Melanie Kleiss loves nature. Her passion for the environment dates back to her years as a young girl growing up in Saint Paul and its surrounding suburbs. Today, the mother of two uses her donor advised fund to support the environmental causes she cares about.
Generations of giving: How one family engages their children in philanthropy
When Sally and Karen traveled as a family to Guatemala two years ago, they were surprised at how quickly their sons, Sam and Joey – both 10 years old, noticed and were saddened by the human struggles and injustices that many people in that region were experiencing. It was this experience that made the couple consider how they could involve their kids in their philanthropy – not decades down the road, but right away.
“Our boys are wonderful gifts in our lives,” said Karen. “We are fortunate enough to be able to give back, and having the kids understand how fortunate we are, and to be involved in giving in a thoughtful way, is important to us.”
As Sally and Karen were thinking about retirement, they realized that having a dedicated giving plan made sense. While researching different options for opening a fund, it was important to them that there were clear ways to involve Sam and Joey.
“The staff at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations were the only ones, among several financial institutions and community foundations I reviewed, who were thoughtful in how to include our kids,” said Sally. “They made it all very accessible to Sam and Joey and made them stakeholders in the process.”
The family’s philanthropic advisor, Mariah, met with them at their farm to talk about their giving priorities and the issues that they cared about. She brought a set of cards with images representing different topic areas, from education to animal rescue, and had the whole family choose cards that resonated with them. This allowed the boys to connect the high-level concept of giving to real things they saw in their everyday lives and the values they hold as a family.
Sam and Joey were thoughtful about their card choices, with themes of public service and animals weaved together in one pile, and education and sports – they both play hockey – in another.
“It’s great to watch the boys gain an understanding of philanthropy and test the waters at a very early age, embedding it into who they are and their family values,” said Mariah. “These conversations can be difficult to initiate, and it can be a really helpful and fruitful experience to have a third-party facilitate so that the parents can engage with their kids and be reflective of their own giving as well.”
While Sam and Joey are set up to eventually be successor advisors of the fund, they’ll continue to be engaged along the way with their parents.
“We’re still early in the whole process, but I think they will really start to hone in on interests that will stick and guide their giving,” said Karen. Sally agreed, “As they develop and strengthen their giving compasses, they’ll start directing some of the fund as well.”
The boys are already finding ways to give back – for their birthdays this year, instead of receiving gifts at their party, they and their friends invited guests to consider making a cash donation that the boys would later bring to the Animal Humane Society.
“I continue to be impressed by how affected they are by their philanthropy,” said Sally. “They remember the donations we’ve made and the areas they’re passionate about. This process has made a sustaining impression on them, which is so cool to see.”
Thanks to their moms and the support of the Foundations, Sam and Joey both agree they will continue to give back as they get older.
“Helping people makes me feel proud,” said Joey. Sam quickly chimed in, “I feel like I am making a difference in the world.”
Want to get your kids involved in your giving? Reach out to our philanthropic advisor team to learn more.