JOHN A: Well, I am really excited to be with you today. I am John A. Warnick, founder of the Purposeful Planning Institute. And this episode of our Purposeful Planning Podcast is going to be really exciting. We’re featuring Sue Schwartzman today. Sue has recently co-authored a book called Two Measly Spots that just will grab your heart and inspire you. And she also, I think, has done more work with teens, inspiring philanthropy than anybody else I know. And so Sue, could you just share a little bit of your purposeful Odyssey with us. I think our listeners would love to know where you’ve been and where you’re kind of currently sailing.
SUE: First of all, thank you so much for having me. When I went to my first PPI, I walked in and felt like, “These are my people. I was so happy to be there.” And that was probably three or four years ago, now maybe even five. So thanks for having me. I always say that this career path chose me. I never chose it. I was a high school teacher, middle school teacher, and a college teacher. And when I hit middle school, which was my second teaching option, the passion of these young people to change the world just hit my heart. So I wrapped all state standards for the Humanities curriculum around a given project. It made the kids soar and made the school soar. It was an amazing thing. That’s how I started. Then I got picked up by the Jewish Community Federation endowment fund to create a teen philanthropy program. They had noticed that the Kellogg Foundation nationally was starting to do some work in teen philanthropy, and it was really taking off. So they said, “What can you do with this? I see that you’re doing some giving work here.” So I created a site called the Jewish Teen Foundation. And at its height. It had 100 kids per year. The kids were raising and thoughtfully giving away $200,000 a year. And then that program went international. And then, I also noticed that when I’m working with the teens, it was educating these kids with groups of peers in a way that empowered them to use their voice and choice, which are two things. I always talk about when I’m working with youth: find a way to give them voice and choice. And this program did that. And it eventually allowed them a seat at their own family philanthropy table. So their parents were telling me, “Look. We’ve been trying to get our kids involved in this in family philanthropy forever, and they have no interest. They don’t want to be there sitting around with us. But after they did Team Foundation, and were trained in this program and did it with peers, they earned their seat at the family philanthropy table.” So then after I’ve worked with teens for many, many years, then I started working with their families. And then about five or six years ago, I broke off and started my own advising practice, just working with couples and families on raising well grounded kids with wealth, figuring out your values, living your values. And that’s where I am now.
JOHN A: Sue, that was so powerful. And I think everyone has felt your passion for this work. Before we launch into really deeper specifics, I wonder if you could give us an overview of the rituals and practices that you’ve been working with families to kind of empower the family members, particularly the adolescents, emerging adults. Give us an overview of what some of those practices and rituals are and then we’ll come back and maybe dive into some of them more deeply.
SUE: Okay. I’ll give you a one line header before I get into them. And the one line header is, “I created these tricks and tips because both as a middle school and high school teacher, I’ve learned that kids are not going to start talking to you about the important things in life.” When they’re middle schoolers and high schoolers, they have to be talking with you all along. And the rituals and practices that we’re going to start talking about right now actually sets the practice to do this. That’s it as a habit, a family habit. So here are some of my favorite ways to get kids talking. I think the first one that I’ll share is called The Night of Giving Something. The Night of Giving actually came to me from one of my clients. They started this and then I enhanced it. I’ve been using it over the years, and they shared it with me, I think 30 years ago. So here it is. And I’ll tell you why I love this program. So The Night of Giving happens around the holiday times. It could be Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, whatever you use. And the way it goes is that every young person at the event is given the gift of an envelope of bills that night, and whatever works for your family. Five or 20 bills, which I usually use, but if that doesn’t work, whatever seems appropriate. And when they walk into the setting where the night of giving is happening, on the table or on screen, are five different choices of nonprofit organizations that represent the family values. So if your family really cares about environmentalism, really cares about the homeless in your community, really cares about hunger. Whatever your five top issues are, and taking into account the age of your kids, if you have young kids, you have to have an animal representative. And how you represent them depends on the age of your kids, who are starting really young, you have a picture of who’s being helped or how they’re helping. You just have the name of the organization. As the kids get older, you have a more developed representation of the nonprofit. You have the name of the nonprofit, the mission statement, a client’s story. You have to meet your kids, whatever age and stage they’re at. So what happens is this, everyone’s got their envelope, the table is filled with these five representations of the nonprofits. And the kids go round. They look at each one. And they think about where they are going to distribute their five bills. Is that all going to be on the animals? Is it going to be one of the animals or two on the environmental beach cleanup? What is it going to be? So the kids go around and they distribute the bills, and then everyone steps back. And then it’s time for questioning. And you make sure that, especially their older and younger kids, there’s no badgering. It’s just questioning. “Sammy, why don’t you put all of your all of your dollars on the penguins at the zoo? You think that’s more important than helping the people down the street that you see need food? And Sammy might say there’s no bathroom?” Somebody might say, “Yes, I do. I want the penguins to be okay.” And you have to leave it at that. So then, after the questions happen, everyone steps back again. And the adults in the room say, “What does this display of our dollars represent? What does it say about our family? Well, since most of our dollars went on the beach cleanup, it says we really care about that. If most of our dollars went to the zoo, we really care about the animals.” Then the adults in the room will be donating that money to the nonprofits that are stated there. But they also give the kids a chance to add their own money. Some kids run back over to their house. They run back to their piggy banks and put it in there. And the parents or adults in the room say, “We will double whatever you grab from your piggy banks to this cause.” The first time we did The Night of Giving, this firm that I worked with did it with the kids who were super young, like the youngest was four and the oldest was nine in this program. By the time the kids were in college, the kids were saying, “You can do The Night of Giving at home. It doesn’t matter if it’s not gonna be on the holidays. You can’t do without me.” And now as adults, they are each bringing issues to the family Night of Giving table that represents what stage they are in life and what they care about now. So the conversation started when the kids were four, and it’s grown with the families. That’s one of my favorites, The Night of Giving. So I’ll stop a second and see if I missed anything or explanation and you have questions.
