How to educate children in the spirit of giving

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 10:49am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 10:49am

An e-mail from the alumni choir of my alma mater recently turned up in my inbox. "Let's bring the joy of music and laughter to the community," the title read.

They were recruiting volunteers to sing and interact with the mentally and physically handicapped through SAHK, formerly known as the Spastics Association of Hong Kong, a rehabilitation centre which has been in Hong Kong since 1963.

Such events are often oversubscribed, so I thought long and hard: was it time to teach my four-year-old goddaughter to help the less fortunate?

Most people tend to associate charity with giving money. We take out our cheque books and participate in our children's school fund-raising events. While we dig deep in our pockets, children of different ages are introduced to a culture which promotes donating money to worthy causes.

Parents can teach young children about the importance of reaching out to others in their time of need. We can educate children in the spirit of giving and make charity a habit by letting them experience charitable giving first-hand.

There is a wide range of both direct and indirect ways in which children can participate.

For every age and ability, we should aim to find the right approach to raise funds for the needy in a fun and meaningful way. For younger children, this could be an activity such as baking and selling cupcakes.

While children can join their older siblings and parents to volunteer at events such as the one organised by my alma mater, it is increasingly common for families to start their own foundations, or reactivate an old foundation set up by an older relative. Teenagers who are brought up to acknowledge the pain and suffering in the world and who feel compelled to make a difference would welcome a chance to participate in their family's foundation.

A recent case study by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service WiseGiving (HKCSS WiseGiving) describes how an established Hong Kong family set up the Next Generation Committee to provide guidance and support for younger family members, including teenagers.

This family is particularly serious about educating the younger generation as to how they can carry out their philanthropic efforts by giving them a small but meaningful budget and teaching them how to write a grant proposal to be vetted by the board.

They are shown a few local charities working in their area of interest so they can carry out their own due diligence.

Reviewing annual reports and budgets can be boring for teenagers, but getting them involved from the beginning can be exciting.

In Hong Kong, charities set up to relieve poverty and advance education and religion can carry out their activities anywhere in the world. They can take their philanthropic efforts to the mainland and beyond. Charities established to benefit the community must be carried out locally in Hong Kong.

Activities such as solving environmental issues and promoting arts and culture to friends outside Hong Kong can be done with careful legal planning and structuring.

This may mean setting up a charity in another jurisdiction where the charity law allows these activities to be carried out anywhere in the world.

For some parents, nurturing children in charitable giving is part of a plan to groom them to sit on the family foundation, or even the board of the family business. Project planning and budgeting skills are life skills that can be transferred to profit-based businesses easily.

Charities and businesses face similar challenges, and family-run businesses can therefore benefit greatly from promoting charity activities as a learning tool.

If a child is not keen to inherit the management of the family business, taking a role in the family foundation can ensure that the child still has a valuable role within the family and is not left out. Charity begins at home. It brings the family closer.

Michelle Chow is a consultant with international law firm Withers specialising in charities law and a member of the steering committee of HKCSS WiseGiving