Text by Catherine Newman
If charity really does begin at home, hopefully getting kids started early will help them set good habits for life.
At our house, the kids divide any incoming money -- from allowance, chores, or gifts -- into a Moonjar: a kind of three-piece piggy bank with one section for spending, one for saving, and one for sharing.
Come December, they count out their sharing money, choose an organization to donate to (since the Haiti earthquake, both kids have been giving to Partners in Health), and we send a letter they've written, along with a check. We agreed to match their donations.
To start, you might need to explain the very concept to your kids. ("Maybe we should raise money for me!" a friend's 5-year-old recently announced, in a fit of age-appropriate egocentrism.)
Then brainstorm where to give and why. Animal-welfare organizations are a huge draw for kids, given that (a) animals are cute, and (b) disadvantaged animals do not inherently threaten their own sense of well-being.
But you might want to gently encourage them to think about human children in need, especially during the holidays, when our kids are likely to be experiencing such great abundance.
Consider a site that allows you to "buy" a sustainable donation to help a poor family achieve independence, whether it's a hive of bees or a water buffalo from Heifer International or school supplies, a water purifier, or a grove of trees from Oxfam.
These are called "donor illusions" in the business, and charity-evaluation organizations like GiveWell are critical of the duplicity involved. (Your money is, in reality, going into the hopper rather than buying that actual thing.)
But it's a great way to make concrete for kids what may otherwise be too vast and abstract for them to comprehend. Plus, the donations make great holiday gifts: My brother's family once "gave" our kids a trio of rabbits donated to a needy family, and they were thrilled.