Everyone who works in philanthropy has a different and interesting story of how they “found” the field. For many, it is a story of starting in philanthropy after a long career in another industry. Others tell a different story: you need not wait to become a philanthropist. Around the world, a growing movement of young people is not waiting to be a part of the change made possible by philanthropy.
The Importance of Youth Giving
My personal story begins at the Berks County Community Foundation, where I served on the Youth Advisory Committee. Like most, I hardly knew what a foundation was when I joined. Fast-forward six years: I have helped distribute over $80,000 in grants, traveled to Russia to learn with peers, and continue to advise Centre PACT (Philanthropic Actions Created by Teens), a new youth advisory committee at the Centre Foundation which just completed its inaugural year. In this time, I have learned to articulate some of the reasons why youth philanthropy is important to me.
There is a clear learning opportunity for the students. Youth giving programs do not just benefit the grantees, but also serve as a valuable training program for students, teaching communication, organization, and teamwork skills, among others. They give students responsibility and a sense of purpose that perhaps they have never been given before. It takes a lot of trust to say, “You decide who gets these thousands of dollars – we will support the decision you make.”
This confidence and responsibility engages youth in their community. The mission to build community for the future requires each generation to be involved. When able to be part of the philanthropic sector, youth are encouraged to become volunteers, nonprofit leaders, and even donors from an early age. It is this mindset that prepares young people for a lifetime of giving and service. It is seeded in the students of Centre PACT, the members of other groups around the world, and the alumni of youth giving programs.
There is a lot to learn from youth as well. Youth simplify and depoliticize the projects that foundations routinely take on. They have expectations for the world in which they will live, the same future communities that foundations are trying to build. They are unafraid to take on topics about which they are passionate – which often include complex challenges of social justice, equity, poverty, and beyond. Every time I walk out of a Centre PACT meeting I am impressed and renewed by the students in the program.
What’s Next for Youth Philanthropy
Foundations have already begun to see how important the work of youth can be in philanthropy. To help organizations lead together, the Council on Foundations and Council on Michigan Foundations, supported by the C. S. Mott Foundation, hosted a Global Youth Philanthropy Summit in 2014. Following that event, Foundation Center released a report, Scanning the Landscape of Youth Philanthropy, which sought to answer the questions formed at the 2014 summit and better understand the scope of youth giving. It turned out to be much larger than anticipated:
- There are more than 830 youth philanthropy programs worldwide
- They come in a variety of forms, from university classes to YACs
- Since 2001, over $14 million in grants has been distributed by youth
On June 27, Foundation Center released YouthGiving.org, a new hub where youth and adults can connect and find resources to improve their giving. This connects the students who want to learn from each other, encourages the sharing of ideas, highlights the exciting work of youth around the world, and identifies opportunities to introduce youth to grantmaking. YouthGiving.org is a valuable piece of infrastructure to service a dynamic and growing movement of youth engaged in philanthropy.
In addition to youth interested in getting involved in philanthropy, program alumni seeking the connections and resources to stay involved, and foundations looking to expand their youth philanthropy can get started at YouthGiving.org. The movement is growing, young people are engaging with philanthropy, and YouthGiving.org will support it moving forward. My hope is that it helps many others find philanthropy at a young age and begin their own stories.