JOHN A: I just am speechless over the night of giving. I’m so excited about it. And I can see that. I mean this can work at any level of wealth. Any family ought to be able to create a Night of Giving for their children. What a wonderful tradition that would be? Sue, can you tell us a little bit more about maybe the wishes for the world and the big question, dinners and what you might do around Thanksgiving? What are some of the rituals and practices you’ve seen families use in those settings?
SUE: Okay. So Thanksgiving is one of my favorites and we spell it ‘Thanks’ and then ‘Giving’ really big. And what it is is rather than just focusing on food — food is great but I like to give holidays a little deeper opportunity to talk about things but always a gift of a fun thing — So let’s talk about the Thanksgiving ritual. So, I send out a note to everyone. I send it out because I do it with my family too. So I’ll just say what I do, and my families are doing it too now, my clients. So I send out a note to everyone saying, ”We’re having Thanks Giving on Thanksgiving when you arrive. So please bring…” And I have a leading question. So some of the questions are, “Please bring a toy.” It’s always a toy. “Please bring a toy wrapped in a brown paper bag that represents an answer to a question.” So one of the questions is: A toy that represents who you are now, a toy that represents the little kid in you now, a toy that would have made you very happy when you were young, a toy that describes your career you aspire to. So that’s the leading question every year. It’s a different question. So everyone’s got to think about what they’re going to bring. And they come in the door, and they have these big brown bags. It’s all covered. No one can see and they put it on the fireplace. And then one at a time, people’s names are pulled out of the hat. And Maddie goes first. She picks up a bag that’s not hers. She opens it up and takes it out. Let’s say in this case, it’s a cash register. She gets three guesses who’s brought the cash register, and the cash register this year was the answer to, “What would make the little kid and you very, very happy?” So she takes out this play cash register. And she takes three guesses who in the room it might represent. And this year, it was my dad. My dad owned five and dime stores and it represented him. So you get guesses, three dashes. And then everyone laughed. “Hahaha. It’s grandpa’s.” And so we go through this. And what’s fun is even if not everyone in the Thanksgiving table, the room knows each other. They learn something about each other. Someone brings a superfast toy car. Someone else brings an easy bake oven, and you end up learning a little story about them like grandma or aunt Terry. “Why the Easy Bake oven? What’s going on?” So it’s really fun. That’s Thanksgiving. We can talk about big question dinners. So part of the communicating between generations that happens that’s encouraged, it starts with good questions. And I know several people at PPI have really good questions they ask their clients. And so with kids, really good questions start young and they grow with the kids. If you’re not good at thinking of these questions, 21/64 has some family quest giving cards. And it’s a deck and they have another deck of cards that’s called family quest wealth cards. And what I do is I encourage families to do this too, to curate the deck. Pull out five card questions. Leave them on the table. People get to pick a question they’re curious about and ask it. So some of the questions might be, “What can money not buy?” Interesting question for everyone to spend some time on. If it’s a wealthy family — many of our clients are — “What does wealth give you the freedom to do?” Another one I love, “If you have $1,000 to give away, how would you allocate it? If you could solve any problem, what would it be?” So those are really for older kids for high school and up, I would say. And then for big question dinners, some of the favorite questions have nothing to do with wealth, “Name a quality you admire from someone around the table? What is your best character trait? And what is a character trait you wish you had or want to strive for?” Sometimes I do would-you-rather-to. “Would you rather help someone that you didn’t know on the street or help a family member you knew was struggling?” It could be something fun. “Would you rather eat sweets all day long or eat shoots and make healthy choices all day long?” It doesn’t have to be around wealth and money to just start asking questions. And just the habit, the ritual of having a question dinner, your kids will start bringing their own questions to the table.
