A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

5 Ways to Involve Youth in Philanthropy

Today’s young people come to philanthropy via many paths—not only by way of their families’ charitable giving. For example, with a combined decade of experience in philanthropy, teens Sarah Saltzman and Luke Sturtz don’t come from families with foundations or formal giving vehicles. They plugged into philanthropy through school and community.

Sarah grew up volunteering for a nonprofit her grandparents founded, and she attended Youth Philanthropy Connect’s (YPC’s) inaugural conference as a nonprofit representative. YPC is a project of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation, and Sarah was later invited to join the foundation’s junior board. Luke has been involved with the Dekko Foundation since 7th grade, serving on two youth grantmaking teams.

Sarah and Luke joined us last month for the webinar “How to Engage Youth in Philanthropy in Meaningful, Fun Ways,” and they shared these tips for engaging the young people in your life or community in philanthropy.

Listen to a recording of the webinar “How to Engage Youth in Philanthropy in Meaningful, Fun Ways”

1.  Involve youth in the creation.

Sarah points out the “generational feeling of powerlessness in middle and high school youth.” Giving youth ownership within a grantmaking process can change this perspective and help them understand that philanthropy is a way for them to impact the world.

“Our ideas, our brainstorming give us a sense of control over the impact we’re having in the world,” says Sarah about her participation on the Fox Foundation’s junior board, which engages in a collaborative grant cycle each year and receives complete control over the decision-making process from the grant application to recommending where the money will go.

2.  Provide training with context.

Youth need training beyond the “vocabulary” of philanthropy. They value learning by doing or learning without knowing they are learning. Through the Dekko Foundation, Luke was trained on grantmaking as well as given advice and practice in public speaking since “a huge part of philanthropy is talking to others, being personable, constantly engaging in conversations.”

3.  Engage kid-friendly adults who know when to get out of the way.

Youth want their voices to be heard. And young people—especially the youngest ones—are great at sharing honest, uncensored thoughts. Sarah suggests, “Take everything they say in context of age, but there’s a lot to be gained from listening to their insights.” As Luke puts it, “Kids’ ideas might seem crazy, but there’s a fine line between ideas that are crazy and ideas that are hard.”

The role of adults in youth philanthropy should be to step back, facilitate, and encourage. Of course, since most young people are still learning, the occasional reminder is always welcome

4.  Connect personal philanthropy and volunteerism with the family’s philanthropy.

Connecting the dots between grantmaking and volunteerism is important for youth to understand the relational nature of philanthropy. For Sarah, grantmaking became more meaningful as she better recognized the intentions of both parties, funders and volunteers. “They are deeply intertwined. Everyone—from grantmakers to volunteers—is involved in helping people and helping causes.

5.  Provide hands-on grantmaking opportunities that show impact.

Youth are passionate and intentional about impacting their communities. Beyond reading proposals, Sarah and Luke agree that “seeing the impact, seeing what’s coming out of the grant money you’re pouring into the community” is what’s valuable. “It’s important to know who you’re funding, to know the people behind the proposal.”

In addition to Sarah and Luke’s advice, webinar participants and Annie Hernandez, whose work at the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation involves overseeing its youth philanthropy work, shared additional tips:

  • Grantmaking through schools can help raise awareness that youth philanthropy programs exist and educate youth on what philanthropy is.
  • Connect with community leaders to roll out a youth philanthropy initiative and see it through cohesively and smoothly.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from and elaborate on what works for others.
  • Trust and respect the ability of youth.
  • Start small based on what works for your philanthropy.
  • Be flexible and evolve your efforts based on what’s working.

Related resource: Teen Philanthropy Café, a 7-part series to introduce young people to strategic, thoughtful philanthropy; download free in PDF or purchase a full-color, printed set

NikkiNikki Hilgert provides broad support to our Programs and Services Team. Before joining Exponent Philanthropy, Nikki worked collaboratively with several small nonprofits in New Haven, CT, as an AmeriCorps volunteer and program coordinator at Squash Haven, a thriving youth development organization. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in leadership and service from Mercer University. 

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