How to Start a Youth Philanthropy Program

Youth philanthropy is the practice of providing young people with the money and mentorship to directly fund nonprofit organizations and projects. Youth philanthropy programs first appeared in the 1980s, and today, there are nearly 750 grantmaking youth philanthropy programs worldwide.

In our recent publication, “From Beneficiary to Active Agent: How Youth Led Grantmaking Benefits Young People, Their Communities, and the Philanthropic Sector,” we argue that breaking down barriers to access and creating democratic, diverse, inclusive, and equitable youth philanthropy programs is a vital way for young people and communities to grow. We provide insights and best practices from youth philanthropists and from their adult supporters. The brief is a deep dive into current practices and explores how to provide equitable access and inclusivity in youth philanthropy programming.

This blog provides those who aspire to start a youth philanthropy program with a timeline and things to consider along the journey to creating a democratic, diverse, inclusive, and equitable program.

One Week:

Landscape review:

  • Explore existing programs in your geographic area
    • Where are they housed? Are they at family foundations, community foundations, schools, after school programs (i.e. Boys and Girls Club), religious institutions?
    • Are these programs diverse, inclusive, and equitable?
      • Are they purposefully designed to break down historical barriers and deliberately engage youth of color and youth from historically marginalized communities and backgrounds?
      • Do they value racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity and seek to benefit communities of concentrated poverty, communities of color, or communities which have historically been under-resourced?
    • Do programs support democratic processes such as consensus-building, voting, and equitable decision-making, and increase collaboration?
    • Is there a clear gap that you and your organization can fill?
      • If not, evaluate whether you should move forward in starting a new program, whether there is an opportunity to help support an existing program, or use available funding to support youth in another way.*

One Week to One Month:

Internal policies and hierarchies to consider:

  • What channels do you need to go through or what approvals do you need to ensure you can start a program?
  • Where will you acquire program and grantmaking funds?
  • Is there at least one year of funding available to pay a facilitator, provide transportation stipends for youth team members, provide food for meetings, and have enough grant dollars for the youth to give away?

One Month to Six Months:

Design your program:

  • What age group will your program serve? How many young people do you aim to recruit to your program?
  • Have you developed an outreach plan that addresses how you will recruit and support local youth of all backgrounds in participating in your program.
    • Will you reach out to local high schools, after school programs, and extracurricular activities groups? Can you propose the program at a local town meeting to help generate interest from parents, guardians and other local constituents? Have you used technology/social media to encourage young people to register and apply for the program? Will you give stipends for travel or time or provide food for the participants?
  • Will applicants need to apply? What will the application process look like?
  • What will your program schedule look like?
    • Will your program meet once a week? Twice a week? After school? On weekends?
  • How long will the program session run? There are various program models, ranging from a summer-based program, a single school semester, or a full year.
  • How much funding do you have available for the young people to give away? How will they select which organization/s to fund?
  • Who will facilitate the program? How involved will they be in planning the curriculum? How involved will they be in outreach/recruitment of participants?
  • What will the curriculum look like? Consider working with an educator to develop the curriculum so that it suits the needs of your target audience.
    • Is the curriculum flexible to account for topics or changes that may come up throughout the program? Does the curriculum speak to the power structures within the philanthropic sector and community? Is the curriculum used as a tool to ensure inclusivity and democratic processes throughout the program?
  • How will you welcome and onboard the young philanthropists?

Develop an evaluation plan:

  • How will you measure success?
    • Plan to evaluate your program throughout the session. Gather feedback from youth participants, the nonprofits with which your program works, and the facilitator.
    • Use evaluation data to not only inform future program sessions, but to make adjustments to the current one.
    • Are young people staying engaged? Do they reach consensus as they work to create and distribute RFPs, assess proposals, attend site visits, and make decisions?

Six Months to One Year:

Recruitment and application processes:

  • Did you successfully implement your outreach plan to recruit diverse youth to join the program?

Teacher recruitment and curriculum design:

  • Have you worked with the selected facilitator to ensure they are prepared to lead once the program session begins?
  • How can you continue to develop and hone your curriculum so that it is ready when the session begins?

One Year to End of Program Cycle:

After you complete the above tasks, you should be ready to begin the pilot session of your youth philanthropy program.

Throughout the program session:

  • Implement your curriculum and evaluation plan!

End of Program Cycle:

Plan for the future:

  • Do you believe you have the capacity to offer the program again? What changes would you make? What would stay the same? What worked? What didn’t? What were challenges you faced?

This timeline is not exhaustive, and there are many ways to other involve youth in grantmaking practices and civic life. We encourage you to take the time to talk to local constituents, assess local needs and desires, and work directly with young people as you create policies and programming.

As a young philanthropist told us, “Just because you’re young doesn’t mean that you don’t care about the world or don’t have questions about the big problems that society is facing, and that you don’t have valuable answers.” Do not underestimate the value, intelligence, and understanding that young people have about the community and world.

If you find that your organization is not at the right place to develop a youth philanthropy program, due to a lack of resources, time, or organizational fit, there are other options to engage young people and leverage your youth development resources (see page 18 of our brief for suggestions).