JOHN A: I love them. And I would say I have a couple of tools from 21/64. These cards are among them. They are really powerful. And for anyone who is trying to create traditions, practices, rituals like Sue’s sharing with us. I love that suggestion of curating big questions from those cards. What about the wishes for the world that intrigues me?
SUE: So I’ll say this one is given by a very good friend of mine who did this when her kids were little and now she does it. Her kids are across the globe actually, and they still do it. They did it around Friday night dinners for them. It was Shabbat. They were Jewish and they did around Shabbat dinners, but it could be any Sunday night dinners. Wishes for the World was a time when everyone sat down or got online. And they passed a charity box around and just put whatever in it. Quarters, dollars, whatever. And as they put the money in, each person was asked, “What is your wish for the world?” And every week, what comes up is current events. “What’s going on with you? I hope people can find some latitude to find themselves some peace.” So every week, it’s something different. Little kids say, “What’s your wish for the world?” They’re very funny. “I wish that Jessica would share more with me. I wish we didn’t have green stuff on the table.” It’s hilarious what they come up with, it’s really great. And then grandparents, just vision it, four-year-olds, 12-year-olds, grandparents, parents around the table wishes for the world. You really get a cross section of what’s on people’s mind. Again, you get people talking early and often and as a ritual. And then when the big issues come up in life, there’s a habit of family talking about them. There’s a culture of family talking. There’s no issue too big or too small.
JOHN A: I think that’s an extremely important point that these practices really are becoming family habits which in turn, really feed family culture. So it’s very important. So let me ask, I can see these practices being used with a variety of ages. But when do you suggest starting? How early? Would you suggest parents began to use one of these practices to encourage philanthropy to encourage compassion in their children?
SUE: Now, four-years-old, four-years-old is my favorite. You have to set your expectations for age specific. And wherever they’re at, don’t be judgy. I had one group of family members, the parents were really disappointed that all the kids wanted to do was the horse rescue. That they don’t care about people like, “What’s going on?” They’ll grow. Don’t worry. As people bring in issues, whether through issues of the world or whatever other rituals you’re doing, kids will change. Kids will grow. Don’t be judgy. Be where they’re at. Make it short. Don’t force it. For example, if you’re doing Night of Giving, and you’re doing with really young kids, four-year -olds, it’s all pictures. Don’t make the discussion too long. Let it be that they all put it on whatever and let it be. But four-years-old really starts it, if you’ve got a small family, maybe one child in your immediate family, “I like it when you bring in cousins, and whoever you have extended family.” So you have a four-year-old and a six-year-old and an eight-year-old. So the four-year-old sees modeled behavior from the older kids.
JOHN A: That’s exciting that we can get started at four and probably we shouldn’t wait beyond that you need to get started. So Sue, let me ask you, as you begin to form the intention to start, how do you actually suggest to others that they start one of these practices or rituals within their families?
SUE: That’s such a good question. So you have to have a cheerleader. Someone that thinks this is important in the family, and then they have to get a few people on board. So if you were the grandparent, maybe you want to do this Thanksgiving thing. This is the grandparent, and you really think your kids would like it, but you think your adult kids will say, “It’s not good.” But you think your grandkids will like it. So either you take it you have to know your family. If you take it upon yourself to send it out and let it just happen. Because you know what’s going to be good or you recruit at least one more adult that will support the idea when you bring it up. You’ve got to have a cheerleader and nice to have another support. And really the first time is the first time whatever happens happens, but you can say, “I’m committed to doing this. So after we do this the first time I want to hear how it went for you and what I can do to improve it but I’m going to do this every year.”
JOHN A: That’s wonderful. Families grow up. Kids grow up so fast before you know what they’re going to be, leaving the nest. But how do you suggest families evolve and adapt with these rituals and practices over time as their family members are growing up?
SUE: So I think ritual stays intact. So it started when it started. And as the founder of the creative ritual in your family, you’re always open. You always ask good questions. You always ask people, “How should we change this? How’s this working for you? What do we need to do?” So, always be curious but always do it. But then you ask, “How can you grow with people?” So the Night of Giving is a big one that needs to change as they age because you want the kids to begin to bring in their own causes. And you want them to begin to either use their computers to frame one of the five organizations on their computers, or you ask them if they’ve got movie making skills. You ask them to make a little short movie of what the organization does. Just be aware of what the skill level is, what the interest is, and how you could use the same rituals, keep the rituals, keep the program, but make them more tech savvy or somehow help the other way to do it, too. I like to keep records. So if you’re doing the Night of Giving, you keep a record or someone as your record keeper. They either keep it through photos, or they keep it through an Excel spreadsheet, “Could you give to that year and why?” And so, 20 years from now, you’re gonna look back at that and say, “Oh, my God. We all cared about this family and cared about XY and Z. And now we really care about homelessness.” So somehow record keeping is really good to keep it through the generations. Also, the pictures are really good. And to maybe add a picture book of every five years of what you’re doing to keep people interested in it. Or totals, if you’re doing the Night of Giving to say, “Wow. Just from this exercise, we’ve given out $1,000 over time at the Night of Giving. Also fun for Thanksgiving to take pictures of the grandpa on his cash register and Aunt Sally with her Easy Bake oven. How fun that would be over time to look back? And as people pass away, that even has more meaning.
