Marketing Mindfulness to Kids: Giving vs. Receiving

philanthropy-heart-of-it-all-jordan-hospital.jpgThere’s lots of seasonal blog fodder about “Taming the Gimmes” (nice pdf download of activities/tips from MediaWise, and ways to “Simplify the Holidays” from New Dream)…And even Shaping Youth’s article, “Can Somethin’ be done about all this consumption?” But let’s face it…

Parents are “people pleasers” too, and when it comes to granting junior those “light up the face” video moments, even the most savvy media mavens turn toward ‘compromise’ on the wishlist scene!

Idealistic do-gooders may adopt a cuddly seal, or introduce kids to cool Kiva gift certificates that microfund entrepreneurs, but most parents know a philanthropic piece of paper can get a ‘huh?’ reaction unless you clearly add an experiential element.

How do YOU ‘teach kids to give to good causes’ early on?

Our friends at Cone Cause Branding* report in their holiday news/trend tracker that fewer Americans are planning to give to charities this season, but cause-conscious consumers will continue to seek out businesses that give to others. Hmn. Clearly time to market mindfulness and make every penny count…

Frankly, the way I see it, animal/eco donations on behalf of kids don’t need plush toys and tchotchkes to mine MORE funds from the org…

Just save the ‘premiums’ and ‘rebrand’ the entire concept by turning philanthropy into an engaging ‘entertainment experience.’ It’s marketing 101, really…

Counter-market consumption/commercialism by creating a ‘giving experience’ that’s so incredibly enjoyable that ‘receiving’ is downright dull and boring comparison…

“Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight,” I can hear cynical parents saying, “sounds like a lot of work.”

Not really.

Marketers have done the ‘event’ work for you, just flip the message, mirror the concept, and leverage the event in your own home…

Voila! Cause-marketing that’s purposeful, effective and FUN!

Beth Kanter wrote a fabulous article on BlogHer about how to encourage philanthropy at a young age, even citing our “angel party” motif as one of many examples of how to turn philanthropy into the social fabric of our lives.

Beth wrote about Shaping Youth’s approach to philanthropy as ‘party time,’ by celebrating the act of giving, rather than receiving…which is basically just using the same notion as Britt Bravo’s blogspot, “Have fun, do good.”

Britt’s blog is always packed full of “gifts that give back,” and creative ideas to make a difference way beyond lining Disney-princess pockets and making Shrek some green…

blogher08_logo.gifBoth Beth and Britt are contributing editors at BlogHer, offering incredible resources for making a difference on this ol’ planet, like A Kid’s Guide to Giving that taps into kids’ views of philanthropy.

These two nonprofit media gurus would probably agree that with young children especially, instilling philanthropy is an art form to get the balance just right…

There’s a huge difference between the rote ‘pass the plate’/force the fit fandangos, or guilt trips to ‘give to those less fortunate’…That’s more family tradition and ‘monkey see, monkey do’ modeling rather than tapping into deeper personal meaning.

Don’t get me wrong, role-modeling is good stuff as are family traditions…It’s part and parcel of establishing the pattern of giving with kids…

But sustainable philanthropy (growing up to be a giving, caring soul) comes from personal connectedness, free agency, and the desire to lend a helping hand, not ONLY ‘because my folks said so” or ‘we do this every year’…

Beth tapped into this beautifully when she talked about Network for Good and Katya Andresen’s post on ‘give with your kids day’ by enrolling children in the who/what/how process from the get-go.

For sustainability of the concept, giving freely needs to reach kids’ core…A memory deeply embedded…a cogent, meaningful moment, a level of understanding that resonates even when no one’s looking.

With that in mind, here are a few Shaping Youth ideas you can riff off (or rip off!) to teach your children well and stave off the gimmes…

As Britt would say, ‘Have fun, Do good!’

Shaping Youth’s Philanthropic Fun:

angel.jpgAngel Party: We host a ‘dress-up dreamscape’ resplendent with fairy-winged kindergarteners prancing around in white leotards to ‘be an angel’ to others by donating gifts to those less fortunate.

We serve angel hair pasta, make portrait/paper plate angels, create ornaments for a lobby tree to donate, and simple OTC angels and crafty box thingies they get to take home to put their ‘wishes’ inside for those less fortunate.

We even flit around with a media cam, asking in Entertainment Tonight microphone style what their ‘angel wishes’ are…

Each good deed earns a dab of sparkly glitter fairy dust on their cheeks when they share their offerings. (“I promise not to take my brother’s stocking candy” even qualifies)

pawprint.JPG‘Paws’ for a cause: Our animal shelter party entices kids to customize their wishlist from their local SPCA and deliver them firsthand. Recently, we brought in pillowcases, blankets, towels, and even empty TP-rolls to become squirrel hammocks, cage coziness, soft wound care warmth in the spay/neuter clinic, and a playful mouse house respectively.

