When two family foundations met in the summer of 2010 to allow their engaged youth to connect with and learn from one another, we never would have predicted what would come out of it. It was these two foundations along with two others that launched, Youth Philanthropy Connect, a project of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation aimed at fostering youth engagement in philanthropy. This past week’s 4th annual Youth Philanthropy Connect conference themed “Weaving a Web of Support” was a testament to the incredible things that happen when foundations reach out and build relationships with one another and say YES to engaging youth in the work of their foundation. (NOTE: NCFP was proud to participate in the convening as a partner and lead facilitator for the adult track.)
Here are just a few of the amazing things we witnessed at last week’s conference:
- Youth want to talk about and own the work they are doing as grantmakers and change agents. The conference kicked off with Dave DeLuca from DoSomething.org talking about how they create social change campaigns and was followed by a session where each foundation/organization created a poster describing the work they’re doing in youth philanthropy. The youth produced the drawings with great knowledge and presented them to others in a gallery walk (see the photos for a sampling of drawings).
- Youth want to have fun and be inclusive. Thursday afternoon featured high-energy teambuilding facilitated by Eric Rowles with Leading to Change who supports community-based youth philanthropy programs in North Carolina. From funny handshakes to sharing dance moves to scoring goals with beach balls and hula hoops, youth were making friends, supporting one another, and making sure everyone was cared for, especially those with mobility issues.
- Youth are aware of themselves and are open to talking about it. We kicked off day two by beta testing a new tool currently in development by 21/64 using play therapy. Youth and adults in attendance each selected miniature figurines to show their dreamed and dreaded selves as a philanthropist. They then partnered across generations to share and discuss their decisions. As one youth shared, “It was so cool to see that my figurines and meanings were similar to my adult partner. It made me feel good and supported to know we all have challenges we are working on.”
- Youth recognize they need a web of support to achieve greater impact. Our Youth Leadership Team picked the theme “Weaving a Web of Support,” to encourage the use of networks in philanthropy—personally, with their families and foundations, and more broadly with the field. The theme was brought home during the closing panel discussion between Simone Bernstein of VolunTeen Nation and Erin Schrode of Teens Turning Green when they both shared how important their families had been in supporting them as teen changemakers.
- The younger the better. On Saturday morning, the group met to make grant decisions for the five nonprofit Giving Circle finalists they met on Friday’s Nonprofit Day. All of the conversations were thoughtful, strategic, and bold, but guess whose funding recommendations “won”? It was the group of 8-12 year olds. Given a voice, they took the opportunity very seriously and they knocked it out of the park! And, incentives can work—we increased our participation in social media, grant review, and project participation through candy, prizes, and Kiva gift cards!
- If youth see other youth being taken seriously in leadership roles, they volunteer. Before the conference even kicked off, we had three youth asking how they could be involved on the youth leadership team (our national team of youth ages 12-21 who plan the conference and provide strategic direction to YPC). By the end of the conference, there were even more. The youth are interested because they have an incredible passion, they want to work with other youth, and they see youth at the podium talking and know they will be taken seriously
So, here is some advice for engaging youth in philanthropy culminating from our experiences last week:
- Be open and vulnerable: share your experiences honestly with youth to help them learn from your successes and mistakes!
- Make it fun (incentives can help!): making philanthropy, board meetings, networking, etc. fun experiences will help youth find joy through their giving.
- Let them care and find ways to show empathy for one another and other youth you are working with.
- Leadership = Ownership: let them take ownership of their work by taking the lead. You may be surprised by how they step up to the challenge!
- Don’t reinvent the wheel: research youth engagement strategies to help you brainstorm methods to implement in your organization.
- Find ways to show support for your youth: support their fundraising in creative ways, volunteer with them, ask smart questions to help them think deeper about their work.
We challenge you to experiment with engaging youth from your family or the communities you care about in your philanthropy. More often than not, giving youth opportunities will result in them taking the initiative and running with their ideas. We hope you will be as impressed as we are in the ways younger generations want to and can make a difference.
Are you interested in learning more? Here’s a link to resources from NCFP on Next Gen Boards. And, you can sign up here for the monthly YPC e-newsletter that will ensure you know about the soon to be announced Fall youth webinar series, future tools like the Teen Philanthropy Café readers coming from Exponent Philanthropy and the 21/64 rolePlay tool, and future convenings and resource opportunities.