3 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Giving to Charity
By Sonya Stinson
Ever since P.J. Bartos was a young child, he and his younger sister Gracie had begged their parents for a lemonade stand, just like the one they’d seen on Sesame Street.
“They would drag the cooler and the lemonade mix from the pantry and plead with us to set up a stand out on the curb,” said their dad, Peter Bartos.
P.J. finally got his wish when he was five and the family had moved from a house on a busy country road in Pennsylvania—where drivers were unlikely to stop for a cool drink—to a quieter street in Peoria, Arizona.
But there was a catch: Instead of keeping the money they earned, the Bartos kids made a deal with their parents that they would donate the proceeds to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF), an organization dedicated to raising money to find a cure for all children with cancer.
The Bartos family had no personal connection to childhood cancer. P.J.’s mom, Donna Bartos, had come up with the idea two years earlier in December 2007 when she bought a bottle of ALSF lemonade during a family Christmas vacation. Just four years old at the time, P.J. told his mom that if donating the proceeds to a good cause was what it would take to get his stand, then he was in.
After enduring a two-year wait, P.J. and his sister were at last able to set up shop in their driveway on President’s Day in 2009. They made fresh-squeezed lemonade from fruit picked at a local farm and received some helpful publicity on local radio and morning news. In just four hours the stand took in about $1,300.
Raising the money felt good, P.J. said, even if he didn’t know any kids who might receive its benefits. “I just didn’t want to be another bystander that doesn’t even try to help kids who are dying of cancer,” he said.
“P.J. knows he’s lucky to not be sick,” added his father. “He also appreciates that he has no friends, siblings or young family members struggling with pediatric cancer. But he’s wise enough to know that this could happen to any child, anywhere, at any time.”
P.J. has held an annual ALSF fundraiser every year since 2009 and raised more than $32,000 to date.
Whether it’s selling lemonade for charity, picking up trash on the beach or collecting piggy bank coins for a cause, there are lots of ways for children to do their part to help others. Here are ways to teach your kids about the value of philanthropy while making that lesson both unforgettable and fun.
1. Talk the talk. To cultivate the altruistic spirit in your child, it’s important to tell as well as show why giving back matters. A 2013 study from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University found that children of parents who talk to them about giving to charity are 20 percent more likely to become givers themselves than children whose parents never have these discussions.
“It’s important to start the conversation about giving,” said JoAnn Turnquist, president and CEO of the Central Carolina Community Foundation in Columbia, South Carolina, “because children are like little sponges.”
2. Tap into their interests. When your child is ready to get involved in a charity, let him or her have a voice in choosing the cause. Try asking: “What made you happy in the last year, and what made you sad?” suggested Carol Weisman, author of Raising Charitable Children. When Weisman’s son, now 34, was five years old, she asked him where he would like to give a donation and why.
“He said, ‘I think we should give to the Missouri Botanical Garden … their toasted cheese sandwiches make me happy,’” Weisman recalled.
As children get older, they’ll have new experiences and choose new causes to support.
3. Turn giving into a game. Children are more likely to want to give back if it seems like a fun thing to do rather than a sacrifice.
“Where parents go wrong is they say, ‘You have too many toys. Pick the ones you don’t want, and we’re giving them to charity,’” Weisman said. “They align charity with the sense of loss rather than the sense of joy.”
For P.J. the initial motivation to help out was the chance to realize his dream of owning a lemonade stand. But Peter Bartos said knowing the lemonade sales would help other kids was what got his son hooked on the project.
Bartos and his wife recognized early on the importance of teaching their children to relate to others in need. It’s a lesson with lifelong benefits.
“If we didn’t give them a chance to learn about giving, it’s quite possible they might not ever learn,” he said. “We don’t really think it happens by accident.”
After drawing donations from local businesses and boasting features like raffles, prize giveaways and a coin-counting truck, P.J.’s annual lemonade stand event now has outgrown the family driveway and moved to a golf club. When he started out, he set a target of raising $50,000 by the time he graduates from high school.
“I feel pretty confident that I’m going to pass that goal,” P.J. said.
Interested in holding your own lemonade stand? Alex’s Lemonade Days are this June 12-14. Click here to learn more.
Sonya Stinson is a writer for print and web publications, businesses and nonprofit organizations. She writes about higher education, careers, small business, retirement and personal finance.
Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.