“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa


Kids have a natural empathy, especially for other kids. I think they can actually picture themselves in others’ shoes. When they see someone struggle, they automatically want to help. As parents, it’s up to us to encourage them into volunteering and charity work, by putting them in the right situations and circumstances (safely organized, of course). The camaraderie and energy developed during these projects build self esteem and inclusiveness. It’s also fun to incorporate a cool activity with a volunteer project or trip that gives everyone something special to look forward to and builds amazing family memories together. Here are some helpful tips to help develop your child’s natural sense of giving:


Be their example! Getting your kids interested in charity and volunteering can begin at a young age, even as young as three and primarily through examples you set. Anything on a large scale, like cleaning up after a natural disaster or traveling to a foreign country to assist in aid projects, is great, but not really the easiest place to start for most kids. Doing small meaningful things consistently in your own community is the best place to start for many of us. And every parent knows if you model a behavior often enough, the little ones will follow. Be proactive with your own empathy, “adopt” families during the holidays to donate gifts (the YMCA is a great place to find holiday giving requests), have children share part of their allowance to donate to their favorite charity – even better have them organize their own “walk” teams for fundraising. With so many families looking for Covid-safe ways to volunteer, organizing an outdoor walk is a fantastic way to stay socially distanced, but also give back in a fun way! My son organized “Brooks’ Buddies” to benefit JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), he’s type-1 diabetic and really loved sharing his knowledge about Diabetes with friends and family every year. This only takes a little bit of planning, some social media outreach and signs around the neighborhood. The funds collected are then sent straight to your child’s charity of choice. Brooks got pretty creative with this project, he designed his own t-shirts and had an outdoor party after to thank everyone that participated. Today he has a photo of each year’s team and the logo for his tees on his wall and he often speaks about the events being some of his best memories. This initial drive to help friends understand his disease has helped to foster a philanthropic spirit in him.


Have them look at the world around them! There are so many ways to open a child’s mind to everyday opportunities to do good. Do your kids write thank you notes? Not just for gifts but for the kindness of others? If a family takes them on a trip or out to eat – why not acknowledge how fun it was with a note? If a teacher helps through a tough spot, acknowledge the kindness. This manifests gratefulness and accountability. Keep them involved in some sort of spiritual community. Take them out into nature and teach them to respect it, they need to not only respect other human beings but also our world and all of the creatures in it. Encourage them to help clean up the community around them on Earth Day or make it a once a month event for the whole neighborhood. Being outside is a great way to get children more aware of our Earth, and why it’s so important to preserve the beauty around us. Hike, camp, boat, travel, but don’t just do it, engage your kids into the experience and discuss what they are grateful for and how they can pay it forward.


Turn it into a Philanthropy Adventure! Helping their community out doesn’t have to feel like a chore they have to do. Encourage children to ask, “Who can I be a superhero to today?” Talk to them about the animals in shelters and what they need to feel safe, like we do. Bring them into your pantry and ask, who can we share with today? Little tweaks in the morning to remind our children and ourselves about the community outside of our home we are a part of will help to build thoughts of charity in them. And then start to find activities to give that fit your family lifestyle. If you’ve got older kids who can walk dogs at the local shelter, set aside time to visit the shelter on the weekends. If your kids are younger, ask them to help you pick up extra dog food at the store. Giving them a sense of ownership for their philanthropy is important.

Keep it Simple. Volunteering doesn’t need to be an all-consuming event, I suggest starting small. A box for toys to donate during a cleaning and then having your child help drop off the toys will give them a strong sense of pride knowing they are helping. Children might initially grab one or two items back out of the box, but as long as a few make it in, the initial feeling of giving will start to develop.

Help to build awareness. Setting an example is fantastic, but also making the choice to expose your children to situations that are outside of their usual school days and t-ball practice is a very good way to open their hearts. Instigate a family field trip to expose them to an important social issue, such as homelessness, animal rescue or the environment to create enthusiasm for future volunteer activities. Through showing your child who and what needs help, you’re building up their problem-solving skills and helping them tap into how they can make a difference.

Here’s a short list of tips to get started modeling, teaching empathy and giving:

  1. Set up an adventure philanthropy – The goal is to have fun together, learn a new culture and understand the bigger picture. This does not have to be overseas –  there are great Habitat for Humanity projects in our country as well as clean up opportunities in natural disaster-affected areas. An adventure can be across town as easily as it can be across the country.
  2. Make philanthropy fit the child  – For example, if your kid likes sports, encourage them to support a disabled sports team, if they love to read, have them read to kids in the hospital or help with storytime at your neighborhood library. Even donating books to a local “little library” will foster charity in children.
  3. Contact local nonprofits in your area, see where they need help and plan a visit or tour.
  4. Visit national and local volunteer websites. Many of these sites will set up email reminders for upcoming projects in your area, like org, and they are often set up in a way to narrow down volunteer opportunities that best fit your family.
  5. Set it up as a win-win – Pick something fun that coincides/coordinates with the project. Helping can be rewarding in more than one way. The fun coincides with the work which then becomes a habit and lasting memories are made. Older kids can apply for service scholarships, which is another way to help them realize the fruits of their labor.


When I ask my kids, “What inspired you most to be philanthropic?” Two things always stand out, 1) watching mom creating her own philanthropic mission and 2) the different unique family opportunities like hiking adventures and spending time in senior centers made it cool. Giving should not be seen as a chore, it should be something everyone looks forward to, and it should be in context with a larger adventure versus a thing to cross off the list. Let your children give in the way that resonates most with them and their empathy will take on a life of its own.


Michelle Moore is the mom of three boys and founder and president of Mother’s Grace, a nonprofit that addresses the critical needs of mothers and their children in the midst of tragic life events. Her book, A Mother’s Grace: Healing the World One Woman at a Time shares the stories of 12 rockstar moms who are setting the world on fire helping others.

Michelle Moore