Even children as young as six or seven should learn about the responsibilities of wealth. So says Bruce Bickel, senior vice-president at the wealth management unit of PNC Financial Services Group (PNC ) in Pittsburgh. Since joining the bank in 1988, the plain-speaking U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Baptist minister has built a national practice helping clients establish private charitable foundations. He also teaches families how to pass on philanthropic values to younger generations. Bickel discussed his ideas with correspondent Aaron Pressman.
When should people start talking to their children about what it means to be wealthy in a society with such a large gap between rich and poor?
Start in first grade. You want them to recognize early that wealth is a responsibility, not a right. So many families say to me that they're afraid their kids are going to have a poor work ethic. I encourage parents to talk with their children about the five areas of meaningful money management—earning, giving, saving, spending, and budgeting.
How do you do that with young children?
You can take a pie chart and divide it into sections, showing how much is earning, giving, saving, and how the family income is spent on food, clothing, recreation, vacations, utilities, etc. Then, let the children create their own pie chart using their allowance as the income base. This lets the parents teach about money management, which includes a "giving" component. The parents can then discuss with the children whom they would like to assist with their own giving.
What happens with older kids?
At age 17 or 18, the teens become family foundation "interns." They come to the board meetings, they listen, and they can participate. They have no authority, and they don't vote. By the time they turn 19 or 21 or 30, they have sat through all of this, they understand their beliefs and values, they understand the hearts of their mom and dad and what they want to represent.
What are you seeing in those now coming into adulthood?
This generation, the 20-year-olds, is looking for guidance. They've seen the frustrations and lack of satisfaction wealth can bring. I'm hearing a lot of them say they don't want those same things to occur in their lives. Here again, we need to help them discover that the wealth they have, however it has come to their family, can be a wonderful blessing.
How do you help a wealthy family sort out what their foundation should do?
I tell people I'm in the heart business. We help them create a mission statement with their beliefs and values. The legacy they want to leave comes out of those.
Can you give an example of how a family got their children involved in their charitable endeavors?
One of my clients was on a family vacation in New York, and the little boy, he's in fourth grade, saw a lot of street people. He was touched by that, and on the way back he said: Can we help the homeless people of Pittsburgh? We arranged for the young lad to make an on-site visit with his parents to see how a grant from his family's foundation would be used to assist the homeless.
As a result of the experience, the parents talked with their younger daughter, a third- grader, about where her interests were in helping people. She is very artistic and indicated she would like to help needy children be exposed to arts and crafts lessons. We arranged for the family to visit an organization that provides that very service, and their foundation made a grant.