Money-Smart Kids / Charitable giving in kids' hands

Over the years, some of the best ideas I've learned on teaching children about money have come from you -- the parents. I always love to hear some of the thoughtful strategies you're using within your own households. They are always creative and battled tested on the front lines, in the trenches of parenthood.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of our residents, Larry Portman, at a dinner party recently. Of course, we were chatting about our respective children as parents often do, and he shared a very inspiring strategy that he and his wife, Nancy, are using to develop philanthropy within their home.

With some gentle prodding, their sons, Henry, 7, and Jack, 10, admitted that they had more toys than they can actually play with. He really got my attention with that accomplishment and I asked him to script that "gentle prodding" for use in my own home, as I can't imagine my kids ever admitting to having too many toys.

Throughout this conversation the parents suggested the possibility of, in lieu of birthday gifts from their friends, asking the party-goers for contributions in their name to

Global Giving connects kids to the causes and countries they care most about. The kids select projects they'd like to support, make a tax-deductible contribution, and get regular progress updates -- so they can see how their gift is making a difference.

Larry and Nancy's boys established an account with Global Giving and are able to allocate their friends' gift money to one or more charities around the world that they find meaningful. They can follow the charities throughout the year, and it can serve as a great dinner-time conversation for the family.

Henry actually took the lead on this and enthusiastically did it a year before Jack. Jack saw how "cool" it was and decided to participate this year. It's now something they share in common and discuss even when the parents aren't around.

Larry tells me it has given the kids a sense of ownership around the concept of charity and teaches them about making difficult choices on how they allocate scarce resources. The kids enjoy it being web-based and they love the autonomy of being the sole decision-maker of what charity to donate to.

One would think that fostering healthy financial discussions in the household would be my personal favorite part of the story. After all, that is what my mission is in writing this column. However, I am about to make a public admission that I hope doesn't tarnish the good reputation I've built with my readers over the last few years ... I am throwing caution to the wind!

The best part about this strategy is that it reduces clutter around the house and eliminates those irritating fights over new toys! Thanks, Larry and Nancy, for sharing this great idea with all of us.

Tom Henske, a Westport resident and partner with Lenox Advisors, a wealth management firm with offices in New York City and Stamford, created the Lenox Money-Smart Kids Program. He can be reached at