JOHN A: Well, you’re touching my heart here. And I have a story of the family where the mother started early collecting letters that she had her children write to each other around Christmas time. And I remember this was 15 or 20 years ago, when she pulled me into the library in their home up in the mountains. And she showed me what I would call black beauties. These were these black books where she had collected all of these letters. And she said that when her grandchildren arrive, they don’t race into the backyard where grandpa’s built this amazing playground. They go into the library and ask grandma to get the black beauty book down so they can see. And as you were just describing this Sue, this effort to catalog capture in video or pictures what’s going on in these activities over the years. What a powerful tradition that is and how that will inspire future generations of the family. I think that’s hugely meaningful. Let me ask, we’re running close to the end of the time that we have but I’d love to have you give us some additional ideas about working with young children? And I think you’ve mentioned how important pictures are, the giving cards. But what about books? And don’t blush. Please be sure and talk about Two Measly Spots.
SUE: So one of the things that is really important besides how you celebrate the big holidays in life, the small question tables. Those events are how you spend bedtime. What books are you choosing for your kids? What movies are you watching with your family? It’s not enough to just read them or watch them, but to talk about them. That’s what this all is about. It’s about talk. So actually on my website, I have a couple of movies, three or four movies. Some of them are older, that is for different ages. You could watch the movie and then you can ask the questions that are on there. But in terms of books I co-authored, as John mentioned, Two Measly Spots. It’s a book that is all about what is enough in this world. What is enough to do and to have. That was the motivation for this book. And it’s a ladybug who is an energetic little spark. She’s the highest flyer. She’s amazing. And she wakes up after a winter slumber where all ladybugs really do hover and together. She is the first one up that looks around, marvels at the black spots of spotted ladybugs. In the blackness, she marvels at it and she stretches out and she’s seen bugs with eight spots, 10 spots, 12 spots or more. She stretches looking back and counts her own spots: One. Two. Two measly spots. That’s all she had. And she goes on this quest because two measly spots aren’t enough for her. So she goes on this quest in the forest finding more spots. She almost gets eaten by a spotted snake. But that’s just for fun. And she ends up coming back. And granddaddy and her grandma bug have oodles of spots and she starts asking really good questions, “Did you find what you were looking for?” And Lulu says, “Having more isn’t exactly what I thought it would be.” And the ending really is Brandy saying, “You have enough for me. Do you have enough for you?” And she realizes she has enough to fly. And she’s a really good flyer. So anyway, that book has a lot of questions at the end. “Why do you think one of the questions is? Why does Lulu want more spots? Do you think Lulu has enough spots? Why or why not? What does having enough mean to you?” And just when I find adult kids, whoever we start to ask, “Are you enough? Do you have enough?” The conversations with adults that have gotten off of this book have been so amazing. And on my website, it also has using the book for adults and using the book for kids good questions.
JOHN A: I love the fact that Lulu can inspire adults, too. It isn’t just for children. Thank you for that. I wonder Sue, if you could wrap quickly with the kind of what you hope people are. Taking away from this amazing kind of palette of opportunities that you’ve created for us today that could inspire our children or grandchildren. What are the takeaways that you hope people will pull from this podcast?
SUE: First one, start early. And whatever you are starting now, it doesn’t matter if the kids are 12, 14, or 30. Start now and make it a ritual. Pick one purposeful ritual to start and just do it. The second I would say, let the chosen practice grow with your family. Don’t expect to get it right the first time but commit to it. And the third, visualize your family members or your young clients 20 years from now. What are the skills, attitudes, and behaviors you are proud of 20 years from now? And then, what are the rituals and practices that will support the growth of those attitudes and behaviors? Are these young people 20 years later, and during that 20 years, generous? Are they skillful philanthropists? Are they aware of their values? And do they lead with their values and all the choices they make in life? What do they buy? What do they do? How do they volunteer? What do they do for work? How do they show up at work? And lastly, keep questions. Keep open discussions and share ideas as part of the family culture every time you gather and make it fun.
JOHN A: Thank you, Sue. This has been awesome.
SUE: Thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it.