How to Involve Young People in Philanthropy

There are many ways to engage young people in philanthropy. By cultivating an early interest in “giving back”, we have the power to inspire the next generation to become active, informed and generous members of society. The bottom line? It’s never too early to start – and never too late to make a real impact on how young people view the world!  Below are resources and information I have compiled to help you support the next generation in philanthropy.

Strength in Numbers: A Growing Trend Toward Family Foundations

It has been said that “charity begins at home” and today, there are more family foundations in the United States than at any other time in recent history. According to the Foundation Center, 38,700 family foundations in the United States awarded $16 billion in 2006 – a 13 percent increase in giving from 2005. When a family creates a foundation, it’s natural for them to explore ways to engage their own children in their philanthropic efforts.

8 Great Ways to Get Young People Involved

When you want to engage a young person in philanthropy, it’s wise to match activities with the child’s individual interests. Here are a few ways to capture the interest of tweens and teens:

1. Put kids on the receiving end with a regular allowance, then divide it into three categories: Spend, save and share.

2. Accompany a child on a site visit to a local agency or nonprofit so they can learn first-hand about the people who create solutions and the issues they face.

3. If you have a family foundation, let your child review proposals, final reports and thank you letters from grantees.

4. Have regular family meetings to discuss which issues and organizations are most worthy of philanthropic support.

5. Encourage young people to volunteer their time with local agencies and organizations.

6. Invite children to serve as junior board members, or let them take minutes at regular board meetings.

7. Donate a set amount each year to an organization of your child’s choice.

8. Enlist your child’s technology skills in developing a website or PowerPoint presentation for your family foundation – or let them write a blog or create a Facebook page.

5 Tough Questions: Explore the Answers Together

Remember that young people whose families have foundations face unique challenges. Many feel guilty about their wealth, and hesitate to turn to their peers for support. You can help by talking together to answer questions like these:

1. How do I infuse my personal values into my family’s philanthropy?

2. How can I bring new topics to the table and have a voice?

3. Where do I start looking at issues like family history, legacy and mission?

4. Who am I to make funding decisions when I lack “real-world” experience?

5. How can I make a lasting impact through my family’s philanthropy?

Join the Club: Young People Need to Belong to a Bigger Cause

With the emergence of family foundations, a whole new landscape of support resources has sprung up to help young people to align personal values and family wealth with social change. Online communities like Resource Generation, Grand Street, the Society of Young Philanthropists, and YES! provide support and information through various workshops, listserves, conferences, and social events. Young people can also take part in annual convenings such as Making Money Make Change and Leveraging Privilege for Social Change Jam. Young people may also enjoy the book Creating Change Through Family Philanthropy: The Next Generation by Alison Goldberg, Karen Pittelman, and Resource Generation.

Evaluation of youth philanthropy programs, as described in Changing the Face of Giving and Best Practices in Youth Philanthropy has found that they:

  • Encourage young people to improve their skills, knowledge and confidence
  • Help participants to understand community and youth issues, share opinions more openly, and become better at planning and facilitating meetings
  • Promote greater interest in attending college
  • Enable young people to view themselves as leaders who can make a difference in their communities
  • Allow participants to develop language, budgeting, critical thinking, and public speaking skills
  • Promote positive youth development

Perhaps most revealing is that young people continue to volunteer and donate money to charitable causes at higher rates than the general population long after they stopped participating in these programs.

Digging Deeper: More Resources on Youth Philanthropy

Learning To Give provides field-tested K-12 curriculum about youth philanthropy. Additionally, the Youth Leadership Institute and Youth Philanthropy and Service at the Mandel Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio helps organizations establish youth philanthropy programs. To find a youth philanthropy program near you, search the Youth Grantmaker DatabaseEmerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and Future Leaders in Philanthropy are terrific resources for young professionals.

Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly  © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2009

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