At a family reunion, I learned my father paid his younger siblings a nickel for their chocolate pudding when he came home on military leave. He was the oldest of nine, so I imagine there was as much opportunity to purchase one of his favorite desserts as his siblings pocketing that nickel.
I was raised on chocolate pudding – the kind my mother cooled down in a water bath in the kitchen sink. To this day, a bowl of creamy, warm pudding produces feelings of comfort and pleasure for me.
It’s now been two years since I attended our family reunion. However, I still remember looking around at a room full of cousins, specifically my cousin’s children and grandchildren and wondering about their attitudes toward giving and volunteering. Of course, studies can provide some answers, but not the one answer I sought that day. What about the family in this room? Who’s teaching them about giving? Are my older relatives including their children and grandchildren in their giving decisions?
In the 2021 Bank of America Study of Philanthropy: Charitable Giving by Affluent Households, we learn only 15.7 percent of affluent households involved younger relatives (e.g., children, grandchildren) in their giving decisions. And the majority (78.8 percent) of affluent households indicated they do not involve relatives of other generations in their giving, whether younger or older.
My extended family is easily described as middle-class. Hardworking and devoted to their families, they still find time to volunteer for various causes, give to causes they care about and clean out their closets to pass gently used clothes to others. Yet, if my family answered the BOA survey questions about our children, we’d look just like the affluent families – not including our children and grandchildren in decisions.
For many families, the annual reunion is the one time that brings the generations together. My grandmother gave birth to nine children with at least twenty-two grandchildren. I lost count after that generation. Today a reunion has at least four generations in attendance.
Our annual reunion picture captures all five generations with a legacy of connection and stories. And it’s the stories that capture our connection.
Have you ever attended a family reunion without stories? I love to hear my aunts and uncles “tell on each other,” as if no one had ever heard the story before. But I also love to hear about today; what aunts, uncles and cousins are doing now. I love to hear about what matters to them.
Like my dad’s chocolate pudding story, what matters to Uncle Sonny or Aunt Frances changes me just a little, and it’s what every next generation needs to hear. We are connected to each other and those yet born. It’s through the connection across generations that a legacy grows.
Every family has a legacy with stories right at the center. So, think about your family legacy as the sum of stories past and present. Stories about yesterday, lessons learned, paths explored, and stories about giving and volunteering. Lives well-lived, lives well-worn.
Perhaps there is no family reunion, but your children and grandchildren will soon come to visit. Use those visits to build your family legacy, including volunteer and giving experiences. Talk with adult children about a giving decision – small or large. Valuing their input adds to your family’s legacy of giving and connection. When a family joins together in a shared experience, everyone benefits.
It’s a shared experience that seeds and produces life-long generosity. Philanthropy worth doing is worth learning to do with family!
Be sure to find ways to include children and grandchildren of all ages. Giving activities build memories that stick and generosity that grows for generations.
Enjoy the giving experience while beaming with pride from the joy of watching children grow and learn their way into generosity toward others.
Make the reunion count or spend time with your children and grandchildren on a generosity project you plan together. Include cousins and friends and give together.
So, what are you doing this summer to grow generosity?
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