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Shake Up Your Grantmaking with Youth Philanthropy

Involving youth in philanthropic activities is not a new idea. It’s something that parents, teachers, mentors, churches, and so on have been doing for a long time. Teaching kids about donating their time, resources, and talents to charitable causes has its obvious purpose… to pass on responsibility of our society, our legacies, to the next generation. But there is a more recent movement that takes that idea and desire to mold the next generation of philanthropists to a different level.

Youth participating at the board level of grantmaking might seem like a scary prospect, but it has its proven merits. Aside from the fact that we at Foundant feel that the next generations truly deserve a seat at the table, we’ve also seen for ourselves that they can make a real difference given the chance. Their unique perspective, enthusiasm, and energy bring surprising results and can offer the “shake up” your grantmaking might need.

A “next gen” or youth advisory board can create and promote a diversity that isn’t often considered. Kids have a much different perspective on community programs, youth centers, and outreach programs that can open possibilities for collaboration. Whether you’re looking to involve younger board members in a family foundation, a local nonprofit, or a community foundation – there are benefits to this diversity.

People learn easier when they are younger.

According to an article shared through Sports Coach UK

Kids learn faster than adults because the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where working memory is stored, is more developed in adults than children. Due to the development of the prefrontal cortex, adults experience functional fixedness and that makes adults see everything exactly as it is.

Mind you, this article was written with sports coaching in mind, but it makes some valid points. The author, David Turner – sports coach UK Development Lead (Coaching Children) and Athletics Coach in Loughborough, England points out that…

An adult sees a tennis racket as a tennis racket or a shuttlecock as exactly that. However, the under-developed prefrontal cortex in a child allows children to be far more inventive than that, as their prefrontal cortex is not limiting their ability to be creative and flexible. You’ll probably know this as “thinking outside the box.”

So this is why a child can see a broomstick as a javelin or the mattress as a trampoline. As a result, children are often better than adults at solving tasks that require a creative solution, such as being set a challenge with limited equipment.

One might assume that the obvious lack of experience the youth have would hinder them in some way, but it is exactly this that lends the ability to see the possibilities. After all, it is experience and the knowledge that “this is the way things are” that actually puts constraints on our creativity and ability to “think outside the box.”

Younger generations are more likely to break down barriers to efficient grantmaking.

It’s all too common in philanthropy today for grantmakers and grantseekers to end up on opposite sides of a “wall” – each ultimately with the same goal, but unable to see how collaboration benefits each side. During the annual Youth Philanthropy Connect event, the second day is dedicated to having youth from grantmaking organizations and local nonprofits in search of funds spend time together learning more about each other, and how the grantmaking process affects them differently.

As sponsors of YPC, we’ve witnessed this portion of the grantmaking session and invariably notice that the youth in attendance are able to find many common interests and traits. Instead of allowing assumptions or biases to govern their discussions and decisions, they become familiar with the nonprofit organizations and, more importantly, the people involved. This makes the grantmaking session, which concludes the conference, easier and better.

Youth have a certain boldness and lack of fear.

Youth see big problems and often immediately begin to suggest ways to solve them… before considering obstacles or why it “can’t” be done. During our involvement with youth philanthropy, we’ve been able to listen to many articulate and passionate discussions regarding education, environmental and even economic issues. These kids understand the severity of some of the problems we face locally, nationally and globally – but this generation does not feel they can (or should) wait for someone else to solve the problems for them. They are ready to jump in with both feet and put their passion behind the causes that matter to them.

Recently, we partnered with our local Bozeman Area Community Foundation and the Bozeman Youth Initiative to create the Youth Giving Project here at home. This project was comprised of a group of 10 kids, ages 13 – 18 years. They met once a month from September 2015 through May 2016 and accepted 24 applications. Their mission? Youth funding ideas to inspire and impact their communities.

This wasn’t just a “pretend” grant cycle to teach kids how grantmaking works. They got into the nitty gritty – defined their own mission and funding guidelines, open the Request for Proposals (RFP), and ended up giving 10,000 very real dollars to seven different projects. They had reason and purpose – rather than just “giving a little to everyone” (which would be the easy way), they reviewed the applications, stuck to their mission, and narrowed it down to the causes they felt strongest about.

Youth can make funding decisions and, in some cases, maybe better than we adults. If you’ve been looking for a way to revive your grantmaking or breathe new life into your processes – their unique perspectives, creativity, and guts might just give you what you’ve been looking for.

Mark Larimer

Mark Larimer leads the Marketing and Client Services teams at Foundant Technologies. His past careers with Extended Systems and RightNow Technologies gives him the experience to understand technology... his compassion allows him to see how technology can be used to make people's lives easier and the philanthropic sector better and more efficient. During the winter months, Mark can usually be found on the ski hill... when he's not in the office making jokes and finding ways to help our philanthropic clients. Follow Mark on Twitter at @MarkLarimer