In his book In One Era & Out the Other, author and humorist Sam Levenson observed, "As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands: one for helping yourself, the other for helping others." Part of growing up, then, is learning to help others by giving back. Though some of us learn to do it better than others, Americans overall gave a record $373 billion to charitable organizations in 2015, according to a report by Giving USA.
Have you ever wondered how to foster such charitable behavior in your kids and grandkids? Well, a research paper by Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Vanguard Charitable indicates your own behavior may have a large influence on theirs. One of the key questions researched was, "How closely do parents and grandparents match their children and grandchildren in terms of their philanthropic priorities?"
Teach by example
As with all the other values that we try to impart to our kids and grandkids, giving back is best taught through our example. The study states, "Research provides evidence that both role-modeling and conversations emphasizing empathy can have a positive effect on children's giving."
For instance, when writing checks to charities, have your children or grandchildren sit with you and discuss why these causes are important. Describing to them what the need is, as well as how an organization is working to address that need, is what is likely to influence their behavior. Research demonstrates that children will give similarly as their parents to religious, international, environmental and arts-related organizations. The influence we have on grandchildren is less but still significant. It's particularly high for arts-related organizations but, curiously, has no impact on basic-needs-related organizations.
An even better way to teach the responsibility of giving back is through volunteering your time. When they witness you putting in time to make the world a better place, they are more likely to do the same, maybe even alongside you.
For grandparents, the study's advice is:
Cultivate your grandchildren's philanthropic interests by participating in charitable activities together. Create an experience; for example, volunteer with them at a soup kitchen, take them to the theater or a museum, or provide them with donation envelopes to give at church.
Charitable giving is a very personal decision. That is why, when contacted by charities asking me to direct my clients' giving to their cause, my answer is always a definite no. I explain it's up to my clients to decide what causes are important to them.
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While I may decline to influence my clients, I think it's completely appropriate to try to influence your kids and grandkids on the joys of altruism. Demonstrating commitment to the causes you believe in, whether through contributions of time or money, may influence them to continue your legacy. To quote Anne Frank, "No one has ever become poor by giving." In fact, it is through giving that we enrich our own lives and, by our example, enrich the lives of the next generation.
Allan Roth is the founder of Wealth Logic, an hourly-based financial planning firm in Colorado Springs, Colo. He has taught investing and finance at universities and written for Money magazine, the Wall Street Journal and others. His contributions aren't meant to convey specific investment advice.