Teaching kids about Philanthropy – Talk about it or show how it is done?


On a recent trip to Dearborn, MI, this summer, I witnessed what could be considered the only model of teaching philanthropy for young Arab Americans. I met the team from the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP), an organizational affiliate of  ACCESS in Dearborn, MI, the largest Arab-American philanthropic organization in the country. Titled Teen grant-making Initiative, this initiative aims to teach high school students how effective grant-making happens, by giving them access to grant-funds. “We give a group of high-school students $5000 and expert advice, along with ongoing mentoring, through the academic year, to ensure that they learn not only the skills in identifying, developing a relationship with potential grantees, but also skills in evaluation,” one of the office bearers of ACCESS pointed out. She further mentioned that this has become one of the most exciting and sought-after projects for youth, attracting praise, attention and funding from parents, foundations and the local beneficiaries.

Source: Lilly School,IUPUI Website.
Source: Lilly School,IUPUI Website.

In this brief article, I will look at the TGI and other recent research on giving, to shed light about teaching youngsters about giving, through doing – a hands-on approach that seems to be working rather well. This learning by doing methodology is proving effective and is drawing the attention of other schools and foundations that are interesting in implementing it. Against this is the notion of combining doing with talking about philanthropy is more effective.

A recent report titled Women Give 2013, produced by the Lilly School of Philanthropy points out that talking to kids is more effective than just showing kids how to do philanthropy. As the Website points out : “The IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy study is among the first to analyze and compare what parents can do to encourage their children’s charitable behavior. It examines two approaches through which parents teach children about charitable giving: (1) talking to children about charitable giving and (2) role-modeling charitable giving. For this study, role-modeling is defined as parents giving to charity. The study also investigates whether girls and boys participate differently in giving and volunteering, expanding the Women’s Philanthropy Institute’s exploration of how gender affects charitable giving. It follows the same 903 children over two time periods, 2002-2003 and 2007-2008.”

My own research examines modernity and its impact on giving behavior among Arab Americans and American Muslims. I am deeply interested in learning how giving and philanthropic norms are understood and also passed on from one generation to another, in Western societies. What is the role of technology, how are family norms influencing giving and in what shape/form are religious and secular values in giving being re-imagined, are some of the questions that interest me.

The Arab American and American Muslim giving[i] landscape is quite rich. In particular, involvement by youth in giving is on the rise, with Muslim Student Associations, nonprofit volunteering and other forms of civic engagement providing the outlets and opportunities for youth to participate, give back to their communities (however broadly defined). This is evident when one takes a cursory look at organizations such as Muslims without Borders, Arab American Institute, Islamic Relief, and Zakatability.

Teaching moments all around us

Islamic Relief’s Vice President for Fundraising, Anwar Khan told me a few months ago that they try to teach young children about the value of giving by organizing informal “giving circles” in schools and also encourage them to organize fundraisers etc. “Even though they raise $2000 or so, this is an investment in their education, in terms of them becoming aware, responsible and caring individuals. The value of teaching them these core Islamic principles is in itself worth all the investment in time and talent,” he added.

Finally, one needs to remember that teaching by words and practice may be the most effective way to teach a value. As the Lilly School survey sums it up, nicely: “That finding holds true regardless of the child’s sex, age, race, and family income. Children whose parents talk to them about giving are 20 percent more likely to give to charity than children whose parents do not discuss giving with them. Many of the Arab-American children and youth I have interacted with seem to have an environment, where values of giving are spoken of, quite often.

Based on these new findings and also the ‘traditionally’ held wisdom, perhaps educators are better off both designing their curricula by talking about charity and philanthropy and being kind in real life – showing caritas and modelling it in their behavior- a difficult undertaking, indeed.


[i] One needs to distinguish between Arab Americans (not all of who are Muslims, in fact a majority of them are Christians) and American Muslims. Often, these are conflated, and I would like to point this out, upfront. The estimates for number of Arab Americans is in the range of about 6 million, roughly, the same as American Muslims.





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