For Youth by Youth: Family Philanthropy from a Youth Perspective

Over the past few weeks, NCFP has been delighted to conduct several very special webinars in partnership with Youth Philanthropy Connect featuring the voice and perspectives of youth philanthropists involved in their family’s foundation. Our first webinar, “Family foundations from a youth perspective,” was held on March 29, 2015 and featured a wide-ranging conversation with four young donors – Kylie Semel of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation, Isabel Griffith from the Andrus Family Fund, Justin McAuliffe from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and Mike Tracy from the Tracy Foundation.

In this very special edition of FGN, we feature the perspectives and tips from these engaged young philanthropists on a wide range of questions in youth philanthropy – from tips for engaging young family members to how to define who is eligible to participate and when they are eligible.

Question: Tell us a little about your backgrounds in youth philanthropy?

Kylie Semel: I am a sophomore in high school and a member of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation’s junior board, and the Youth Philanthropy Connect’s leadership team. I’ve been a junior board member since I was eight years old, and joined the Youth Philanthropy Connect’s leadership team after attending multiple YPC conferences, and deciding that I wanted to be involved in the planning.

Youth Philanthropy Connect’s mission is to connect youth and provide a fun and exciting way for the youth to engage in philanthropy, it allows us to give alongside other youth to different non-profits, and to develop different skills and knowledge about ways of giving, and how other youth in Youth Philanthropy Connect give in different ways.

Isabel Griffith: I’m 18 and I’m a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m a member of the youth board of my family foundation, the Andrus Family Fund, whose mission is to support organizations that advance social justice and improve outcomes of vulnerable youth. I have fostered this mission through active involvement for the past four years on our youth program that help kids in the next generation of our family be ready and have the skills and resources to grow.

Justin McAuliffe: I’m 27 years old, and my involvement with philanthropy started when I was back in high school and about 16 or 17 years old. I was on a service trip to China, volunteering in orphanages, and after I got back, I was able to write a grant proposal to my family’s foundation, which ended up getting a small grant out of our president’s discretionary fund.

A couple years after that, we formally created our Generations in Giving program, which is our inter-generational giving program. Family members have the opportunity to allocate a small budget each year of grantmaking dollars to organizations that they think are doing great work, and then there’s also a matching component and a volunteer program, as well.

About 10 months ago I joined the foundation full time as a program associate. So, this is now my full-time career. Part of my job is overseeing the Generations in Giving program. So, I’m directly involved with the family philanthropy and in trying to engage family members with our organization, while fostering a sense of philanthropy in younger family members.

Question: How old were you when you first started getting engaged in your family’s philanthropy, and what is your favorite part about that engagement?

Isabel Griffith: I became involved with the Andrus youth service program when I was in ninth grade. Looking back on my experience, my favorite part was that I got to really solidify and foster my interests and passions through the process of philanthropy. I was a 14-year-old kid who wanted to be listened to, and I liked that people cared about what I had to say. My youth philanthropy experiences have really helped solidify my passions and help me envision where I think my path is going to go from here and throughout college and into looking at career choices.

Justin McAuliffe: I was about 16 years old when I first got involved, and ever since then I’ve been increasingly engaged. My favorite part has always been getting to see the impact of the grantmaking. After my first experience seeing orphanages in China, we got to come back and hear about the impact of the grant that we made. It meant a little more that I’d actually seen the conditions and had a better sense what actually happened over there.

Kylie Semel: I was eight years old when I joined my family’s foundation, and my favorite part was getting to do things with my family that all the older kids got to do, and giving to organizations that I really liked. I got to choose where I wanted to give my grant money, and I liked having that independence and the choice of destination for my grant money.

Question: What is your role or that of youth within your foundation or overall giving? Is there a model you can share?

Isabel Griffith: The role of youth in my family’s foundation is the idea that by involving a new generation’s ideas and passions and interests we can help foster these individuals and provide them with greater awareness of their communities, and the awareness of helping others. We use an all-family youth board model. We are all invited to research organizations of our choice, and have the opportunity to volunteer at these organizations to increase the grant money they receive. We are learning to present information, and persuade, and communicate effectively – almost like giving a pitch – and to give this money and grant to the organizations of our choice.