Tree trimming: Decorating a tree for others is one way to give…but we often play off the ‘trimming/cutting’ scene to replant with seasonal relevance and discuss replenishment of natural resources…What better time to convey that what gets chopped down must be renewed?

urban-sprouts-logo.jpgGreen scene/mistletoe and beyond: Great time to point kids toward school garden projects like urban sprouts, or gift an organic windowsill garden to enroll urban youth in the pleasures of the earth.

That’s a Wrap! Our media team loves to play holiday videos while kids take recycled brown wrap and hand-stamp their own custom packaging…From ishy squishy handprints and footprints to holiday rubber stamping and stencils, it’s messy but magical!

care-bear.jpgTeddy Bear Tea: Lavish parties needn’t be pricey chiffon and tulle hotelier events, they can be handled at home as a meaningful fete, benefiting orgs like Operation Teddy Care worldwide, Good Bears of the World, or the local hospital pediatric wing for that matter…

Just tell everyone to ‘dress to the nines,’ snip a bolt of ‘bear fabric’ at any local store for a table cloth, and get the video cam ramped for some darling care bear moments!

This of course, might be a good time to bring up the ‘co-branding’ element of philanthropy with commercial interests…

I continue to rant on the wretched excess of ‘Build A Bear’ accoutrement, but it’s interesting to see they’re being “Bear-y smart” marketing with their ‘Bear Hugs, Furry Fundraisers, Huggable Heroes’ youth philanthropy angle too…

How much of this is ‘fuzzy’ philanthropy and how much is corporate social responsibility and smart marketing?

Hmn…hard to say without assessing funding gleaned case by case, I’ll ping Lisa over at Corporate Babysitter to tackle that one, since she’s great at dissecting the details of kids’ marketing phenoms and unearthing stealthy secrets.

If co-branded philanthropy taps an otherwise unexposed commercial audience to open hearts and minds it’s one thing, but ‘stuffing’ kids with ‘stuff’ they don’t need, then tossing forth a ‘guilt bone’ to make parents feel okay about dressing critters with more money than the GNP of an emerging nation to please little Sally doesn’t quite gel with me.

Sheesh, can you imagine the bucks those sandal-wearing, cell-phone toting, fashionista bears could lend to a REAL kids’ cause…like…um…Hunger? Or perhaps, safety?

Sigh. Sliding into curmudgeon land now…That’s my cue for media/mktg. literacy, reminding all to be AWARE of the holiday greenwashing, brandwashing, pinkwashing, and such, as you ‘market mindfulness’ to children who are growing up in an increasingly material world. (study/report here)

More on all this tomorrow…I have scads of this stuff…

(*Cone exec Brian Reich is one of my fellow Age of Conversation authors, who also set me up to speak on the AHA new media/teens strategic panel with new gal pal Lauren McCue, MySpace Dir. of Mktg. Programs for Our Planet) In virtual intimacy mode, I should add that as I pinged Brian’s blog to add his link, I just notice he and his wife Karen have populated the planet with a new Crewmember of Spaceship Earth, one Mr. Henry James Dahl in his own ‘reality show’ that he describes as ‘freakin’ awesome.’

Welcome to parenthood, Brian! If anyone’s Shaping Youth with solid philanthropic marketing chops, I know it’s you. Can’t wait for you to contribute to the media/mktg kids conversation! Congrats.

Related Resources/Blog Posts

Encouraging Philanthropy at a Young Age by Beth Kanter on BlogHer

Beth’s latest BlogHer article on Network for Good & Global Giving Gift Cards (now think of how you can turn this into a kids’ experiential ‘event’…idea hamster that I am, my mind is already churning on the circular treadmill of fun ways to do this, ping me if you need some!)

Give With Your Kids Day by Katya Andresen
(She wrote one of my favorite nonprofit inspirational books, “Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes” which is right up there with Guy Kawasaki’s ‘Art of the Start’ in terms of helping fuel my launch of Shaping Youth into a purposeful passionista endeavor)

Kids Guide to Giving from Network for Good
Visual Credit: Philanthropy heart: Jordan Hospital 



  1. These are AMAZING, Amy!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Thanks, Izzy…I have plenty more and promise I’ll post ’em tomorrow, but sadly, my golden retriever is in the ER and ‘all I want for Christmas’ is my sweet dog well… 🙁 It would be the biggest gift of all…fingers crossed…

  3. I’m on it.

    Hope your puppy is OK!

  4. Thanks, Lisa…would love to post a round-up of the various philanthropic co-branding attempts in the ‘what works what doesn’t’ mode of end-user benefit!

    I know I was enlightened by much of the ‘pinkwashing’ going on by some friends who HAVE breast cancer and it really gave me a wake-up call to watch what I’m applauding without delving into the ‘reality’ of the dollars donated…

    Still…a side of me goes to the ‘it’s better than nothing’ approach…tho perhaps it isn’t, for it confuses consumer reality like so much of the packaging promos these days! (this came to my attention w/school sponsored box tops/lids/etc. twisting the philanthropic message for economic gain)

  5. Amy, thanks so much for helping us spread the word. Today is hte last day to vote and we’re really close to pulling it out and you (and your influence) could really help us win. Count me in for an interview. In addition, here’s a link to my consulting company: . If we can help you in any way, let me know.

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