At Foundant Technologies—provider of online grants management solutions for grantmakers and grantseekers—we have always been supporters of the youth philanthropy movement. We began as early sponsors and supporters of Youth Philanthropy Connect (YPC), a youth-led peer advisory network for young people involved in philanthropy. We attended their conferences and even joined them during their on-the-road events in 2015.
Mark Larimer, our VP of Marketing and Client Success, and I were amazed time and time again at how thoughtful and professional the participating youth, ages 8–21, were at making real granting decisions.
It was on the road in 2015 that Mark and I discussed starting a youth philanthropy project in our hometown of Bozeman, MT. Right away I was excited to be involved and work hands-on with the young adults in our community, helping them learn about our community’s needs and the grantmaking process.
Now, in my second year of our Youth Giving Project, I have some tips for those of you who, like me, may have limited experience mentoring youth. Heck, most days I feel like I’m their age myself! These may seem like simple tips—because they are. A youth philanthropy project should be the product of the participants, not the adults advising them.
You don’t have to go it alone
As we started our program with two like-minded community partners, the Bozeman Area Community Foundation and Bozeman Youth Initiative, I easily found other adults to help me in mentoring the youth. I have the pleasure of working with two wonderful ladies who make the work fun and manageable as we move 10+ students through a 6-month program.
Your role is to mentor
We are very careful to use “mentor” when referencing adults who are helping the team. The term mentor is important because we don’t hold any weight in the decision-making process; we are there as advisors. Also, we do not see ourselves as teachers. We rely on returning students to take leadership roles in teaching the grantmaking experience. Even first-time members can take leadership roles in social aspects of the program. (Keep reading for more on the social side.)
Make it fun whenever you can
We’ve found that it’s very important to create bonds through movement and fun—as well as to break up the sitting and get the blood flowing when making hard decisions. We most often choose games based on the rules of improvisation to help participants find their voices and build trust.
Step up, step back
We set group expectations with every cohort, including my favorite: Step Up, Step Back. This is a great reminder to “step up” to voice your opinion, even if it doesn’t come easily, and “step back” to allow others space to talk. It also reminds me that my role as an adult mentor is to step back. A dear friend recently said her greatest tool when working with youth is silence, and I couldn’t agree more. You’ll be surprised how much you learn by allowing the youth to lead.
To learn more about how you can get started with your own youth giving program, visit YouthGiving.org.
Sammie Holzwarth has been with Foundant since 2011, and she now supports the sales team as a product implementation engineer, keeping them up-to-date on new functionality, as well as doing the “heavy lifting” during the more technical demos. Sammie has a passion for youth philanthropy and has spearheaded the Youth Giving Project in Bozeman as well as serving as an Exponent Philanthropy Next Gen Fellow in 2016. As a Montana native, Sammie loves taking advantage of all the outdoor activities the Big Sky State has to offer, including skiing, golfing, and fishing.
Sammie, your insights are spot on, and your work in Bozeman has been a tremendous example of how anyone can step up to shift power to youth through grantmaking. Thank you for sharing your story, because sharing takes these hyper-local efforts and makes them part of a global movement!
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