What's the best way to raise generous kids? That question takes on new urgency during the holidays when families are urged to participate in national events like Make a Difference Day and Giving Tuesday, as well as local projects such as canned food drives and angel trees.

Valuable as these seasonal efforts may be, some experts argue that kids benefit more when they have year-round opportunities to think about, and respond to needs that resonate with them. One study done by the Philanthropy Institute at the University of Indiana found that children were 20 percent more likely to be generous givers if their parents talked with them regularly about the good they could do by contributing time and money.

The best charitable projects connect with the interests of the child, as well as your family's resources and values. The following websites offer a wide variety of ways families can get involved in doing good, throughout the holidays and beyond.

  • Micro giving

    A number of websites allow visitors to make tiny donations simply by doing things that are part of their daily routine. These websites aren't a substitute for other projects, but they do create a kind of mindfulness about causes that deserve your support. And, for kids, they also demonstrate the cumulative power when many people do small good things.

  • Searching

    GoodSearch.com is a philanthropic search engine which donates 50 percent of its advertising revenue to a cause that you designate. The site also has a Goodshop option which allows you to donate a percentage of your purchase to charity.

  • Clicking

    Care2.com has an entire page filled with sites that allow you to support favorite causes by clicking once a day. Log on care2.com/click-to-donate. The sites are supported by sponsors who make micro donations for each click.

  • Walking

    Anyone with a smartphone can download a philanthropic workout app at charitymiles.org. Then you and your child can choose one of the approved charities. A corporate sponsor will donate up to 25 cents for every mile you walk or run and up to 10 cents for every mile you log on your bike.

  • Sponsor a child

    Children often like the idea of helping another child who is the same age. Plan International (planusa.org/forsponsors) and Children International (children.org) have websites which make it easy to help a particular child in a specific country. Children International allows donations to individuals, families or communities. Plan International encourages sponsors to communicate with, and even visit, children.

  • Charitable gift cards

    Several websites will help you create donation cards. If you give one to a child or, for that matter, other family members, they get the satisfaction of choosing who will receive the donation (and you get a tax deduction). Justgive.org and tisbest.org. serve a wide range of charities. Both charge a small service fee, which covers the creation of the card, as well as the credit card fee.

  • Reinvent family traditions

    With a little thought, families can make special occasions even more meaningful by sharing the joy. For example, if you make special foods for a holiday, double the batch so you can share with an elderly neighbor or a family that's facing hard times. At birthday parties, consider asking guests to bring a gently used book or toy to be donated to a local charity. Or create a birthday-in-a box for a child who might not otherwise have a party. For details about this and other generous ideas, visit family-to-family.org.

  • Join the crowd

    Crowdfunding is a popular way to support good causes. Crowdrise.com, startsomegood.com and justgiving.com are all good ways to expose teens and pre-teens to what others are doing to make the world a better place. If you find a cause that connects with your child, you may want to match whatever the child decides to donate. Some families create a jar for spare change and decide together where to donate the funds. For younger children, consider a "money savvy" bank that helps kids allocate their allowance to spending, saving, donating and investing (msgen.com).

  • Make a loan

    Sometimes the best way to help people is to loan them the funds they need to start a business. Kiva.com pools contributions as small as $25 into small loans that can be used to start or expand entrepreneurial projects that improve the lives of impoverished families. When the loan is repaid, your family can invest again.

  • Volunteer your time

    For many families, giving time makes more sense than giving money. Volunteermatch.org will help you find both local and virtual ways to volunteer in your community.

  • Make donations count

    Not all charities are created equal. Some, for example, spend a disproportionate amount of what they raise on salaries or fundraising. To be sure a charity is legitimate and well run, encourage older children to do a little research. Give.org, a site managed by the better Business Bureau, evaluates organizations on several criteria, including board oversight, transparency and donor privacy. Charitynavigator.org provides information on charities with donations over $1 million. Charitywatch.org does a very rigorous review of a smaller number of charities. Foundationcenter.org provides easy access to the 990 Forms which charities must file to preserve their tax exempt status.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that the real benefits come from helping kids recognize needs and think constructively about what they can do to help. You don't really need a website or an app for that - just an open heart and willingness to give what you can.


Carolyn Jabs, M.A., raised three computer savvy kids including one with special needs. She has been writing Growing Up Online for ten years and is working on a book about constructive responses to conflict. Visit growing-up-online.com to read other columns.