During my time as a youth philanthropist, I have been a part of two amazing organizations: the HANDS Foundation (Helping Achieve New Direction through Students) & phish (philanthropic ideas strategy and heart).  phish is composed of members from youth pods like HANDS, and serves as facilitators, middle-men, and host workshops for the youth pods determined to making a service-oriented impact within their respective communities. Youth pods under the Dekko Foundation are located in Indiana, Alabama, Minnesota, and Iowa—locations of Dekko manufacturing plants. I joined HANDS in the eighth grade, and over time, I quickly learned that philanthropy was a part of who I am.  As I grew in my own understanding of philanthropy, I wanted to find a way to give back to this organization that had shown me what it felt like to be a real philanthropist.  As a result, I have worked to make HANDS more impactful for its community and more empowering for its members.  When I graduate this year, I want HANDS to be even better than it was when I came into the group five years ago.  That way, it can continue to grow new philanthropists for many years to come!

One of our newest programs is a project called Charitable Champions. While examining our community this past year, we determined that a big issue was a lack of a giving and philanthropic mindset. While asking fellow peers around our community, many people couldn't even define philanthropy! With the help of the Dekko Foundation, a few other HANDS members, including myself, filmed 10 professionally produced videos covering topics from grantmaking to nonprofits. As youth is the basis of our organization, we determined middle schoolers to be a great focus for our project. Throughout a few months, every eighth grader from a local middle school watched our videos. The videos, however, were only a small aspect of our ultimate goal. In addition, groups of three-to-four students developed their own grant requests after visiting with local nonprofits at a nonprofit fair. Ultimately, the HANDS Foundation chose seven of our favorite groups and gave them a total of $7,000 to invest in their own community!

Given all that I have learned over the past five years with these organizations, here is some of my best advice about creating or revamping a program:

When creating or revamping an organization of any kind, the most common question is, “Where do I start!?” The actual process may not be as hard as it initially seems. With some careful planning and insight on your end-goal, creating a feel, look, and name for your soon-to-be program will be a piece of cake.

Feel: The fact that you are looking to revamp or create a program in the first place hopefully means that you at least have a general idea of the answer to the question, “What for?” Before progressing any further, you have to get a feel for your community.  For many programs developing in small towns, a community's most dire needs are often simply known or obvious. If not, a simple community needs survey can prove to be very effective (this can also help in larger target areas, but be sure to survey areas of varying wealth. You don't want biased feedback!). Let’s say that I want to start a philanthropic program whose focus is to improve literacy. Before I do that, I have to ask myself some questions: Is there a need in the community for this new program? Who is my target audience—young people, old people, or both? What is the method to my madness (how am I going to improve literacy)? And so on.

Now if you don’t have a solid answer to every question, don’t panic. Many programs are structured with the desire to make a difference, developing their focus along the way. Many even completely change routes while revamping. The biggest piece of advice, however, is to have a goal. Don’t say something broad like “I want to make a difference.” By having a concrete goal, a numerical value that can be reached, you are setting yourself up for success. Ex: By January 1, 2017, our goal is to have improved the literacy rate from 78 percent to 85 percent in our community.

Look: What is your program going to “look” like? Do you want to include youth, adults, or a collaboration of both? Will you work behind the scenes or in the spotlight? An important aspect of any program is a logo and a slogan. These don’t have to be too fancy, just enough to give a face to your work—it provides an easy way for advertisement and for showcasing your influence. In my line of work, we often put logos on donations and plaques within our community to let others know that we had a hand in a specific project.

Name: The name of a prgoram can be anything from that of an influential person involved in the creation of the program itself to a catchy acronym. If you are having trouble naming a program, try creating your mission statement first. While this may seem backwards, creating a defined statement of what it is you want to do can make naming your program much easier. For example, if you decide you want your mission statement to be, “Providing the education and knowledge to progress and inspire future young leaders in a collaborative and social format,” your new name could be TILT (Teamwork Inspired Leadership Training.) It is catchy and captures what you are hoping to achieve!

You have knowledge to share and give back! Check out this video of me sharing the definition of philanthropy with others locally. Anyone can be a philanthropist, even students like you and me.  It doesn’t take a lot of money, just time and the desire to make a difference.  If you have these two things, I know your work will be amazing!  If you’re debating giving locally or globally, or you've started to give locally and you want to do global work next, you can learn more from my experiences here.

June 21, 2016

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About Luke Sturtz

Luke Sturtz is an engaged with phish (Philanthropic Ideas Strategy and Heart), YPC Leadership Team and graduating senior at Churubusco High School in Northeast Indiana.  He has been engaged with youth philanthropy since eighth grade.

