What parents say and do with regard to charitable giving and volunteering makes a big difference in the charitable activities of their children once they have grown up, according to a research study released March 29. Indeed, Heart of the Donor found parental behavior to be more influential than religion, politics, race, household income or any other measured factors on the generosity of today’s Americans.
The study, Heart of the Donor, was commissioned by Russ Reid Co. of Pasadena and conducted by Grey Matter Research & Consulting of Phoenix.
“The data clearly shows that parental behavior has a very substantial correlation with the eventual behavior of children once they are grown,” Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, said in a statement. “While the research doesn’t show an absolute one-to-one correlation, in real terms today’s volunteers are 125% more likely to have come from parents who encouraged their children to volunteer, and 145% more likely to have come from parents who frequently volunteered, than they are to have come from parents who really never did those things.”
Lisa McIntyre, senior vice president of Russ Reid, added that nonprofit groups can encourage today’s donors to talk to their children about giving and volunteering, model the behavior and share the experience with them. “The data clearly shows that when these things are done, it has a long-lasting effect on kids,” she said.
Among the parental behaviors tested in the study, six were correlated with the behavior of today’s adults:
- Gave money to a church or other place of worship
- Gave money to nonprofit organizations other than a place of worship
- Talked to you about the nonprofit organizations they supported and why they supported those organizations
- Took you to church or another place of worship
- Volunteered their time to help nonprofit organizations other than a place of worship
- Encouraged you, even as a child, to volunteer your time to help nonprofits
Respondents were asked how often their parents (or the people who reared them) engaged in 10 different behaviors while they were growing up, such as volunteering, making charitable donations and talking with them about these behaviors.
Sixty-two percent of today’s adults said their parents frequently took them to worship services, encouraged them to save money (61%) and personally donated to a church or place of worship (52%). Nearly half said their parents regularly talked to them about how to handle money wisely.
Parental activity related to donating and volunteering (other than giving money to a place of worship) was much less frequent. One-third said their parents frequently volunteered with a place of worship, and another 28% said their parents did this occasionally.
Only 22% recalled their parents frequently encouraging them as adolescents to volunteer their own time, with another 37% saying their parents did this occasionally. Twenty percent remember their parents frequently encouraging them, even as children, to give money to nonprofits, with another 36% saying this happened occasionally.
Just 18% remembered their parents frequently giving to nonprofits (with another 36% reporting their parents did this occasionally), while 17% recalled their parents frequently volunteering with nonprofits (and 34% saying they did this occasionally). Least common was for parents to talk to their children about which nonprofit organizations they supported and why. Just 15% reported this taking place frequently, with an additional 36% saying it happened occasionally.
Beyond the frequency, the study evaluated the actual role of parental influence in two different ways. One method simply compared how people behave today with how they recalled their parents behaving when they were growing up. This comparison shows strong links between the two.