How to encourage a 9-year-old's charitable nature?
January 30, 2015 11:02 AM   Subscribe

I was incredibly touched to learn that my goddaughter has decided that in lieu of a birthday party she's inviting all of her guests to a local book repository to sort, sticker, and bag books destined for low-income families. I love this and want to do something for her birthday to help encourage more of this kind of thing in the future. Help me choose from some options or suggest something else:

a) Give $500 to the book depository.
b) Give her a "certificate" for $500 to give to the charity of her choice.
c) Match (probably by some multiplier) any money she raises in 2015.
d) Provide a "work stipend" at $X/hr to be paid to the charity of her choice at the end of the year.

a) & b) are simple, but they don't really foster continued community service. c) is fine, except I don't know how much a kid can really raise-- or if they would understand the value of a multiplier. d) is kind of like a charity allowance, but I don't know if I really want to equate charity with work.

Any advice or other suggestions?
posted by eamondaly to Human Relations (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
She's only 9. These ideas strike me as more for teens and adults. Encourage her, but don't push hard.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:06 AM on January 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Take her out for a nice dinner and tell her what a wonderful kid she is.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:15 AM on January 30, 2015 [15 favorites]

Donate to the book depository, whatever amount you'd like to and let her know that she inspired you to do it.

Then send her a fun thing that kids her age would enjoy. Ask a parent what her current thing is.

She sounds like a great kid, but she's still a kid and it IS her birthday.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:16 AM on January 30, 2015 [16 favorites]

These sound like good ideas if she is interested in raising money or if you want to encourage her to raise and donate money.

If she wants to volunteer, and you want to encourage her to volunteer more, that's a different thing. You could look out for, suggest, provide logistical support like rides to places, and enthusiastically participate with her in other volunteer events.
posted by steinwald at 11:17 AM on January 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

She's little. The fact that she's doing this for her birthday doesn't mean that she wouldn't like something in the way of a gift (say, a trip to her favorite bookstore, or perhaps an Amazon Fire for kids - I'm a proponent of tech toys at any age). A present as a reward for this wonderfully kind gesture on her birthday may serve both as a birthday gift and as encouragement.
posted by Everydayville at 11:17 AM on January 30, 2015

Response by poster: To be clear, I'm also giving her some comics and a marshmallow blaster!
posted by eamondaly at 11:18 AM on January 30, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Direct positive reinforcement ("I'll give you X if you do Y" or "For every X you do, you'll get a certain amount of Y) doesn't really work when it comes to things like this. The whole point of donating, either one's time, money, or possessions, is that you're not doing it to get something back. Adding a "carrot" to that seems to me like it might either discourage her or create an expectation that she's going to get something in return every time.

Why not just tell her how great you think she is, or collect some stories about the people/families she's helping and tell her about that? Or donate your own time, money, or books, and tell her about how she's inspired you to do it? She could help you sort, sticker, and/or bag your own books in advance.
posted by Urban Winter at 11:18 AM on January 30, 2015 [7 favorites]

I actually think that it would be very wise to talk to her about how kind and generous she is as a person. Talk about how it made her feel to be generous and kind. Tell her you love her and give her a birthday present.

This kind of beautiful gesture is easily threatened by a contracted feeling of duty, and for a young child, it's even more easily threatened by a feeling that once she's shown signs of being charitable, nobody will want to celebrate HER any more. She probably still likes presents and attention like any kid, and I think the best thing you could possibly do is celebrate something she did from the heart, without adding any pressure.

Actually, come to think of it, I think the best BEST thing I can think of is to tell her that she inspired you, get involved in some kind of volunteer effort yourself (perhaps you already are), and invite her to participate, as your friend.
posted by Cygnet at 11:20 AM on January 30, 2015 [11 favorites]

How about she creates a list of comics that she likes and you can donate copies of them to families with kids that might like them? (or organizations that could do that)

She gets a gift of comics to read and be awesome and inspired, AND she gets to curate stuff to send out to libraries/donation centers/etc. This is a nice both/and where she gets gifts and gets to be charitable.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 11:23 AM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Attend the "party" and help out. The most important thing you can do to validate any persons efforts is to go help with the work she has set out to do. Nothing shows support like that.