Mike Tracy: Throughout our work we have seen the junior board model as a very effective way of getting youth involved, and getting them started on the process of philanthropy. My foundation started a few years ago implementing a formal advisory board for youth involved in our foundation. It has been an effective way to get more people interested in what the foundation’s doing, and to continue to foster the family engagement that we’d all like to see.

Justin McAuliffe: Our Generations in Giving program is an inter-generational giving fund, with individual discretionary budgets for family members. The best part is that if family members contribute their own money, it’s matched 2:1, and if they contribute their own money and also volunteer time, it’s matched 3:1. I think this really encourages family members to donate their time, to get more involved, and to find their passions and think hard about where they want to spend their volunteer hours.

We also recently started a board internship program. Each year two of the Generations in Giving members are selected to serve as interns on our actual foundation board. They get to go to all the board meetings, be a shadow on the wall, and hear what goes on and how the discussions are conducted. They also get together to make an actual grant. They conduct background research and due diligence, develop a formal proposal, and develop a progress report afterwards. It gives them a good idea of the process of grantmaking at the foundation.

Mike Tracy: This is a great example of the power of getting youth involved in the grantmaking process, because youth really do respond well to hands-on training. My foundation has a similar next generation grant program, and I really like the ownership that I get with that money. Yes, it is a small grant, but it’s nice to have that feeling of personal impact through the foundation.

Kylie Semel: The Frieda C. Fox junior board has a grant cycle where each member of the junior board is allotted $2,000 and they get to choose where they would like to grant their money, as long as it fits into the overall board’s mission. We get to make the grant, and make a follow-up grant presentation. We have also just started a collaborative grant cycle where all the youth of the junior board came together and chose a topic for the collaborative grant cycle to which different non-profits apply. Last year our subject was STEM through the arts, and we all decided together where we wanted to give the money.

Question: How has your youth philanthropy experience shaped you? And where do you want to see youth philanthropy grow?

Isabel Griffith: Looking back, I think of philanthropy as a roadmap or pathway that I’ve been following my entire life. I’m finding out what I love and identifying my passions and figuring out my calling.

Philanthropy has given me lots of great skills, including effective communication. When you’re a 14-year-old having to present something that you care about to a group of adults, it’s slightly intimidating. But presenting is an essential skill you’re going to need for the rest of your life. Because I’ve been willing to put myself in an uncomfortable situation, I’ve learned a lot through that process, and learned a lot about myself and what I like and care about and what ignites my interests.

I’m so lucky to have a supportive family that wants to listen and support me — not everyone has that gift in life. I’d like to find ways to give this gift of voice and the ability to have a voice and make change in your community to kids that, maybe, don’t have that opportunity or would never get to use those skills.

Having that voice helped me mature a lot and helped me come into my own and really find out what I care most about.

Mike Tracy: Youth philanthropy gives you the opportunity to have a lot of different experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Growing up, I can remember those awkward site visits with my parents when I didn’t really know what a site visit was or what I was doing. But you have the opportunity to really get to know yourself better, and about grantmaking as a whole while you’re going through the process.

Kylie Semel: Youth philanthropy has taught me to be a leader. I see myself taking charge in class projects and I feel like I’ve learned to really speak about what I want to be said. I want to be heard and I like how youth philanthropy has helped me do that. Philanthropy has also helped me learn that I really enjoy giving to people in need, and giving where needed.

Justin McAuliffe: Youth philanthropy is really exciting because it is a way to align big social issues with things in my everyday life. I used to go to school, get home, and think about exams and internships and things like that, but none of it was really making a difference with these big social issues that I’d read about and was trying to find a way to make a difference.

What really excites me about youth philanthropy are the impact investing and social entrepreneurship movements that are happening. Young entrepreneurs that I talk to these days are increasingly interested in creating companies that have a social component, with a certain percentage of revenues going to charity. It’s really cool that youth are starting to think about philanthropy not just in the traditional, grantmaking sense, but also in their everyday lives. I’m hoping that’s where there is going to be a lot of movement in the future.

