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Growing the Field of Youth Philanthropy: A Funder’s Perspective

November 14, 2014

While working with young members of the Lumpkin Family Foundation as a program officer a few years back, I quickly realized I had two needs:

  1. age-appropriate resources to support younger members of the family (ages 16-21) in developing their own grantmaking process based on best practices in the field; and
  2. to connect these younger family members with other young people involved in their own family's foundation.

Youth_philanthropy_screenshotThrough the foundation's national membership association connections, I was able to connect with the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation (FCF), and the young family members at FCF graciously agreed to meet up with the younger Lumpkin family members to share their experiences. That meeting served as a catalyst for a significant shift in the programmatic and grantmaking focus of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation to youth philanthropy. In 2012, I moved from the Lumpkin Family Foundation to FCF to help lead that effort, which today is known as Youth Philanthropy Connect (YPC), a youth-led initiative for young people between the ages of 8 and 21 who want to get involved in philanthropy work, with a focus on grantmaking.

Soon after I arrived, FCF began more broadly to reach out to other foundations that were actively engaging younger family members in their grantmaking, and we quickly developed a lengthy and diverse list of organizations that were active in this space. Through our outreach efforts, we learned that the heads of family foundations increasingly are engaging younger generations for succession planning and wealth transfer purposes; community foundations are engaging youth in grantmaking activities as a way to build the philanthropic capacity of the community; and private and public schools are incorporating community change efforts and grantmaking activities into their classrooms and afterschool programs.

As my colleagues and I learned more about these efforts, it became apparent that a Google search for "youth philanthropy" barely scratched the surface of all there was to know about the rapidly growing number of programs and opportunities focused on developing smart young philanthropists. It also became apparent that, in many cases, youth grantmaking efforts often were unaware of each other, and that youth grantmaking programs were being designed from scratch even though there are lots of great resources out there for organizations interested in cultivating greater youth participation in their grantmaking activities. Unfortunately, those resources are not very well organized and, in many cases, aren't even available online. Finally, we had a hunch there was an even bigger story to tell about youth philanthropy, a story that needed to touch on the following questions:
  • How many young people are engaged in youth philanthropy? And how can we reach more?
  • How much money annually is allocated by young people involved in philanthropy? And to what type of organizations?
  • What's the impact of youth grantmaking on the young people involved? On foundations? And on the nonprofit organizations and communities supported by that grantmaking?

At FCF, we knew these questions were important to answer. But we also believed those answers should be grounded in a broader sector context. Fortunately, I knew Jen Bokoff, director of the Foundation Center's GrantCraft initiative and a youth philanthropy advocate in her own right, and I contacted her about what the center could do to help us figure out what data on youth philanthropy are (and are not) available and how we could use it to further organize the network of people who are passionate about and involved in youth philanthropy and grantmaking.

The result of the investigative grant we made to the center is a just-released report, Scanning the Landscape of Youth Philanthropy: Observations and Recommendations for Strengthening a Growing Field (40 pages, PDF). Among other things, the report highlights the stories of youth grantmaking efforts like the ones I first heard through the Lumpkin and Fox foundations, and it proves our hunch that there is way more happening in youth philanthropy than we had imagined — both in terms of geographic scope and the variety of models that have been developed. We also learned that there's a real lack of connection and information sharing among those involved in youth philanthropy, especially among the young people who are participants in and the focus of this work. It is our hope that the report will encourage others to share what they are doing, which, in turn, should make it easier for all of us, working together, to more strategically organize this emerging field.

At the end of the report, you will find a handful of recommendations. FCF will be working with a number of like-minded funders in 2015 to develop a curated youth philanthropy website. If you would like to learn more about the project, or would simply like to talk youth philanthropy and grantmaking, I'm happy to connect at [email protected].

We know that getting young people involved  in grantmaking helps them develop critical personal and professional skills that they can use over their lifetime. Won't you join us in learning about, encouraging, and  growing a movement of youth who are passionate about social change and know how to make it happen!

Annie Hernandez, Ph.D., is executive director of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation in Studio City, California, and leads the foundation's national Youth Philanthropy Connect program.


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