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As a young person, I advocated for every cause I cared about. I’d post articles on the wall of our school cafeteria about almost every issue (I was passionate about them all) and fundraise (and eventually recruit an entire team) for our local AIDS walk. I even was a very early volunteer in creating a nonprofit named MotherHouse.  Through my work with that nonprofit, I became engaged in youth philanthropy. I applied for a project grant from my local community foundation’s youth philanthropy committee on behalf of my school volunteer club (leveraging lots of volunteers and great donations too!).  With lots of great donations and helpful volunteers, we were able to use the grant to redo an entire room at MotherHouse. Then, I actually joined my local community foundation, Community Foundation of Northern Illinois’s (CFNIL) In Youth We Trust Youth Advisory Council, because I had seen the deep impact that was possible through youth philanthropy.

We put out a call for application, received applications for grants, invited nonprofits in for interviews, deliberated, and then presented our decisions to the board of directors. I presented to the board of CFNIL a few times, and it certainly made me nervous.  They were really nice people – I remember a community member I knew well who always said hello or waved.  He made a point to make us comfortable, which I appreciate to this day.  The CFNIL staff was always there at these morning meetings to help us present, answer questions, and then leave for school! Since these board meeting experiences many years ago, I have had jobs across the field at foundations (big and small) and joined boards myself.  I have always come back to the things I learned as a youth grantmaker:

  • Be familiar with your grantmaking – for example your application, your grants you are putting forward, and the grants you are suggesting not be funded – and the documents you gave the board. Bring a copy for yourself! (Back when I was young, it was always paper, but that still helps a lot as tech errors, do happen!).  And make sure to have your final grant recommendations easily accessible.
  • Prepare yourself to discuss how you made grant decisions and why you decided what you did as a group. Boards want to know about your thoughtful decision-making.  Make sure you know what part you will explain, and your co-presenters will too—you want to make sure they can cover things too (and you remember who is doing what).
  • Dress well and practice. You don’t have to talk as fast as a race car drives! You can practice standing and talking to a group or however your meeting will happen with your parents or a mirror or friends. Remember, you are representing all the youth engaged in your program and meeting with community professionals (or other volunteers giving their time to serve on the board) to convince them to approve your grants. You’re representing your and your peers’ hard work and deliberation, and also that of the grantees.
  • It’s okay to pause and think about answers to questions! Taking time to give a thoughtful answer, rather than the first answer that comes to mind, will be appreciated by the board. (And if you don’t know, you can always say that you aren’t sure and will check a grant application or get back to someone.)
  • Leverage the context. You likely have amazing staff and advisors (like I did) who have made a great opportunity for you and for the board to learn about your work. If you have questions or something you want to ask or share, your great staff and advisors can help you prepare that question or opportunity too.
  • Don’t forget to thank the board! You have an amazing opportunity (after all, it’s how I got engaged in the field I now work in everyday) and they are approving making it all possible. You want this opportunity for other youth in the future.

I was really lucky, as we had amazing staff support from the foundation – our advisors, our staff program officer, and even the foundation’s president.  Fast forward to today…what did I learn and why would I suggest you have youth speak with your board to learn these skills?  For me, adults, I feel like there is no better way to get your board ignited about the work your youth are doing and to give youth the opportunity to learn all of these skills, while also giving them the opportunity to defend their own grant decisions as well.

In my jobs at community foundations across the country (big and small! older and younger!), it isn’t common that newer staff get to present to the board—let alone even be in the room or near it.  It’s something that makes a lot of senior staff really nervous. You can always tell when it is board meeting day by the energy.  As a young person, volunteer for this opportunity! You can learn great skills by trying out this opportunity like public speaking, defending your own decisions, and speaking up for your peers and nonprofits you care about. The biggest skill I have today is one you learn by doing this—I am comfortable in that room—knowing that the board is made up of people who want you to succeed and who are invested in their community (or the topic you fund) too. And when you get a job – regardless of the field  – someday you will present to decision-makers, and you will know how!


June 15, 2016

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About Katherine Scott

Katherine Scott is a proud alumna of the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois’s In Youth We Trust Youth Advisory Council from Rockford, IL.  She currently lives in Boston, MA and is Director, Youth Philanthropy for Youth Philanthropy Connect, supporting youth philanthropists across the world to connect them to tools, resources, and each other.

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As a former member of the Battle Creek Community Foundation’s Youth Alliance Committee (YAC) and also the Michigan Community Foundations Youth Project, I’ve seen community needs assessments from both the view of a participant in the assessment and also as the creator of the assessment. A community needs assessment is a tool through which your program can gather information from those in your community, especially young people, about what needs they have and what is most important to them. The needs assessment is unique to each program and community, but ultimately it can be used to ensure the effectiveness of your giving.

