By Lauren Hasey Maher, independent philanthropy consultant
After working in philanthropy for over a decade I have witnessed the never-ending cycle of frustration and elation as we work together to tackle society’s seemingly intractable issues. It can be hard to not get jaded as cycles often repeat themselves. As a new mother I feel everything more intensely, and it is hard to not be overwhelmed by tragic events and the daily barrage of bad news. Thankfully, my job lets me see the fruits of the labor of many generations of families and individuals working together to impact their communities in a positive way.
It has been my sincere privilege to interview young givers around the world for Foundation Center’s new Youth Giving hub. This website is designed to piece together the story of youth giving programs (more than 800 worldwide!) and the funders who support them by curating case studies, grants data, program information, expert perspectives, news stories, and more. For the purposes of this website, youth giving usually refers to giving by those ages 8-30. It is impossible not to be inspired by their solution-oriented problem-solving within their communities.
Although each youth grantmaking story is unique, there are also common themes.
Young givers are great listeners. They tend to ask those affected about helpful and valuable solutions. The YouthBank in Samsun, Turkey is a small group of youth, sponsored by a community foundation, who make grants to their peers and mentor them through their project to improve the local community. Before choosing a funding focus they conduct an annual one-on-one needs assessment asking their peers three questions: What do you want to see change? What is missing for young people? What is necessary for youth in Samsun?
Young givers are not afraid to take small steps. Oftentimes youth notice the “little” injustices that may seem silly or benign to adults. You can watch this video about how something as simple as providing access to hair bows transformed an entire community in the Republic of Georgia. You can read this case study to see how “little” things and a mere $500 in the hands of YouthBank grantmakers can provide alternatives to apathy, combat hatred and intolerance, and offer their peers alternatives to joining ISIS.
Multiple generations are working together strengthen the communities they serve. The Tracy Family Foundation has intentionally cultivated four generations to be generous, thoughtful, and strategic grantmakers, by creating an array of opportunities designed to meet family members where they are. CAGES Foundation, serving the indigenous populations in Australia, crafted an innovative investment and grant strategy after many engaging multigenerational conversations. This is an excellent case study for anyone interested in how to maximize all your resources.
Adult role models are important. One thing all youth givers have in common is a parent or mentor who believed in them and showed them how to harness their unique talents and interests to make the world better for others. Brendan Gonzalez, a 15 year-old Guadalupe and Lilia Martinez Foundation Junior Board Member, said, “My mom sits with us and helps us to look into organizations. My mom and uncle both learn with us and help teach us.” Teaching youth how to be philanthropic is very important, but modeling philanthropic behavior and being receptive to their ideas seem to be the most effective, enjoyable, and sustainable models over the long term.
While there are many family foundations who have been around for generations there are newer ones like the Helen J. Serini Foundation (HJS) that often bring in the youngest generations from the very beginning. Successful multigenerational involvement doesn’t happen overnight and requires good governance, clear expectations, and flexibility. Kerry McHugh, HJS board member and program officer, says, “You must be very intentional about giving the next generation a real seat at the table. That person needs to actually be sitting at the table and has to be given a real assignment. To truly incorporate everyone’s voice, you have to allow the conversation to evolve organically and be open to it going in different directions. If you want to involve the next generation, you have to mean it and follow through, which can mean giving up a little control.”
The O’Neill Foundation involves children as young as two into their foundation programs! Children and youth involved early and often in their family’s philanthropy tend to be more interested and engaged in the family foundation in adulthood, and often involve their own children.
Nobody needs to wait to be a philanthropist. Many organizations and resources support youth philanthropy. Check out the treasure trove of expert tips, peer advice, lessons learned, and the incredible data at YouthGiving.org. Then join the movement, share your story, try something new, dig deeper, find an ally, and get involved.
Lauren Hasey Maher is committed to strengthening the philanthropic infrastructure to ensure families, donors, and nonprofits have the best tools and information available to maximize the impact on their communities. Her work allows her to pursue her interest in the critical role that philanthropy plays in enabling people and communities to reach their full potential, the key role of families in this process, and the immense transfer of wealth between generations that is underway.