The growing involvement of young people in philanthropy is among the most inspiring trends in the sector today. While this remains a relatively small phenomenon, such engagement is important in the way it's bringing new energy and money to tackling challenges facing society, as well as what it may mean for the future of philanthropy. Kids who get involved in giving now are more likely to be philanthropic leaders down the line, bringing some of their peers along with them.
In short, youth philanthropy is exciting and well worth nurturing. In general, though, it's tended to fly beneath the radar, with limited information available about who's doing what across the U.S. and the world.
Now, the Foundation Center—that indispensable mothership of grantmaking data and how-to advice—is taking a big step toward building this field up further. It is leading a new project and providing an online gathering place called YouthGiving.org, where young people and grantmaking professionals can share best practices, learn from experts, and network to find partners.
The Foundation Center's 2014 report, Scanning the Landscape of Youth Philanthropy: Observations and Recommendations for Strengthening a Growing Field, surveyed the state of youth charity, and identified the need for an online hub like YouthGiving.org. With support the Andrus Family Fund, Leading to Change, the Frieda C. Fox Family, Conrad N. Hilton, Charles Stewart Mott, and Tarsadia Foundations, the online hub has become a reality.
While youth philanthropy is growing, the Foundation Center's report found that groups doing this work lacked visibility and connection with one another. "Not many people know that there are so many grant dollars out there controlled by people my age and younger — and how we're making a difference to real people," said Khayriyyah Muhammad Smith, who has been involved in youth grantmaking since high school, and is currently an intern at the Council of Michigan Foundations.
Total grantmaking directed by youth remains modest, but these numbers don't get at the big impact that involvement in grantmaking can have on young people.
"I remember meeting one woman who was able to finish high school because of our grants. That was when it hit me — the power of what we're doing,” said Muhammad Smith. “And now, with YouthGiving.org, there's a way to share those stories and inspire more people to do the same."
Jen Bokoff, Director of Knowledge Services for the Foundation Center, said that there are more than 800 programs through which youth are making grants worldwide. Who knew? She described these youth as engaging in the complex tasks of conducting needs assessments of the community, developing and posting requests for proposals, and participating in the decision-making process for grantmaking. The Youthgiving.org platform will support learning about all of these tasks, and will also be an online space where youth grantmakers can look for potential partners.
You can see why the Foundation Center is making a push on this, as part of its mandate to strengthen philanthropy and build up the key resources the sector needs to thrive. New leadership and human capital is definitely one of those resources. The youth philanthropists of today are well on their way to being the foundation leaders and program officers of tomorrow.