08/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Legacy of Giving: Teens Practice Philanthropy

Ethical wills are about our values, not our money. But what we think and do with money, how we use it, to whom or whether we give it, is part of our legacy of values. People are more open about sex and death than about money, which may be our last taboo. Though challenging, let's look at the relationship of money, values and legacy.

Here are some questions to consider:
1. How do you decide how you spend your money?
2. What percentage of your money do you spend, save, invest in your own future and the future of the next generations?
3. How do you decide to whom and how much to give to "charitable causes"?
4. What's the legacy you intend to leave with your money?
5. What legacy are you leaving by the way you manage your money?
6. What values do you model with your legacy of giving?

(For practical help about managing your money in concert with your values and identity, see Chapter 9 in Women"s Lives, Women's Legacies

Though most Americans give to charities on an annual basis, only about 15% of us translate that value into a philanthropic plan. I want my grandchildren (now five to fourteen years old) to be among those who normally think and act philanthropically. As part of my legacy to them, I devised this plan: to offer them money each year to be given to charity. Here in more detail is how we began.

In June of this summer I initiated the first phase of the "plan" with my two oldest grandchildren. I called each, a girl fourteen and a boy thirteen, explaining that I had a proposal and wondered if I could take them to dinner to discuss it. Very grown up, they accepted my invitation and we went to a quiet restaurant to eat and talk.

Here's what I proposed to them: My intention is to provide you with money - this year $300 - to give to charitable causes. It will be your responsibility together to decide to whom the money should be given. (As each of the other five cousins become teenagers, they'll be included and the annual amount will increase.) I hope you'll share your personal priorities with each other after thinking and doing any necessary research -meeting to discuss, debate, and decide together who will receive the money.

No one has ever become poor from giving. - Anne Frank

If you want to consult with me at any time, I'm available. I plan for us to have dinner again before school starts in the fall. You can share your experience then, advise me of your decisions and I'll write the checks for your 2009 charitable gifts. We'll repeat this every summer.

After lively conversation, they agreed not to divide the money in half and each choose for themselves, but to engage with each other to research, discuss, and decide how much to give to whom. I was especially pleased by their willingness to work together.

Beyond wanting them to experience gratitude for their blessings and to translate that into generosity, into a responsible practice of giving, I want the cousins and siblings to be bonded. I envision this giving as a way to enrich their relationships as they grow up, continuing to work together to think, discuss, decide and act every year on behalf of those less fortunate than they. (To that end, I am amending my will to include funds for this project in perpetuity.)

Their enthusiasm, their serious sense of responsibility, and their grasp of the scope and complexity of what they were undertaking was inspiring. After our discussion I provided a document - a sacred agreement - explaining what we'd discussed and agreed to. They felt very grown up signing it and we each have a copy. I also gave them journals for their note-taking and planning.

This story is far from complete. What's real is only phase one of year one. No stories or results to share - yet. Whatever they do, however they decide, they will have succeeded for the first time, and they'll have another opportunity next June when we meet again.

Some suggestions/action steps:

1. Consider a value you have that you want to communicate and pass on.
2. Write about how you came to have this value and how you have lived it.
3. Translate the value into an action plan to make it part of your legacy.
(It may be writing your experience, your learning, and your hopes and dreams for future generations.)
4. If you choose a value about charitable giving, and if a version of my plan interests you, please use it as is, or tweak it to meet your needs - make it yours...imagine if there were hundreds of thousands of young teens spending part of their summer looking for beneficiaries of charitable dollars.

May you be blessed by translating your values
into lessons, into action, into love.

Let me know if you have more specific questions and I'll do my best to help.

You can find out more about many kinds of legacies at
Contact Rachael at:

The author of Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations, Rachael is a Clinical Social Worker, an adult educator and legacy consultant, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.