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.

Nathan 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.”

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.





Laurel Amabile, CFRE

Giving Speaks




Lodestone Year: Money Unit–Magnetize your Middle School  curriculum by Katie Covey focusing on ways to provide fun and as well as deep teachable moments. The Money Unit focuses on the value of conversations about money as an important part of understanding the control and power of money. With this understanding, commercialism is kept in perspective and money is used as a reflection of one’s values.

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.

National Center for Family Philanthropy 

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.

Developmental Stages of Generosity