If you want something done, put youth in charge.

Youth in Action at the 2nd Annual Youth Philanthropy Connect conference

When the first-ever conference for family foundation next generation board members wrapped up last year, the young attendees (ages 8 through 18) wanted to keep the momentum going. They had learned so much from their peers that they wanted to stay connected. They drew up an ambitious list of goals, among them: hold a second conference in the same place—the Disneyland conference center in California; use social media to expand their network to other young grantmakers around the country; and form a leadership team to spearhead the effort.

The Frieda C. Fox Foundation and its executive director, Dana Marcus, provided support “but the kids took the lead,” she stresses. They came up with a name, Youth Philanthropy Connect; voted online for a logo (donated by a dad who is a graphic designer); and created their own Facebook page and website hosted on the Fox Foundation site. The leadership team members took turns chairing planning meetings via videoconference. Documents were posted in a shared workspace through Onehub.com. (If kids can plan a whole conference this way, there’s no reason family funds can’t have a junior board make grants even when they live in different parts of the country.)

The results were impressive. July’s Youth Philanthropy Connect conference was larger and meatier with the youth clearly in charge. Plenary audiences were a mix of the youth and adults including parents, grandparents, experts and nonprofit leaders. But it was the YPC leadership team members who handled hosting duties, introduced the speakers, produced the program, dealt with conference logistics, and staffed the registration desk.

Groups of next gen board members gave inspiring presentations about their own foundations, reminding adults in the audience not to underestimate the capabilities of the young. After the Tarsadia Foundation’s junior board presented a moving Powerpoint about their foundation’s work, including overseas mission projects, Shirish Dayal, the foundation’s executive director, was as impressed as the rest of us. “It’s the first time I’ve seen it,” he revealed.

Alan Fox, president of the Fox Foundation, wasn’t surprised at the capability of the youth leaders. “In my book, any eight year old is entirely capable of having and expressing strong feelings, rational thoughts, and valid opinions.” That’s why his foundation has long had a junior board with kids as young as 8, and has pledged ongoing support for YPC.

“In my book, any eight year old is entirely capable of having and expressing strong feelings, rational thoughts, and valid opinions.”

The opening lunch featured Lana Volftsun, who heads the One Percent Foundation which connects millennials with collective giving opportunities. A member of the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s Issues Advisory Committee, Volftsun is on the board of her family’s foundation and shared a moving story of her personal journey into philanthropy and her “ah ha” moment when she realized that any young person can and should be a philanthropist even if they don’t have a lot of money. Breakout topics for the youth included careers in nonprofits and philanthropy, how to write and read grant proposals, grantmaking basics and legal and financial issues. Adults attended sessions to explore their role in encouraging youth grantmaking, not just with their own family members but with others.

Among the conference speakers were several people who lead youth philanthropy programs around the country including Heather Jacks of Future Philanthropists; Amy Kurzeka Johnson of Classrooms for Change; Skye DeLano; and Stefanie Zelkind, of the Jewish Teen Funders Network.

On the theory that kids learn best by doing, they also made grants. During the conference, eight nonprofits who serve youth made presentations about their work and competed for $500 grants from a budget of $2,500 supplied by conference sponsors. The youth again turned to technology with help from Mark Larimer, co-founder of Foundant Technologies [link] and a YPC sponsor. He provided his company’s grant management software so the youth could each review the grant applications online and then come together in a giving circle on the conference’s last day to choose the grant winners.

Want to learn more?

FGN readers who want to learn more about YPC’s effort to connect youth grantmakers with their peers, and also get ideas for their own next gen boards can: