Three generations were together making a difference for an important organization in our community that feeds and shelters the homeless and hungry.

It's a great example of what Morris and Pearle described as family glue - giving together. Imagine the stories Linda's granddaughter will remember about bell-ringing with her grandmother and great-grandmother.

Morris and Pearle suggest that giving together is one way to create "family glue." Giving across generations increases opportunities to share in learning experiences. It might require courage to start such a tradition in your family, but experience tells me that a family who gives together often grows genuine caring across the generations.

You don't have to have great wealth to create shared giving traditions.

Here's one way to start a family giving tradition. When your family gathers to celebrate the holidays, ask everyone to reserve $25 or $50 per family to bring and put in a bowl. (The suggested amount should be right for your family.) Encourage each family member to participate, as all donations to the money bowl count - even pennies from the smallest hands.

Provide small pieces of paper and pens beside a second bowl and ask every family member to write down their favorite charity. For younger family members, perhaps suggest someone or something they would like to help. They might draw a picture or cut out something from a magazine. You get the idea.

The next step is very important to creating a new family tradition that lasts across the generations. Ask the youngest members of the family who can read, and those who are barely reading, to take the "bowl of charities" and make a list of all the suggestions. Ask the list makers to read the list aloud. Be courageous, and let the list makers select the charity from the list.

The secret to making it stick? Make it fun, and repeat next year. That makes a tradition - year after year.

Traditions make memories that become stories. Stories are the sticky stuff - that glue - that sticks one generation to the next. Start a giving tradition you can repeat every year. Start with whatever family is around and just keep repeating. Giving well grows over time.


Dawn Franks, CEO of Your Philanthropy offers advising services to families, businesses and foundations to enhance the giving experience and maximize impact. She writes a blog, the YP Journal, at www.your-philanthropy.com. Comments and questions are welcome. Send to info@your-philanthropy.com.


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