If you want to add in donating to the organization, great, but that will not show her that you support her efforts nearly as much.
posted by daq at 11:33 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would hold off on the monetary donations until she is a little older, and send her a heartfelt handwritten letter telling her how proud you are to be the godparent of such a thoughtful, generous young woman.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 11:34 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Most kids that age are already seriously involved in community service projects through their school and extracurricular activities. I have a 10-year-old daughter and there is ALWAYS something going on. We have the opportunity to participate in at least one charity/community service project per month, usually through the school or girl scouts. Maybe there's already something planned or on the horizon that you could piggyback on?

If she's in Girl Scouts, you can buy Girl Scout cookies and have them sent to the troops overseas.
posted by Ostara at 11:37 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

These little girls raised thousands for the local food pantry. They got a celebration with capes, and it looks like they thought the capes were the coolest part.

Also appeared on Ellen. So kids can raise money, yes. They were 8 last year. I can't wait to see what they do this year.

So I would donate, plus get her a cape, and call her a Superhero.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:39 AM on January 30, 2015

We do donation matching this way - We tell the kids we are giving X amount to charity, and of that, X% (X$) is being given in their name. We let them pick the charitiy (or charities, if they want to split the amount), and make the donation. All they have to do is say what they're interested in. (bonus level: If they said something vague, like "something with animals," we sent them to Charity Navigator and showed them how to find one that had a good rating and a philosophy they liked).
posted by Mchelly at 11:47 AM on January 30, 2015

What a nice kid! I think the insanely cool thing about this, what you want to encourage, is that she chose to do this. And that it is her time and care that matters, not her money. So I wouldn't incentivize it at all by doing b or c or d, nor would I make such a large donation as you suggest in a.

Honestly, the best way to encourage her is to encourage her. I think the idea of you coming in to help (if you're local) would mean a lot, as would taking her out somewhere special afterward and telling her how great you think she is--it is her special day, after all. (If you aren't in town: maybe send some pizza or cake for the volunteers, or maybe a smaller donation to show your support?)

As for fostering this for the future: maybe some cool t-shirts/buttons/notebooks/hats for her Volunteer Club? She and her friends could make a b-day tradition of volunteering somewhere instead of a party, and you could help her set up the club and research suitable recipients.
posted by kapers at 11:52 AM on January 30, 2015

While I agree with the responses saying she shouldn't be pushed into doing more or fundraising, I really like the idea of giving her an amount of money to donate to charity. (In addition to the comics and marshmallow blaster, of course!) Instead of encouraging her to donate it all in one place, it may be fun for her to decide what she's interested in (animals, books, the environment, local causes), learn about some organizations that do those things, and give them money. They may send her followup literature explaining what they did with her donation. If you're actually sending the donations in her name, you can collect these and only pass on ones that might be inspiring.

(If you're interested in researching this a little, is a good resource on youth philanthropy.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:04 PM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

At age nine, I had no conception of the worth of 500$. I think that's way too much. Even 25$ to, maybe, 100$ donated to a charity of her choice would be a good gift.

I think c) and d) would have made me feel patronized and dissuaded me from doing further charity work when I was a kid, but I can be very contrary.
posted by wrabbit at 12:31 PM on January 30, 2015

Response by poster: A couple of additional notes:

- I'll definitely be at the "birthday party" helping out.

- I live somewhat nearby, but not close enough for any regular encouragement. I see the family a couple of times a year.

- $500 is actually the lowest I can donate through our charitable giving account, so that kind of has to be the number unless there's a super-compelling reason for something lower.

Thanks for all the feedback so far!
posted by eamondaly at 12:36 PM on January 30, 2015

I think the present you mentioned plus a donation to her chosen charity(ies) is a great combo. Maybe you can say something like "I was so inspired by your generosity that I wanted to give something too. Will you help me pick who it goes to?" And you can spend some time together looking over options. Donors Choose might be a fun place to check projects on since she can pick something she likes and find a way to give help to other kids.
posted by brilliantine at 12:39 PM on January 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you're limited at $500 or more because of a DAF, I'd recommend either making a smaller donation out of pocket, or making the $500 donation in her honor, and having the charity send her a birthday card (you could even include one to send) telling her that her cool uncle made a donation in her honor. They won't include the amount. $500 is a truly unfathomable dollar amount to a nine year old, and it's the intent that matters anyway.
posted by juniperesque at 12:43 PM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's awesome that you are so supportive. I would also encourage her interest in reading and heroines like her---for example Jane Goodall or Joan Baez who were inspiring from a very early age.
posted by effluvia at 12:47 PM on January 30, 2015

If her parents don't mind it, maybe send her a Little Free Library kit?
posted by ApathyGirl at 1:15 PM on January 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I agree she's demonstrating the best sort of charity early, and I think if you're impressed by her actions you should respect the boundaries she's set.

