Why is the Philadelphia Foundation Letting Teenagers Decide Where Grant Money Goes?

How would you feel if a dozen high school students decided if your nonprofit received a grant this year or not?

Well, that's exactly what the Philadelphia Foundation is encouraging through its YOUTHadelphia program. YOUTHadelphia is a youth advisory committee comprised of 10-12 high school students from a diverse set of Philadelphia neighborhoods, schools, and youth organizations. Although the teenagers are supervised by adult coaches, they do have a lot of say in where $100,000 goes each year.

This select group of high schoolers craft grant application forms, hold open houses to explain funding guidelines to applicants, review applicants' eligibility, and select grantee finalists. The students also go out on site visits that involve service work to obtain first-hand knowledge about the applicants' programs. Clearly, the Philadelphia Foundation is grooming its next generation of program officers on a very personal and practical level.

YOUTHadelphia has been part of the Philadelphia Foundation's grantmaking strategy since 2004, and it's distributed around $900,000 since that time. The program's goal is to distribute $6 million by 2035.

For the Fall 2013 grantmaking period, thirty nonprofits applied for YOUTHadelphia grants and five nonprofits made the cut. Recent grant recipients were:

  • Philadelphia City Rowing
  • Hip Hop Heritage After-school Program of the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition
  • The Teen Lounge for Runaway and Homeless Youth of Youth Service, Inc.
  • Art Factory of the Norris Square Neighborhood Project
  • Rock to the Future After-school Program

However, YOUTHadelphia grants account for just 10% of the Philadelphia Foundation's Fund for Children grantmaking program. The foundation's Strategic Investment in Youth program distributes $700,000, and the Supporting Grants Program distributes $200,000 annually to support nonprofit youth organizations.

For the Spring 2014 session, the teenage grantmakers will award $50,000 in grants to youth programs focused on arts & culture, mental health, mentoring, and young women empowerment. They will hold a Request for Proposal Open House on February 27th and applications are due March 31st. Keep in mind that your organization can apply for a YOUTHadelphia grant and still be eligible for other grant opportunities with the Philadelphia Foundation.

“This is the first time we’ve awarded grants in the Fall to allow more teens to become involved in philanthropy, including those who could not previously participate because of schedule conflicts with Spring activities,” foundation president R. Andrew Swinney commented after the Fall 2013 grants were announced. “It also allows us to provide YOUTHadelphia grants to more nonprofits than previously.” He added, “The 11 teens involved learned that giving money away wisely is not easy—but it is very empowering.”