Nurturing Generosity in Children

The future of society may depend on our ability to make sure our children have the capability for empathy and the inclination toward generosity.                           ~Patricia O. Bjorhovde

Religious teachings have been highly influential in the development of philanthropic culture and giving practices around the world.  Throughout American history, religious philanthropy has prompted social change by addressing the major issues and ills facing society of the times.

Congregations and faith communities fill an important role in today’s society by providing the worship and learning environments to convey the virtues and values of generosity, giving, stewardship and volunteer service.  These communities provide a set of religious values and theological teachings to which young learners can link and reflect upon their daily lives.  This is part of a our faith formation process as human beings, continuing throughout our lifetimes.

There are three key ways that children learn about generosity and stewardship:

  • Modeled voluntary behavior by a parent or trusted care-giver with the intention to help others.  This begins in infancy, through the infant’s experience of caring and sharing which leads to the development of empathy.
  • Cognitive learning opportunities that include thinking, reflection, and discussion on the part of the learner.  These stimulate understanding of the cause and effect of giving behavior.
  • Experiential “learning by doing” on the part of the learner—opportunities to engage in giving and serving activities from which they can draw emotional satisfaction and meaning.

How is this done?  Through an intentional educational process that includes:

  • Presenting the concepts and stories that promote understanding of giving, generosity, and stewardship in the life of a community.
  • Identifying the reasons why people choose to give and practicing generosity, and the methods for stewardship and the careful tending of resources.
  • Providing the experiences and opportunities for individual and communal reflection.

Caine & his arcadeNathan Dungan, former financial advisor, marketing VP, author and creator of the Share, Save, Spend system for personal finance suggests that the marketing message directed at our children is “see money, spend money,” with the emphasis on the micro impact  of satisfying their own needs.   They rarely get the macro impact message that balances their spending with saving and sharing in intentional ways:  “the choices we make with our money can change the world.”  Dungan has devoted a website to teaching people of all ages to take responsibility for their money and their sharing, saving and spending choices.

There are a variety of helpful materials to help parents and educators create learning experiences and activities that nurture generosity and stewardship in their children and teenage youth.  Games and stories, combined with experiential activities to learn these values by doing, are particularly effective teaching tools.  The Stewardship Game and links to online resources below offer a starting place for engaging this learning process.

Enjoy!                    13035650-multiracial-group-people-hands-together


Stewardship Game for Unitarian Universalist Children & Youth created by Dr. Bobbie Poole, Credentialed Religious Educator, Master Level (shared with her permission). email:




Tapestry of Faith the Unitarian Universalist Association’s online curriculum series, particularly the Moral Tales for children and Virtue Ethics for youth. and

Learning To Give features learning and teaching resources to use for all ages, with focused materials for school educators and religious educators.

Share, Save, Spend founded by Nathan Dungan   The website features articles, tips, and resources for all ages, particularly useful for parents, educators, and organizations.

Six Tips on Raising Philanthropic Children, an online article featured in the Family Giving News (July 2005, Volume 5, Issue 7),

Bjorhovde, Patricia O., Editor.  Creating Tomorrow’s Philanthropists:  Curriculum Development for Youth,  New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, #36, Summer 2002, Jossey-Bass Nonprofit and Public Management Series, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Technology and Stewardship–Times They Are Changing

smart phone and money

What is the current state of charitable giving?  There are definite signs of improvement in the U.S. economy, yet the effects of the recent recession appear to be lingering with regard to giving to religious and other charitable organizations.  In light of our tightening family budgets, we must be more resourceful, efficient, and responsive than ever in our stewardship practices.

What trends are affecting us?  Technology presents new challenges alongside immense potential benefits.  With the heightened use of the Internet and the advent of social networking, there is an increasing dependence on computer and smart phone technology.  The changes in online communication and information sharing are happening at a startlingly rapid pace and we must adapt our practices in order to keep in step with these ever-evolving changes.

What must we remember?  Giving is about relationships.  Fundraising and stewardship are about giving, and therefore, attention must be focused on our relationships as a multigenerational community. Generosity springs from the heart.  It is not a rational matter, but a relational matter – an emotional response to that which inspires and motivates.

Why do we give generously to our congregation?  First, we give as individuals who are grateful to be part of a faith community.  We care deeply about the principles and values of our faith, and in affirmation of our congregation’s mission, ministries, and programs that make a difference in our lives, and in our local communities and society at large.  We give because our congregation and wider faith are worthy of our deepest commitment and greatest generosity.

How might we respond to these trends and priorities?

1)      Increase online visibility—your congregation’s website must be visually appealing, with content that reflects your mission, values, and ways people of all ages can be involved.  Include a compelling message about the importance of stewardship and means for online pledging and/or giving.  Exploring other websites for good ideas and features. Resources for website development– content ideas, blogs, and video clips, go to

2)      Make use of electronic communication and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote your congregation.  Email, electronic newsletters, and social networking are primary means of communication for younger generations and increasingly so among middle and older adults.

3)      Establish or Develop a Planned Giving Program—there is a current shift in generational giving patterns and a significant transference of wealth underway.   For info on setting up a planned giving program:

4)      Budget for Growth and Advancement, not Maintenance and Decline—align your budget to reflect your congregation’s mission, values, priorities, ministries, and programs.   For advice on congregation budgets:   and

Stewardship as Ministry

Balancing money & heart

Regardless of religious affiliation, there are things that are being learned about congregational stewardship that can be of great help to us—particularly in managing the realities of today’s economy.  There is much wisdom to be gleaned from current research about congregational giving, fundraising, and stewardship.

  • Stewardship is a ministry.  It is much broader in scope than fundraising, and requires a highly relational and pastoral approach.
  • All of the resources of the congregation or faith community are involved in the broadest scope of stewardship:  money, property, people, time, and energy.
  • Hospitality, careful tending and management of resources, and a clear vision and mission are key aspects of stewardship in the congregation.
  • Giving and generosity are matters of the spirit and are at the heart of stewardship.
  • Giving is a spiritual discipline at its core, a practice that reflects one’s faith as well as spiritual depth and maturity.
  • Becoming a generous person involves a lifelong, developmental process which begins in infancy with receiving love.  Generosity evolves with mutually-reinforcing experiences of giving and receiving.
  • There is a direct relationship between one’s deepest held values and the motivation to give.  We contribute our time and resources to those things that matter most in our lives, as reflected in our bank statements and budgets.
  • Our religious leaders—particularly ministers and religious educators—must take an active role in modeling and teaching good stewardship in order for the concepts and principles to take root in their congregations.
  • Regardless of the economic context, congregations with the highest household giving levels focus on an inspiring mission and vision, engage in a visible, year-round stewardship program, and ask for levels of financial support that are proportionately appropriate for each individual or family.
  • Generous congregations provide a safe environment in which to talk about money and its role in peoples’ lives.  They offer training and support in personal financial planning and giving choices so that generosity can be practiced.
  • Generous behavior in faith communities is often expected but cannot be taken for granted.  It is important to express appreciation and gratitude for all that people  contribute and for all gifts received.

making an offering

For more resources to promote generosity among individuals and households in your Unitarian Universalist congregation:                                       

Ecumenical Stewardship Center, with links to a number of denominational stewardship websites:

Lake Institute for Faith and Giving:

Alban Institute: