Gardening and Giving: Encouraging Philanthropy in Children

Parenting is full of challenges. It’s a constant push and pull. I’ve recently discovered that, at least with gardening and charitable giving, a mom’s push is the right way to go.

A big concern is how to instill in our children a sincere sense of gratitude. But I’ll begin with a story about an immediate challenge I recently had – how to keep a kid from loafing, and how to get my gardening done!

I recently injured my back and my doctor regularly reprimands me: “no gardening!”  Gardening is my passion, and with weeds encroaching upon my flowers, this admonition is challenging to follow. Fortunately, my elder son, Andrew, came home from college and had some down time before he began a summer internship.

As he kicked off his sneakers and opened a bag of Doritos, I realized I needed to get him off the couch. So, I handed him a shovel and appointed him Head Gardner.

Gardening Grumbles

It started off promising… He weeded for me. He moved plants. He mowed the lawn.

Then it got complicated.

First, a neighbor offered us two ten-foot-tall poplar trees. I asked my new Head Gardener to dig them out and transfer them to our house. I don’t think I appreciated how much sweat and brawn goes into digging up mature tulip poplars, but I knew they’d look great in my yard. Second, my local nursery had a sale of hydrangeas and I identified three spots for the new arrivals.

As he struck a rock digging that third hole, he glowered at me and asked, “Mom, why do you like these stupid plants?” I bent down to remove the rock by hand and discovered he had actually been fighting with an iron pipe. With greater sympathy to his plight, I covered up the hole, and told him to take a break. As he wandered back to the house, he muttered about paving over his future lawn because gardening is a waste of time.

Reminders on What Matters Most

Days later, on a hydrangea – surrounded patio, we all sat down to dinner. My younger son proudly announced he wanted gloves so he could assist his older brother in the garden. Suffice it to say, the response was an eye role from Andrew, and a sigh from me. Given what we provide our children – solid education, hot meals, a comfortable bed, and a car to use at his leisure – I’d like to see a little less eye rolling about chores!

Still, I can’t blame him for not appreciating the beauty of tulip poplars and hydrangea like I do, and I should be thankful that he is grateful for that education and recent summer seminars he has attended at organizations like Institute for Humane Studies and the Foundation for Economic Education.

In fact, when he explained his choice of Hillsdale to me he said, “Mom, I was surrounded by socialists the past four years in high school; I’d like four years without them.” It’s been exciting for me that he takes an interest in the ideas of liberty and has an understanding of the world of philanthropy where his stepfather and I have made our careers.

Growing a Heart for Giving

So when I thought about something he’d appreciate for his upcoming birthday – and as a thank you for all the manual labor in my garden that week – I decided to open a small DonorsTrust account for Andrew. He’s now part of DonorsTrust’s Novus Society, our giving program for those under 40 who are beginning to build up their philanthropic knowledge.

It will start with a modest deposit, but this is a wonderful way to encourage him to be thoughtful about what he’s truly thankful for and to get in a healthy habit of giving.

Often, our discussions of the Novus Society aim directly at the young givers we seek to reach with the program. Sometimes, though, Mom knows best! The best gateway for our children into building a passion for charitable giving might start with a nudge (and it doesn’t hurt to do it with an organization like DonorsTrust, that will make sure those dollars never drift to causes that work against our principles!)

Sure, he’ll (probably) get the sneakers he wants, but my main birthday message is that I want to nurture his interest in liberty and his sincere concern for the well-being of others. And that is one thing – in addition to tulip poplars and hydrangea – that makes this mom very grateful and proud.


  • Stephanie G. Lips

    Stephanie Giovanetti Lips joined DonorsTrust in 2018 as a philanthropy advisor with a general focus on planned giving. Before joining DonorsTrust, Stephanie led the events department at Atlas Network, leading its international expansion to organize annual events in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. She also took on major gift officer responsibilities and headed up its planned giving program. Stephanie has consulted on events and fundraising for organizations such as The American Spectator, the Future of Freedom Foundation, National Association of Chemical Distributors and Johnson and Johnson. Stephanie attended Marymount University and has a B.A. in English Literature. When not working for DonorsTrust or mentoring think tank leaders from within the Atlas Network or speaking on topics close to her heart, like planned giving, Stephanie loves listening to the giggles of her children and the panting of her dog, Scooby Doo.

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