Easy Ways to Encourage Kids to Give Back and Volunteer


raise kids to volunteer

Little Niki Jobst receiving an award from Governor Terry Branstad for her donation to the Iowa Blue Ribbon Foundation.

I’ve been philanthropic in some way since I was very young. When I was 8, I scraped together literal pennies to donate to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation. I collected them in a coffee can and handed it to Bill Riley when I took the stage at the 1992 Iowa State Fair Bill Riley Talent Search. Since then, I’ve always felt an urge to give when I could. 

Today, I’m always saying, “We have so much, we need to give to others.” I’m the mom begging my family to only give our daughter one gift, if any, for any holiday. She has more than she could ever want or need, and rocks and bugs outside make her happy – toys sit at home and collect dust.

As we approach this holiday season, I explored with other moms ways we can all teach our children to give back

There are so many ways to volunteer your time as a family. Many local volunteer opportunities require a child to be 16 before they can volunteer, but a few do allow younger children with adult supervision. Check with your favorite organization to see what family volunteer opportunities they have, but here are two in Des Moines great for kids from age kindergarten and up:

Meals from the Heartland

When I was a reporter for the Des Moines Register I covered a story about a middle school that chose to use their only field trip day for the year to volunteer for Meals from the Heartland. They had fun with their friends and knew they were doing valuable work. I’ve volunteered packaging meals for many years and often get paired with young volunteers. Almost every time I’ve seen them take their responsibilities very seriously. I witness the kids reach that “aha moment” when they realize others don’t have everything we do. 

Joppa Kids Outreach

Joppa says that learning about root causes at a young age builds understanding and compassion, and helps prevent homelessness in future generations. They encourage volunteering among kids in the form of running supply drives, making greeting cards, or teaching others about homelessness.

I look at every unused item in our home as an opportunity. I donate toiletries to Central Iowa Shelter & Services, a shelter in downtown Des Moines that prides itself in being low barrier for the homeless. Someone who worked there once told me they appreciate donated hotel toiletries because they are the perfect disposable item for the homeless. Every toothbrush I get from the dentist and every extra toiletry in our home goes to this shelter. I donate almost everything else to the Animal Lifeline of Iowa Thrift store to benefit the special needs animals at the no-kill shelter Animal Lifeline of Iowa.

A lot of moms say they use the holidays to adopt a family, or a pet, in need. We host Thanksgiving each year, and I donate to the Iowa Food Bank to feed the same number of people we feed on that holiday.

One mom I talked to does “12 days of giving” in December. Each day the family will pass along cheer in the form of delivering cookies to a neighbor, adopting a family in need, performing some random act of kindness, or donating to the charities that matter most to them.

Teaching very young children to give to others may be a challenging concept to convey, but like any positive trait the earlier they learn it the more likely it is to stick with them (much like it did for me).

Teach kids to give back and volunteer
Moonjar Classic Moneybox on Amazon.com

Every dollar we receive for our daughter we put straight into a savings account. When she turns five, we will start dividing that money three ways – savings, giving, and spending. I’ve seen some piggy banks designed for this concept, like this one on Amazon.

Our daughter will get to choose where she gives her money, and any withdrawals from her savings will require a thoughtful RFP in advance (you think I’m kidding?). Seem harsh? We have more than we could ever want or need, and I feel there are so many others in need. Our daughter will get to choose what she spends her money on, even if that is ANOTHER pretty princess dress.

At the moment, we are teaching her about giving an offering to church. She does a chore throughout the week (like picking up toys or books) and earns a quarter for the offering. She holds on to that precious metal tightly when she earns it, and gives it to God with great joy.

Find what works for your family

If you don’t have any organizations that are meaningful to you, think about ways non-profits may have benefited your family. A friend’s son was in the hospital over Christmas and he got to join other kids in shopping under a tree. She kept saying, “We have to much at home,” but a nurse replied, “No kid should be in a hospital during Christmas.” Ever since, she is sure to give back to that same organization.

One mom who works in the non-profit world said she has learned to ask organizations what they need.

I know that in times of natural disasters, “things” sometimes end up being a burden to relief efforts. Instead, they prefer monetary donations. Just find what means most to your family and reach out to that organization and let them know you want to help. You’ll find what works for your family.

How do you give back or volunteer with your kids? 

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Niki is an Iowa native who now lives with her husband Ryan, daughter Riley, and son Merritt in Johnston. She is passionate about paid leave for working parents, thrifting, and Beyonce. Niki is the Marketing Campaign Manager at Homesteaders Life Company in West Des Moines. She is also owner of Bee Thrifty, which consigns designer clothing for clients on Poshmark. Niki is a two-time graduate of Drake University with a bachelor’s in journalism (2008) and a Master’s in Communication Leadership (2015).



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