Volunteering at Convoy of Hope with my children.

My family volunteering at a community outreach event in Long Island with Convoy of Hope.

For those of you with children too young for school, let me give you a brief glimpse of what you’re in for. It seems like at least twice a month my kids come home with some fundraiser. I’m not sure if I’m the only one that feels this way, but school fundraisers are like the new junk mail. There’s no stopping them. They just keep coming, along with the persistent pleas of my children who want to participate because it means they get some novelty toy.

Before I have you convinced I’m some horrible person for sending those fundraisers straight to the recycling bin, let me explain. I’m a firm believer that kids should learn the importance of helping others. I want them to make their own decisions though, not be pressured by school or peers. I’m a little peeved because these fundraisers that get sent home are really parent fundraisers. The expectation is that I will buy and I will sell whatever overpriced junk they are pedaling all so my child can feel accomplished because they “earned” a small toy. Perhaps this is where the world of philanthropy gets all screwed up. Here are 4 reasons why I think charity should begin at home long before they encounter it at school:

1. Charity Doesn’t Deserve Strings Attached – I want my kids to learn that giving to others shouldn’t come with strings attached, incentives, or pandering congratulations. Giving should come from a calling of your heart and should be something you would do even if nobody noticed. I’ve worked in the non-profit world and have yet to meet a wealthy benefactor that didn’t want the world to know what they did. It has sadly become a dance that gets played out over and over and not for the charity’s benefit, but for the donor’s. I’m about to lose the non-religious folks here, but as a Christian giving means that the receiver does not see the giver, but the reason behind it – God. I want to encourage my kids to be self-less givers. You never know when you may find yourself on the receiving end.

2. Charity Is  A Priority, Not A Gimmick – I tell my kids that we make it a priority in our budget to give to our church every month. Will other opportunities come up? Sure. We participated in Operation Christmas Child because it spoke to my heart. There are a million needs out there, but we need to give where our heart is.

3. School Fundraisers Creates Disparity Among Kids – One of my biggest problems with this barrage of fundraisers is that it creates peer pressure among children and as I have said before my district is a poor one. I see it as another wedge that drives students apart. I know my kids will be forced to sit outside the book fair if I don’t give them money. It is ridiculous that we can’t teach children how to “window shop.” Instead we segregate those who can’t afford to  buy.

I would rather see my school teach volunteering above “shopping for a cause.” If my school needs donations, I’d prefer to get a letter addressed to me at my home address and I’d be happy to mail off a check.

My family volunteering at our church's free Trunk or Treat in Middletown.

My family volunteering at our church’s free Trunk or Treat in Middletown.

4. Giving Of Yourself Doesn’t Always Mean Money – I’ve taken my children to many community events my husband and I volunteered at from an outreach event with Convoy of Hope, to chicken barbecue fundraisers, to our church’s free Halloween Trunk or Treat. I’m training the next generation of volunteers to give back to the world with everything in their arsenal from a smile or kind word to their time and talents.

The other day my daughter Hannah created a “charity bank” and deposited her dollar that she got from the tooth fairy. I couldn’t have been more proud. It was an act that came straight from her heart. No little toy incentive necessary. I hope my kids will grow up and become successful, but I never want them to feel that they “deserve congratulations” for giving. Giving is the gift! It means their needs are met and they have the means to be a blessing to others.