Parents, Grandparents Influence Charitable Giving and Volunteering of Children, according to Vanguard Charitable and Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Study

Families, Nonprofits, and Advisors Can Benefit from Understanding Family Dynamics

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. & INDIANAPOLIS--()--The charitable giving and volunteering behaviors of younger members of a family are influenced by their elders, according to research released today by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Vanguard Charitable. Since individual giving is the largest source of charitable donations in the United States*, understanding the intra-family generational dynamics that lead to charitable giving decisions can help families, charitable organizations, and advisors to better plan for the future.

The report, A Tradition of Giving, is believed to be one of the first to investigate charitable giving behavior across three generations—grandparents, parents, and adult children—in a single study.

“This study can help families, nonprofits, and advisors better plan for the future,” said Jane Greenfield, president of Vanguard Charitable. “Parents and grandparents can encourage children to give and volunteer by incorporating more shared experiences into their philanthropic support. Nonprofits can in turn offer those kinds of experiences to families to attract future support. And advisors may be able to provide better guidance to family members if they recognize the influence of older generations on the younger.”

The study presents findings from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy Panel Study (PPS), the nation’s largest and most comprehensive panel study of the philanthropy of American families over time and across generations. The report’s conclusions are supplemented by interviews conducted among families who are clients of Vanguard Charitable, one of the nation’s largest donor-advised funds. The study examines how closely parents and grandparents match their children and grandchildren in terms of philanthropic priorities, as well as how socio-demographic factors explain the similarity or dissimilarity in philanthropic priorities between parents and their children.

“Generational giving differences—among Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials, for example—receive a lot of attention, but looking only at those differences can obscure other factors that affect individuals’ giving and volunteering decisions,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., director of research for the school. “This research demonstrates the impact of intra-family dynamics on giving and volunteering. It offers new insights into the factors associated with generosity between family members and provides a first-of-its-kind look at the transmission of giving behaviors from grandparents to grandchildren, in addition to exploring the parent-child dynamic.”

Key Findings

The findings point to three key patterns that influence charitable giving:

Philanthropic priorities are strongly shaped by family behaviors. Namely, parents and grandparents who give and volunteer are more likely to influence their children and grandchildren to do the same. According to the research:

  • Parents and their children give similarly to religious organizations, international charitable organizations, environmental organizations, and arts-related organizations.
  • Parents’ decisions to volunteer with charitable organizations positively influence their children’s decisions to volunteer with, and give to, charitable organizations.
  • The giving priorities of parents and their children are more closely matched than those of grandparents and their grandchildren.
  • Grandparents and grandchildren give dissimilarly to basic needs-related organizations.
  • Grandparents who are high-net-worth and their grandchildren give similarly to arts-related organizations.

Parents’ socio-demographic characteristics, including age, marital or relationship status, helping behaviors and religious practices, as well as income, wealth and education, can affect the giving and volunteering actions of their offspring. The study showed that the giving behavior of children and parents tend to match more closely if the parents:

  • Are closer in age to the children (less than 30 years older).
  • Have not experienced a marital transition (divorce, permanent separation, widowhood, or other relationship change).
  • Spend time helping their children in any way.

Children’s religious giving was affected by a number of socio-demographic factors—race, gender of the household head, education, income and wealth, and attendance at religious services. The report showed a stronger influence on children’s religious giving by:

  • College-educated parents than by non-college-educated parents.
  • High-net-worth parents than by non-high-net-worth parents.
  • Parents in male-headed households than in female-headed households.
  • Parents in white households than in black households.
  • The attendance habits of parents at religious services. Children of parents who regularly attend worship services and give to religious organizations are more likely to give to religious causes.

Generational differences are seen in non-family estate giving to religious and secular organizations. The study found that people prefer to leave their estate to relatives rather than to charitable organizations. But secondary to family, the study showed that:

  • Grandparents prefer to leave their estate to religious organizations.
  • Parents and children want to leave their estate to secular organizations.

The study, which includes ways parents and grandparents can engage children in philanthropic activity, is available at

“This research shows that families have much in common across generations when it comes to their philanthropy,” said Amir Pasic, Ph.D., the Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “However, it appears that those specific shared interests and approaches diverge as new generations are added to the family over time. Parents and grandparents who hope to influence the philanthropy of younger generations of their family may need to focus on instilling a commitment to philanthropy while respecting that their children and grandchildren may choose to implement that commitment through different causes and practices than they themselves might have chosen.”

About the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Vanguard Charitable

Vanguard Charitable

Vanguard Charitable is a leading U.S. nonprofit organization that fulfills its mission to increase philanthropic giving by administering a donor-advised fund—a tax-effective way to consolidate, accrue, and grant assets to charity. Since it was founded by Vanguard in 1997 as an independent 501(c)(3) organization, Vanguard Charitable has granted more than $5 billion to charity. More information is available at 1

The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is dedicated to improving philanthropy to improve the world by training and empowering students and professionals to be innovators and leaders who create positive and lasting change. The School offers a comprehensive approach to philanthropy through its academic, research and international programs and through The Fund Raising School, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. Learn more. Follow the School on Twitter @IUPhilanthropy and “Like” it on Facebook.

*Giving USA 2015, written and researched by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and published by Giving USA Foundation.

1Although Vanguard provides certain investment management and administrative services to Vanguard Charitable pursuant to a service agreement, Vanguard Charitable is not a program or activity of Vanguard. A majority of Vanguard Charitable’s trustees are independent of Vanguard.


Vanguard Charitable
Linda Wolohan, 610-503-2947
Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
Adriene Davis Kalugyer, 317-278-8972


Vanguard Charitable
Linda Wolohan, 610-503-2947
Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
Adriene Davis Kalugyer, 317-278-8972