Question: What is your best advice to other youth who might be starting out or struggling?

Isabel Griffith: I got some very useful advice when I was first starting out to have a kind of a soul-searching moment to identify what I was most interested in and what I most cared about. I found that it was much easier for me to learn the different skills of communicating to adults and going on my site visits and doing my research of organizations that I cared deeply about. Another thing I found very useful was coming to the realization that there was a clear mission and focus of my organization. That helped me feel like I was a part of something, and that I was also part of the organization’s overall mission.

Kylie Semel: Giving to things that you like doing and making grants to non-profits that do work that benefits things you are interested in makes philanthropy much more enjoyable. I enjoy theater, so I gave a grant to No Limits to help youth that are hard of hearing participate in theater as a form of speech therapy. I really enjoyed the results of the grant, and that made the whole process more enjoyable.

Also, just knowing that there are other youth doing the same thing that you are doing can be very reassuring to me. When I started, I didn’t know there were other youth engaged like I was; then we had the first Youth Philanthropy Connect conference and I learned that so many other kids are also doing this… you just have to find them!

Mike Tracy: I agree — it’s very powerful to meet other philanthropists that share this passion with you for doing philanthropy. Philanthropy is a really cool experience and a very powerful learning experience when you have that chance to connect with other youth.

Justin McAuliffe: A great way to break into philanthropy and to strengthen philanthropic skills is to just start being philanthropic with your time. You get a great perspective of organizations when you’re working on the ground with them, and I think you start to build up the foundational knowledge of the social sector that can then inform your grantmaking.

Volunteering also forces you to really get engaged with the mission and make yourself ask important questions: am I really passionate about this? Can I really wake up early and do this every day? Your answers to these questions will inform your philanthropy and help you identify what organizations and missions you really want to support.

And finally, I really agree with Kylie about the need to build a network and find friends who are also involved in philanthropy.  When I was getting started, I started to meet more and more friends who would volunteer often, and who also were engaged in philanthropy, and that really helped me stay involved and really passionate about the sector.

Question: Have you had difficulty engaging selected family members in your foundation? If yes, what tips do you have?

Mike Tracy: One of the best things a foundation can do is to create many different avenues for youth to be engaged. My family’s foundation has an advisory board, matching grants, and next generation grant programs for the youth to be involved in. We also have grants committees within the foundation so youth can become a part of these and learn about specific sections of the foundation’s work.

We also have three board seats for the next generation in the foundation. We have two year-long board seats: one in which a next generation youth who is 16 or older can participate and one’s a three-year board seat with a minimum age of 21. It provides youth an opportunity to have a formal board seat and go through formal board and grant cycles. It can act as an education for them.

Multiple generations of the Tracy Family Foundation, gathered together.
Question: Is there anything you would like your foundation to do for your own personal development, i.e., financial or governance education, or learning about a different grant program?

Justin McAuliffe: One thing we offer for Generations in Giving family members are retreats and informational sessions around fundamentals of grantmaking, and how to conduct due diligence on organizations. These don’t just give the opportunity for family members to give away funds, but also provide educational opportunities for them in a formal setting, so that they can strengthen and increase their tools for making effective grants.

Question: Do you feel like you know your family better as a result of being involved in a family philanthropy? How do you feel that the foundation has deepened your connection with your family, or given you more opportunities to stay involved with your family as a whole?

Kylie Semel: I’ve definitely gotten to know my family members better. We all make individual grants to places that we enjoy, and this allows us to learn more about everyone else’s interests. It is fun to see what makes them enjoy giving and where the spark comes from when they really do enjoy this whole process.

Isabel Griffith: We have a family reunion every four years and it’s very interesting; you’re a really different person when you’re 12 years old to when you’re 16 years old. A lot of my extended family members are on this youth board and it’s neat to hear their interests and how they’ve changed since the last time I’ve seen them. Now, when I see them a few years later, we can talk about things that we couldn’t talk about when we were 12 years old; and it’s also part of us growing up together. We kind of grow up learning a lot more about each other. That comes through in our calls, and that comes through in the organizations that we research and give grants to. I think that the interests and passions of everyone are a great indicator of who that person is.

