Eat your veggies! Watch your manners! Stay in school!

“Eat your veggies!” “Watch your manners!” “Stay in school!”.  Typical lines to make any child’s eyes roll. But when is the last time you heard a kid grunt because he or she was told, “Give to charity!”? It’s probably not as common as the others, and that’s probably not the child’s fault at all. But I believe the key to meaningful spending and motivated workers is raising a child to partake in philanthropy.

There has been some buzz lately about “the largest wealth transfer in history,” where the younger generation, succeeding the hard-working Generation X, will inherit more money than its predecessors. Because of this, some believe that the upcoming work force will not work as hard to increase its wealth. One solution is philanthropy. If a certain amount of a person’s annual income is designated to philanthropic donations or engagements, he or she will have less money to spend on luxuries and desire more wealth. Or on a more optimistic note, a person will desire more money to increase his or her contributions to a number of charitable causes.

In the Wall Street Journal last week, there was an article discussing the approaches to instill philanthropic practices in your child’s life. Ideas such as starting small, bringing your child along with you to charity events, arranging family meetings to discuss money expenditure and allowing your child to find his or her own charity all serve to increase a child’s desire to give back.

As the name suggests, Birds Nest’s ‘The Ground Up Campaign’ teaches children to participate in a movement that may inspire them to contribute in the future. We believe that anyone can contribute, as long as they want to help. The journal says that there are now “more affluent families placing a greater emphasis on teaching their heirs about philanthropy.” This may be true, but Birds Nest encourages philanthropic activities for kids of all ages and economic backgrounds.

Birds Nest recently met with a group of students called the Green Bronx Machine at Discovery High School. The students, led by teacher Steven Ritz, engage in what they call an empowerment program, growing edible gardens in their biology class. Students have said that they now watch what they are eating, consume more vegetables and even try harder in school because of the program. Ritz, though also teaching for academic purposes, opened up his students to a lasting act of charity: students introduce others to a world of natural and healthy produce, while also learning themselves.

But not everyone has to do it this way. Here are a few other ways to engage your child in philanthropy early:

1. Make ordinary practices into charitable acts.

We all have to get our haircut and give up our old toys at some point. So why not donate our hair to Locks of Love for suffering cancer patients, or give up our toys to Toys for Tots? Get your child in the habit of thinking about ways to donate, even during the most ordinary tasks. Kids will realize that you don’t have to give up anything extra to donate to those in need.

2. Engage in fun, charitable group activities.

There are so many ways for kids to actively give back…and with their friends! Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, New York Says Thank you and Kaboom! (who we love to work with) are great ways to get out with your friends and build. Both of these, along with many other similar organizations, make it easy for anyone to sign up for a day project or plan a trip to help. Plus, kids can see the results of their charitable work instantly.

3. Make it a hobby.

Charity doesn’t always have to be its own category. Going to a local dog kennel, planting gardens (at schools for The Ground Up Campaign even!) or visiting sick children at the Ronald McDonald House are all great ways to spend a free afternoon. Kids may continue to fill their free time with enjoyable, charitable activities if they become accustomed to doing so during their young years.

At Birds Nest, we demonstrate that donating to charity doesn’t always mean writing a check to a nationwide organization. The Ground Up Campaign allows contributors to engage in hands-on planting, learning and eating in order to reach its goal of healthy food education. In addition, the production company as a whole contributes its services to non-profits by expanding their efforts through documentaries and PSAs.

As one of the Green Bronx Machine students said, this is work to improve the next generation. A check just doesn’t have the same power as do personal contributions.

Sari Soffer,  Birds Nest Foundation