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Teaching philanthropic citizenship

Written By: Alison Body
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Teaching philanthropic citizenship

What’s the Idea?

Philanthropic citizenship, is a dimension of citizenship behaviour, associated with intentions and actions that produce public benefit for example helping, mutual aid, volunteering, social action, charitable giving, advocacy and activism. Philanthropic citizenship education moves beyond ideas of ‘charity’, instead embracing a ‘social justice mentality’, where children are encouraged to critically explore and engage the wider issues which sit behind charitable, for example homelessness or food poverty.

What does this mean?

Schools often go to great lengths to encourage, support and engage children of all ages in charities and charitable giving. This is important as it helps create a strong enthusiasm for giving and supporting others. However, less common is a deeper, more critical engagement in the reasons for this fundraising activity and the cause issues that sit behind this giving (Body et al., 2020). This surface-level giving, led and decided on by adults, is often viewed as fun, but rarely acts as a space within which children could explore their own ideas and values in a more democratic way. Instead, these spaces remain more transactional, a sense of giving for a reward, and defined in an idea of service. This is a missed opportunity to nurture critically engaged, socially orientated citizens. Philanthropic citizenship is about equipping children with the skills to explore and research the charitable causes that they support, and letting them decide how they wish to give, be it through giving their time, talent or treasure. This may result in fundraising ideas for national campaigns or indeed voluntary or social action concerning local community issues. This posits charitable giving in schools as a child-led, adult-facilitated activity, which requires children’s critical engagement and ideas, ensuring that all children can contribute regardless of their economic circumstances.

What are the Implications for Teachers?

  • Encourage research: Encourage children to explore which charitable causes matter to them and why. Facilitate children to consider the ways in which they can support this cause through fundraising and/or voluntary action.
  • Explore local causes: Together, find out about local and community charities – for example, have any benefited from charity initiatives such as Children in Need?
  • Reflect on choices given: Reflect on how much choice children have about supporting charity – for example, are they asked whether they want to support Red Nose Day for Comic Relief or is that just something that your school always does? If a child has no choice over attending school on a non-uniform day, they are not engaging with charitable giving at all – they are just doing as they are told!
  • Check for understanding: Make sure that the children understand what they are doing and why. For example, do they understand who Pudsey Bear is and why they can buy a cupcake with his face on?

Want to know more?

Body A, Lau E and Josephidou J (2019) Engaging children in meaningful charity: Opening up the spaces within which children learn to give. Children & Society 34(3): 189–203.

Body A, Lau E and Josephidou J (2019) Our Charitable Children: Engaging Children in Charities and Charitable Giving. University of Kent; Canterbury Christ Church University. Available at: https://oro.open.ac.uk/70083/1/our-charitable-children-research-report-April-2019.pdf (accessed 15 September 2020).

Body A, Lau E and Josephidou J (2020) The importance of teaching philanthropy: Educating children for social good. Impact Special Issue 2020, pp. 21–24. Available at:  https://impact.chartered.college/article/the-importance-of-teaching-philanthropy-educating-children-social-good/ (accessed 20 December 2020).

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