Mike Tracy: I view our family’s foundation as the key place for connecting all of us together as we all move through life. My foundation has 47 family members in the third generation. We are a big group, and we are all getting older, and the foundation continues to provide an opportunity to keep us all together. When I’m participating on a conference call or traveling to a meeting for the foundation, I’m often doing it with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. And while I maybe haven’t seen them recently in person, it’s a great opportunity for us to connect.

Question: How does your foundation define youth? Is there an age range, and are your programs specifically associated with one group of youth, or are they designed for other purposes?

Isabel Griffith: There are three different sections of the Andrus Family Fund board. During high school, I was part of the teen youth service program board for high schoolers, aged 14 to 18. There is also a board for college-age students called the Board Experiential Triads, which is also called BETS. And then after that we have the Andrus Family Fund, which is how the adults interact with the family philanthropy – my parents were both on that board. Honestly, it’s a really important division, because teens get to speak to each other, and grow together, and then they get to become part of a different board that meets more often – the BETS board meets in New York every few months. So, it continues the engagement as you continue to mature and get older.

Kylie Semel: The Frieda C. Fox Family’s junior board includes everyone 20 and younger. I started when I was eight, and that’s the youngest, so far, that anyone’s ever started, but I think we’re going to get some of my younger cousins to actually start now! When you turn 21 you’re eligible to apply for a seat on the formal board.

Justin McAuliffe: Our current cutoff is 15, but there are ongoing discussions as to what we should expect from different age ranges, what level of information is going to be too much at what age, and what’s going to be the most engaging concept for them. Because obviously we can’t put everyone in the same bucket and have a two-hour presentation on compliance issues and self-dealing and expect eight-year-olds to be able to sit through that and then not hate philanthropy afterwards.

From 15 to 24 we get access to a small discretionary grants budget and matching fund, and then at 25 and over the discretionary amount is increased.

For our board interns, we have a more formal application process based on the merit of the applicants; it’s generally the older applicants who are accepted to that.

Question: What are your closing words of wisdom?

Isabel Griffith: I think that excitement and passion is very infectious. The people that I’ve been surrounded by in my family’s philanthropy have been really excited about youth philanthropy and excited to share their ideas, and happy to hear what I have to say — you can just hear it in their voice! Enthusiasm really captures youth, and can help kids feel really comfortable and happy with what they’re doing. If you’re thinking about starting up a youth philanthropy program for your family, make sure that you engage adults that are willing to listen and genuinely excited to hear what your youth are saying and thinking.

Kylie Semel: My closing words of wisdom for families are to start young and really let youth have a say in whatever it is you’re doing. And my closing words for youth are to find ways to do what you love through philanthropy.  Incorporate your interests into your philanthropy efforts and whatever other opportunities you have. This will make it all more enjoyable, and more fun!

Justin McAuliffe: Philanthropy should be about connecting the dots for people, and trying to think about what you’re passionate about. Philanthropy might not be something that all youth gravitate towards immediately, but I think that everyone has something that they’re passionate about, whether it’s sports or the environment or human rights. It’s also important to align and connect all of those interests together with what kind of activities you like to do. You might be interested in the private sector – in which entrepreneurship might be what really excites you – or you might be interested in something more like international human rights work. Either way, philanthropy should be about exploring and trying a lot of different things. There are so many different types of philanthropy out there to explore and there’s really something for everyone. It’s just a matter of getting out there and finding it.

Mike Tracy: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from and adapt what works for others. My family’s foundation has learned this from being involved with Youth Philanthropy Connect and talking with other foundations about what works for them, because if it works for another foundation, it’ll probably work for you. But you’ll have to make it your own, because the youth that are in other foundations are not the same youth that are in your foundations. So, make sure to go out there and ask youth directly what they want to do. Present the models that you’ve seen from other foundations, and get youth involved in the process of starting up your own youth engagement program.