The Most Precious Gift

Family Volunteering

Nowadays, the click of a mouse or tap of a smartphone has largely replaced cash and cheque transactions. Charitable donations are increasingly moving towards digital platforms. Some fear this change in donation methods has reduced the opportunity to model generosity to the next generation, but I think it has boosted the impact of modelling another kind of donation: giving our time.

Volunteering presents an incredible opportunity to teach the next generation about generosity.

Modern life often moves at a breakneck pace.

Time is an extremely valuable resource. How we choose to spend it sends a powerful message.

Volunteering Influences Charitable Giving

Several studies1 have shown that children learn generosity by emulating their parents – they see us make regular donations to charity and hear us talk about the joy of giving, and eventually they’ll choose to donate to charity themselves. However, a recent Wells Fargo/Gallup poll2 of top investors suggests that volunteering time can be just as influential when it comes to teaching our kids to be generous with their money.

In his summary of the survey data, journalist Leo Almazora writes, “People who grew up seeing their parents actively volunteer were more likely to rate supporting charity among their most important financial values.”3 It seems individuals whose parents were active volunteers reported average charitable giving twice that of individuals whose parents did not volunteer.

The survey also asked respondents who have children to rate their motivations for giving, and 66% identified setting an example for their children as an important driver of their philanthropy. They also expressed a keen desire for their children to donate to charity and volunteer in the community.

Giving Time, Modelling Generosity

Volunteering with our favourite charities means giving a piece of our lives to help others. It’s not surprising kids are deeply affected by seeing us donate something so valuable. They pick up on our passion for giving back and soon start to identify charitable causes that they want to support. Volunteering becomes even more of a generosity object lesson when families volunteer together. Young people get to spend dedicated time with mom or dad (and vice versa once they hit those teenage years) while fostering compassion, passing on values, putting faith in action, and having a lot of fun.

Encouraging generosity does not depend on our ability to donate money. Everyone gets the same 24 hours each day, then it’s up to us. Whether we spend an hour clearing ice for a community skating rink, serve dinner once a week at the local shelter, or travel for months at a time helping people overseas, we can all contribute to making the world a more generous place. The next generation is watching. Where will you volunteer your time?

Contributed by Harold Penner
Gift Planning Consultant


  1. Barr, D. L. (2018). Thirty Years of Giving in Canada. Ottawa: Rideau Hall Foundation and Imagine Canada.
    Summer Allen, P. (2018). The Science of Generosity. Berkeley: Greater Good Science Center.

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