In our digital age, kids and teens are often profiled as self-consumed and in need of near constant instant gratification. As teachers, we know this stereotype is simply too flat. Our students have incredible potential for giving and kindness when it is both taught and expected, and we can develop or strengthen their empathy muscles though teaching kids about charity. While charity is usually thought of in dollar signs, there are options that don’t require students digging into piggy banks and couch cushions to offer support to others.

To Begin

Ask students to picture a philanthropist, someone who works in the welfare of others typically through donations – who do they see in their minds? Older students may have visions of Oprah or have heard a bit about Bill and Melinda Gates and their annual letter. For younger students especially, it may be helpful to open with a related read-aloud like Strega Nona’s Harvest or ask a parent or school volunteer to share their experiences giving time or money to a charity of their choice. Share with students that anyone can give and that there are many ways to do so.

Creating Context

In the age of Marie Kondo, students may have seen or even helped their parents downsize belongings and eventually donate a local thrift store. They may have heard about a recent natural disaster or crisis locally or in another part of the world. Ask students, “How can sharing with others improve our community and the lives of others?” and “What are ways we can give or time or money to benefit people in need?”

Exploring Options for Giving

Whether your students are young or old, we’ve rounded up seven simple charity activities to help instill a sense of compassion and giving with students.

Hair Donations

Hair donations are a no-cost option for students to contribute to wigs for children and adults suffering from alopecia, the radiation or chemotherapy associated with cancer, or hair loss from other medical conditions. There are six major organizations known for hair donations and most organizations require at least eight inches for donations, so your students may need to commit to preparing for this method giving for a sustained period of time. You can also explore local options and connect with local cancer charities to learn if there are community options.

Food Banks

As one of the more traditional modes of giving, food bank charities can be an especially simple way to introduce students to giving. Most kids are aware that food is an absolute need and that not everyone goes to sleep with a full belly every night. Food charities are often thought of seasonally, especially around Thanksgiving and winter holidays, but help students understand that hunger is an ongoing issue for many kids and families by running regular non-perishable food drives.

Pet Shelter Needs

Most kids love animals of all shapes and sizes. Students can raise money to buy new pet items, but in most cases, shelters will take gently used items that pets may have outgrown like collars, carriers, and sometimes even toys. Shelters have other operational needs too, like hand sanitizer, heating pads, blanks, and towels. Check with your local shelter to understand their unique and current needs.

Senior Center or Retirement Home

There is incredible value in young people providing quality time and companionship to seniors. Help students learn and practice communication and interview skills by pairing them with a buddy to explore personal experiences, favorite hobbies, or skills, and maybe even find a few common interests. Create the Good offers a helpful guide for preparing for visits.

School Donations

At many high schools, the senior class leaves behind a gift to the school – something to make their mark meaningfully. Giving back to the school community as a 5th, 8th, or 12th grader is a no-brainer for students who have enjoyed the educational experience built by their teachers, classmates, and school administration. Have students brainstorm what would leave a lasting impression – does the campus need new gym equipment, something as simple as a plant a small vegetable garden, or maybe a buddy bench for the playground? Your students will certainly have opinions and ideas for what the school needs.


Books, especially the acts of weeding and giving away books, can be a sentimental matter. If your students or their families have like-new copies they’re willing to part with, some libraries accept donations. Not all donated books end up on your library’s shelves though – they have to be evaluated by a librarian who decides if the permanent collection could use this particular read. Often donated books end up at Friends of the Library sales, which raise money to cover for other needs the library may have. Check with your local branch – they’ll point you and your books in the right direction.

Children’s Hospital

Students sometimes have experiences with friends or family who are facing medical challenges or can perhaps just more easily relate to to the difficulties of missing school or feeling sick for a prolonged period. Each hospital will have a giving and donations policy listed online – be sure to do your research as some accept new toy donations while others prefer monetary giving or have particular “wish list” items they’re hoping to receive.

An Easy Philanthropy Lesson Plan

After sharing a few ideas for giving like those above, ask students to research and select a charity they’d like to support. Explain that students are going to work on a persuasive project to urge their classmates (and perhaps their parents or the adults in their lives) to encourage giving to their focus charity. Students can either write a speech, design a poster, or craft a tri-fold handout.

Have students draft SMART goals to being planning for their giving:

Specific – What exactly do I want to happen for my charity? (How much money would I like to raise?)

Measurable – How will I know when I am reaching my goal?

Actionable – What actions will my classmate and/or I take to achieve my goal?

Realistic – Why is my goal important and what plan will I need to follow to reach it?

Timely – When do I plan to reach my goal?

Then ask students to think about how they plan to convince their classmates that their charity is worth supporting.

After each student has presented their plan to the class, ask your students to reflect on what charities caught their attention.

  • Would they be interested in supporting that organization or cause in the future?
  • Are students interested in giving to this charity once or regularly? Why?
  • What are some steps students could take to make these giving projects come to life?