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Children’s perceptions of charity revealed in new report

Children’s perceptions of charity revealed in new report

Supporting charities is about everyday behaviour as well as giving money, in the eyes of young children, a report has revealed.

Our Charitable Children: Engaging Children in Charities and Charitable Giving, by Alison Body, Emily Lau & Jo Josephidou from the University of Kent’s Centre for Philanthropy and Canterbury Christ Church University, involved 150 children aged 4-8 years old, to find out what children think about charity.

It found no single accepted definition for charity but that children’s perceptions of charity go well beyond giving financially, with greater focus on actions and behaviours, such as recycling, collecting litter and supporting nature; or helping others, such as befriending other children, or helping in their community.

Children did not distinguish between donating money, things or other resources, and acts of kindness or support, and often associated charitable giving and actions with pro-social behaviours taught 
at school, with the showing that children are involved in a huge amount of fundraising activities, predominately at school, but also at home, at after-school clubs and within the community.

However, while over half of the children engaged in the research project had some knowledge and awareness of charities
 and experience of fundraising, they had very limited understanding of why, where the money goes and how it is used, with few involved in decisions about their charitable activity.

Unsurprisingly, children give to what they see and what they know – to the more high-profile causes and campaigns such as Children in Need, Comic Relief, and the Poppy Appeal. Donating food at the harvest festival, and homelessness also featured highly as cause areas that children were both very aware of, with high levels of concern expressed about the latter.

The research also showed that children want to have impact, and that after researching and exploring different charities as part of the project, most re-evaluated how they would give money. When children’s giving decisions were compared before and after spending time exploring the topic, findings showed decision-making changed from choosing based on what they knew to thinking about the size, popularity and need of the causes they were looking at with many children changing their giving decisions to donate to the less popular causes, such as supporting young carers, childhood illnesses and international aid charities.

The report highlights the importance of engaging children with giving and suggests that learning about giving and helping others can give children a feeling 
of empowerment in an uncertain world. It also suggests that exploring charitable ideas and giving provides 
the ideal space, along with learning opportunities, to critically explore some of these deeper ideas with children, concluding:

“Taking a neutral stance on difficult issues in the classroom, in the community or at home, rather than encourage democratic thinking can limit civic participation. Philanthropy, charity and social justice are contentious topics, yet if we are to recognise children as social actors and current citizens then it is imperative that we provide them with the opportunity to critically explore the challenges and debates around giving and equality.”

The full report can be downloaded here.

Melanie May is a journalist and copywriter specialising in writing both for and about the charity and marketing services sectors since 2001. She can be reached via

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