8 ways to set your teen up for a lifetime of helping others

Generosity is a quality we all hope to embody. Sometimes it seems as if it’s particularly difficult to teach empathy to the teenagers in our orbit.

Here in the Bay Area, we’re lucky enough to have a number of Jewish Teen Foundations, where young folks learn to be philanthropists by creating their own donor organizations.

Among them, the Hamsa Fund (formerly called the Teen Philanthropy Board) is a program of Contra Costa Midrasha to teach teens how to be philanthropists by creating their own foundation. This past year, the Hamsa Fund raised over $10,000 from family, friends and a generous matching grant from funds of the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay. Organizations apply for funding and the teens choose the recipients; four organizations working on environmental sustainability issues received grants last year.

The program involves a yearlong commitment, however, which isn’t for everyone.

How can we encourage all our teens to be generous? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Develop a family narrative. Teenagers are on the lookout for an identity. When you help develop one at home, you are offering them an option of who they can be. Share stories about how your family has been helped by others. Did someone receive financial aid to attend school? Did someone receive medical care for an illness? We’ve all received help in one way or another. Make sure your teen knows about how your family has been shaped by the generosity of others.

2. Be generous together. Take your teens and some of their friends to serve at a local homeless shelter or do a service project at a local synagogue. Cook a meal for someone who is ill or who just had a baby. Let your teens see you being kind and generous to those in need.

3. Model good charitable habits. Explain how you prioritize charitable giving in your budget. Which nonprofit organizations do you support? How do you divide your donations? Explain this to your teens and involve them. Often, the list of organizations your family gives to represents the things you value most.

4. Encourage your teen to save, spend and give. Help your teens learn lifelong money management skills by teaching them this model. Any money they make should be divided into three pots: some to spend, some to save, and some to donate. This system encourages teens to be thoughtful about spending and teaches them to set goals, a budget, and to be generous with their funds.

5. Make it their own. Ask teens if there are causes or issues that are important to them. Help them brainstorm ways to do something about them by serving, volunteering or fundraising. If your child has not yet developed a passion, you can call the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay to speak with someone about what needs there are in the community, and where your assistance would be most helpful.

6. Ask your teen to use all their T’s. In the foundation world, we often talk about donors’ treasure, time, talent and ties. Treasure is money. Time and talent are about volunteering, which teens can certainly do. Ties are your network. For teenagers, their most powerful networks may be digital ones. They can use social media to share information about causes that are meaningful to them.

7. Talk about social inequality. People often make implicit assumptions about groups of people that are different from them, including “poor people.” Help your teen understand that wealth inequalities are not the result of innate characteristics or lack of abilities. Talk about your family’s privileges, whatever they may be. What factors enabled your family to be able to give? (Think back to your family narrative.)

8. Create a giving circle. Does your teen think that they can’t give enough money to make a difference? Have them pool their resources with friends and create a giving circle. A giving circle is a form of philanthropy where individuals donate their money to a pooled fund and decide together how to distribute it. Amplifier is a wonderful organization that offers an online platform to create your own giving circle, along with providing resources and tools to connect to nonprofits.

There are many ways to pass on your family’s values to your teens. The Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay can help you research giving opportunities with your teens or open a charitable fund and manage its assets. We’re here to encourage generosity alongside you.

Lisa Tabak
Lisa Tabak

Lisa Tabak is Director of Philanthropy, East Bay at the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. She was previously the executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay. Contact her at 510-809-4920 or [email protected].