Who Gives On Their Birthday?

A few weeks ago, I became the proud father of a seven-year-old. For those who don’t know my little guy, he is fantastic. I think I once heard Obama say that he doesn’t know a parent that doesn’t brag on their kids, and I’m no exception. That is not to say he doesn’t give us a hard time, or that everything is rainbows and butterflies.  But for the most part, he is a great kid. His is also surprisingly sensitive to the plight of the homeless. I say “surprisingly” because he is a tad obtuse in most instances where empathy is warranted. But the homeless affecte my son severely.

My Sensitive Son

A while back we saw a man asking for money outside of a store, who appeared to be homeless. After we gave the man every cent we could find in our car, my son was beside himself for a few weeks worrying about this person’s wellbeing. He would continuously ask what more we could have done for him.

To provide my son with some comfort and also to put all that empathetic energy to good use, his mom tried to find ways they could help the homeless in our community. Her first thought was to create care packets for the homeless we see.  While the idea was not a bad one, it would have forced them to makes assumptions about people we do not know. Do they want a toothbrush? Maybe, but maybe not. The next idea was to volunteer at a soup kitchen or a shelter. Unfortunately, many of the places they found did not want children volunteers and were requesting financial donations.

Fundraising

That left us with donations and fundraising. We didn’t love the idea of fundraising for my son. Giving money to a charity can feel three steps removed from the impact you want to make. When my son helped the man outside of the store, he made a connection — one person helping another. A moment of empathy met with a moment of gratitude. It is harder to make that connection when you do not get to see the impact of your actions. Similar to how I feel you need to teach children about money using cash, I feel like the effect of giving is more powerful when you can see who you are giving to. But driving around town giving money to people outside of stores is not the only way to help.  I think most would argue it may not be the most effective either.

So while it was not our first choice, it was a chance to talk about another facet of how money works. Here is one reason why I think giving should be a part of any personal finance lesson we teach our kids. A big part of explaining how money works is teaching our kids how fiance works in general. Not just in our home but in organizations, and not just for profit organizations but the not-for-profit world as well. There is an entire sector that focuses on solving our big problems, and many of the organizations in that sector are not-for-profit. Our children should be aware of them and how they work and how most of them are funded. Many are not financed by selling products or services, but by fundraising.

So my son and his mom fundraised and participated in the coldest night of the year walk, this past winter  And then for his birthday my son held an ECHOage party.

ECHOage

ECHOage is a company that has managed to do the one thing I’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t. For years I’ve wanted to tell people please don’t buy my kids anything. Just give them money and let them buy something.  Or even better, let us put the cash in their education accounts. But I’ve been told that asking for money is “uncouth.”  It probably is, but I have never claimed to be “couth.” So I’ve kept my mouth shut and watched evermore toys enter the house, only to be broken or forgotten about a few weeks after the big days. With ECHOage, it is now acceptable to ask for money. With ECHOage, you ask for money from your guests. A portion (in our case half) goes to a charity of your choosing (for us it was raising the roof).  The other part was pooled so my son could buy one big gift. Buy linking the ask for money to a charitable donation it is now acceptable in our house to ask for money instead of gifts. Genius.

Thanks to the generosity of our neighbours, his friends, and our family, between his birthday, and the walk in the winter, my son has been able to raise just over $500 in one year to help the homeless. I’ve said it before, but I couldn’t be more proud of him. We hope to keep the giving spirit going in him. And as he gets older, we will try to match the donations with volunteering, because we feel like both are important.

Check out ECHOage and give it a shot for your next party. If you do, let me know what you think. And feel free to use the comments to brag on your kids too. Really, I want to know.