Generation Z giving: Philanthropy goes digital

Years ago, if kids wanted to raise money for charity, they might run a lemonade stand.  All they needed was a card table, cups, lemonade, and a sign.

Today’s young do-gooders can take their fundraising to a whole new level. They can Google “tips for running a lemonade stand” and find lots of advice and even templates for signs. They can use social media to alert friends and family of the upcoming event. Heck, they don’t even have to run a real lemonade stand; they can hold a virtual one. At Alex’s Lemonade Stand, for example, they can join thousands of other kids raising money to fight childhood cancers. On the site, they can create their own fundraising page, with photos and text, and direct family and friends to donate there. They also can watch an inspiring video about Alex, a young cancer patient who, at age 4, held her first lemonade stand to fund cancer research and launched a movement that has raised millions.

Philanthropy for Generation Z—high school age and younger—is very different from that of previous generations. They won’t be confined to sharing their time, talent, and treasure. Now there’s a fourth T—ties. And along with their ability to connect with peers at home and around the world, they can do it wherever they are. No desk top computers for the “Always On” generation. With smart phones, these kids have the Internet in the palms of their hands—or “screens in their jeans,” as one wag put it.

Digital tools have given kids much more power to learn about the world’s problems and collaborate with others across the globe to solve them.

Today’s kids are going online to:

  •          find causes they are passionate about and get ideas for how they can help;
  •          educate their friends and family about their causes;
  •          connect with others who share their passions;
  •          engage in crowd-funding;
  •          make microloans through sites such as Kiva
  •          text donations via their phones;
  •          create and post videos to promote their issues;
  •          apply for grants to support their philanthropic projects;
  •          find volunteer opportunities or engage in online volunteering.

Generosity coaching

Generous GenesI wrote Generous Genes: Raising Caring Kids in a Digital Age (2015, Majestic Oak Press) to help adults understand this new philanthropy landscape and learn how to be “generosity coaches” for the next generation of givers. Coaches may include parents, grandparents, professional advisors, and family and community foundations that engage with children on their philanthropy.

Generosity coaches are like sports coaches. First, they teach the fundamentals and later they let kids take to the field or the court while offering encouragement from the sidelines. Parents ideally start coaching their kids about generosity at very young ages, exposing them to the concepts of sharing—by volunteering as a family, for example. But as the kids get older, parents and other adults can take a less directive, more supportive role. They can encourage children’s efforts to be generous, offer to help—such as driving them to volunteer activities—but then let them decide what they are most passionate about and where they want to give their time and money. The best coaches understand the digital tools kids are using, but also help them experience real world as well as virtual giving.

Examples of family foundations supporting youth philanthropy

Family foundations can play two roles in helping to raise the next generation of givers. First, they can be training grounds for the children in their own families. If a foundation is going to continue into the future, new generations must be willing and prepared to serve on the foundation’s board. Next gen boards are becoming more common—as are resources to help families create them, such as NCFP’s “Igniting the Spark” Passages Issue Brief and collection of case studies. But other, more informal efforts—taking young family members on kid-friendly site visits, sharing stories about who the foundation helps, and finding volunteering opportunities for the extended family, can also go a long way to interest children in philanthropy—their own and the foundation’s.

The second role for family foundations is providing support for youth philanthropy programs that reach children in their community. Some provide funds for youth grantmaking programs run by community foundations, schools, and other groups.

Here are a few examples:

The Highland Street Foundation in Boston partners with schools and community organizations, such as Boys and Girls Clubs, to teach small groups of students how to evaluate nonprofits in their community. They make site visits, present the findings to the group, decide together how to allocate the grants, and present the checks to the nonprofits at a ceremony. “We launched the program in 2009 to help train the next generation of leaders in the importance of civic engagement,” says Noreen McMahon, senior director of programs. “Through our Youth Philanthropy Initiative, our kids learn first-hand that you do not need to be wealthy to contribute to your school, neighborhood and society at large.  Our goal is to cultivate a lifelong interest in community and demonstrate that every person can make a difference.”

The George Foundation in Richmond, TX, runs a program for 175 high school juniors and seniors each academic year, in partnership with area schools, the Chamber of Commerce, businesses and nonprofits. The students work on a variety of volunteer projects designed by local nonprofits. Through their volunteer experiences, the students become better equipped to determine monetary awards for the nonprofits. The year culminates in a spring luncheon attended by approximately 800 people where the nonprofits receive their grants, and scholarships are awarded to students. “The George Foundation is proactively supporting the future of philanthropy and building better community outcomes for Fort Bend County through the Youth in Philanthropy Program,” says Dee Koch, director of community engagement. “What better venue than a program letting youth learn how philanthropy and volunteerism contribute to the success of a community.”

The Burton D. Morgan Foundation in Hudson, OH, supported an unusual, multi-generational project between a middle school class and a retirement community. The foundation paid for a training program used by a teacher to prepare her students for grantmaking, then provided a fund so the students could work with the senior citizens to make grants.

Community foundations supporting youth philanthropy

Many community foundations are finding ways to connect to the young children and grandchildren of donors by providing information about local nonprofits that appeal to kids, taking families on site visits, and running educational programs.The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, for example, has for many years engaged the children of donor families in a program called Planet Philanthropy. Donors’ kids are invited to a half-day program to learn about nonprofits and grantmaking.

Note: The Planet Philanthropy guidebook is useful for anyone interested in teaching children about giving and can be downloaded for free, along with other helpful resources.

“Getting children involved in philanthropy is like planting seeds.  It is important to start early and often so that philanthropy becomes part of the family’s fabric.  We know, also, from experience that children who are excited about philanthropy means parents and grandparents who are passionate about philanthropy!”

– Alicia Philipp, President, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

A few foundations offer giving circles for youth or host funds for circles run by parents. The community foundation in Montgomery County, MD, is an example. It housed a fund for a mother-daughter giving circle started by a few families with sixth-grade daughters who were friends. The parents put in most of the grant money but the girls also earned money to contribute to the fund. The community foundation provided the group information about area nonprofits, and the girls took the lead, with a little help from their mothers, in deciding on the grants. Giving Circle members also volunteered at some of the places they funded. The circle became so popular that it later evolved into the Kid to Kid Giving Circle, operated by a mother from the original group and open to all students at her children’s school.

Other community foundations run youth grantmaking boards open to adolescents from the broader community. The Noble County Community Foundation of Ligonier, IL, for example, has a group called P.U.L.S.E. (Philanthropists Utilizing Lifelong Service and Education) that draws a handful of 8th to 12th graders from each of five schools in the county. The group meets monthly to make grants to community organizations; the grant money and training support are provided by the Dekko Foundation, a family foundation committed to youth philanthropy. Noble County also has a program called Teens on Board that trains high school sophomores and juniors for service on nonprofit boards such as the library, animal shelter, parks department, and food pantry.

Additional allies for parents of giving children

Parents trying to raise giving children can use all the help they can get. Professional advisors who know the names and ages of their clients’ kids can alert the parents to resources, articles, and events that promote youth volunteering and giving. Nonprofit organizations can provide volunteer jobs for families with children and also make their websites more user friendly—by asking young people for their input. Schools with community service programs or service learning built into the curriculum reinforce the message of giving. Businesses can sponsor family volunteering days. Religious congregations, scout troops and youth clubs can play a role, too.

All of us can be generosity coaches to Generation Z. They don’t have to wait to grow up to start changing the world.

Editor’s Note: Susan Crites Price is an award-winning writer who has authored or co-authored seven books. A frequent speaker on family philanthropy, Price is a former Vice President of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.