In other words, I would participate as much as possible in doing what the other folks at the birthday party are doing. If you can't join in person, still connect your birthday-related activity to sorting, stickering, and bagging books. Perhaps you could contact the Bernie's Book Bank and anonymously underwrite any expenses associated with the party?

Then you could delay sending the presents (which she specifically asked people not to give her for her birthday) until a lucky random Friday when her sweet face pops up in your mind.
posted by Jesse the K at 3:17 PM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Definitely, while you're telling her what an awesome time you had at her party and how generous it was of her to do this, talk about the similar charitable things you and your friends do. Help her internalize that this as a normal thing that people do with their friends their whole lives long: get together on social occasions to help out charities.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:32 PM on January 30, 2015

Sign her up for the Presidential Service Award.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:00 PM on January 30, 2015

Best answer: I wouldn't mix the donation with the event. Some of this is about community engagement - engaging in meaningful activity and making personal connections strengthens outcomes. Talk about the people she is helping. Discuss leadership skills for the group she's working with. Needs assessment for those who are being helped. What does she believe about the people she is helping? Are there stereotypes that need to be discussed? And of course, yay!!! HBD!!!

If you do make a donation, or engage in an __a-thon with her, etc. send her a card on Thanksgiving -that she inspired you to be more helpful, and you're grateful.
posted by childofTethys at 4:43 PM on January 30, 2015

Don't take this the wrong way, but I think if you go for the over-the-top gesture it might come across as trying to shift the focus to yourself. Which for the record I don't think is what you are intending to do. It's about really her coming into her own and what she is trying to do and I hate to say this, but I think donating an outrageous amount of money might come across to some as you toeing into the limelight.

If you must, tell her how proud you are of her in private and arrange for the charity to let her know that an anonymous $500 donation has been made in her name.

She sounds like a sweet kid!
posted by mermily at 6:09 PM on January 30, 2015

I'd shy away from the extravagant (and $500 is extravagant to the average nine-year-old!) donation. At that age, I would've had the wind taken out of my sails by something like that: "oh, I guess my tiny little sorting project doesn't matter when my godparent just gave so much money." It would've made me feel small, insignificant, and kind of like a chump. Actually, any direct monetary gift (even anonymously), unless I'd specifically asked people to donate, would've made me feel bad.

YMMV of course -- I don't know your goddaughter. I think encouraging her interest in community work in a non-condescending way would be the best though. Participate enthusiastically with the kiddos at the book repository, and just generally act like it's a pretty cool thing to do that you're proud she thought of. If you have any interest or experience in social justice work, maybe talk to her about that in an age-appropriate way too.
posted by Ragini at 11:40 PM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

So sweet! I have worked for non profit orgs, and volunteered for nearly my whole adult life and I so would have loved to be encouraged as a child. I totally think you're on the right track and you should give whatever amount you feel comfortable with. If $500 is a perfectly reasonable amount for your budget, then it demonstrates the fact that people give at whatever level they can, and it's all ok.

If anything, I would suggest branching out a bit, and using this gift as a launching pad for a lifetime of giving, and both broad and local thinking. There are charities that work locally to make a difference, like the one your birthday girl picked, and maybe it would be cool to find an overseas literacy organization you could give to as well? That would be a neat way to show both, and talk about how you can give with both money, time and spreading awareness and encouraging others. Her choice for her birthday has inspired you to give - such a great message for her to learn, just be sure to show her that!
posted by nerdcore at 10:38 AM on January 31, 2015

Response by poster: I decided to separate the birthday stuff from the charity stuff altogether; I'll be making a donation later in the year on her behalf. Thanks again for all the advice, everyone!

PS: buy a young person in your life a marshmallow shooter. They will flip the fuck out.
posted by eamondaly at 12:21 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

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