The most important starting point for a needs assessment is a conversation about the end goal. Will you use the results of the assessment to inform grantmaking decisions? Will you use it to revise your application for future grantees? Are you simply looking for results to share with other organizations and the rest of the community? Or will it serve multiple purposes? An effective needs assessment is a lot of work on the part of both the youth and the adult(s) who support them, but once it’s done and the results are analyzed, it can completely change how you go about your giving.

Another important step is deciding what your sample population will be and how to make it as representative as possible. The tried and true method is reaching youth through local schools and colleges in the areas where you’re looking to make an impact. Through this method you can ensure that you’re gathering information from the populations that you are interested in and that the youth in your program can easily take an active role in the assessment. Making connections with administrators is key here (a helpful role that adults can play!), and of course, don’t forget to involve the youth that actually attend these schools. Targeting English, Math, or other general classes in which to announce the assessment and ask students to take a few minutes and participate, makes reaching a significant portion of the student population much easier. Oftentimes when conducting these sort of assessments it is Advanced Placement or honors classes that are surveyed, but this may be counterproductive to your goal of gathering representative data for the general population of young people in a given community.

needsassesmentThere are a myriad of different formats for a needs assessment, but I’ve found that to ensure accuracy, reach a larger portion of your sample, and make less work for YOU, an online (and usually free) survey maker such as SurveyMonkey or Google Survey is the best option. Survey questions and response options will vary depending on your region, program, type, and overall goal but a great place to start is collecting demographics such as school district, age, and grade. Single answer questions such as asking youth to rank issues in their community from most to least important, paired with free response questions such as those that give youth the space to describe their favorite thing about their community, gives you a chance to analyze response data as well as pull meaningful answers and quotes from the assessment. When it comes to actually distributing the survey or assessment, it’s great to make sure there’s a youth philanthropist present in the room. Hearing from a young person who is a peer of those taking the surveys about why this survey is important can produce responses that are more thoughtful and complete.

A final recommendation is to consider sharing the results of your assessment once it is analyzed. Keeping the wealth of information learned from this process within your program is not as helpful to your community as sharing the knowledge. The foundations, nonprofits, school boards, local government, and even parents in your community will be interested in the findings of your study. You could share the results any number of ways – through social media, a newspaper article, a presentation, or even by posting the survey on your website. Once you’ve put in the work to make a community needs assessment happen, make sure you think: how will I make our results accessible to others in my community?

April 22, 2016

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About Danielle LaJoie

Danielle LaJoie is a political science student at the University of Michigan interested in policy, advocacy, nonprofit work, and philanthropy. She has worked with organizations such as the Council of Michigan Foundations, Youth Philanthropy Connect, the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation, and the National Center for Family Philanthropy, and is particularly interested in grantmaking, the youth philanthropy movement, and community foundation work.

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Excellent curriculum starts with the end in mind. Ask yourself, “What do I want youth to know and be able to do?” Starting with a clear understanding of what youth need to know as philanthropic citizens or grantmakers is the most meaningful way to guide a program’s activities and lesson content. Learning to Give, the philanthropy education resource that I run, is founded on a research-based framework of philanthropy standards and benchmarks that inform our informational papers,  1,700 lesson plans, educator mini-courses, literature guides, student activities, and other resources. The standards were developed by a panel of nationwide scholars and respected experts in the philanthropy field and are intended to optimize curricular planning across grades K-12. To me, a strong framework is a gift for curriculum designers because it takes out some of the guesswork and shifts our focus to creative exploration of a set of learning priorities.

A good curriculum exposes youth to deeper and deeper knowledge over time, and increases their philanthropic independence through repeated and varied hands-on experiences and reflection.  Our framework also emphasizes these critical themes:

  • Definitions of philanthropy (describe and compare the three sectors of society)
  • Philanthropy and civil society (the relationship between philanthropy and democracy)
  • Philanthropy and the individual (reasons to volunteer and careers in philanthropy)
  • Volunteerism and service (skills of volunteering, service, fundraising, and service-learning)

Effective philanthropy education includes teaching the knowledge, skills, and action of these philanthropy themes. While experiences with service can be powerful for youth, knowledge and skills provide context and motivation to make the service more impactful and lead to lifelong philanthropy practice.

  • Teaching the knowledge of philanthropy, including definitions, historic models, and understanding of the role of philanthropy in civil society, can deepen one-time service into service-learning or create a more lasting impact on the giver. For example, second grade students may meet a local philanthropist, define selflessness, or articulate the benefits and goals of saving for the future. Eighth-grade students may learn about Carnegie’s financial gift of libraries and the women who made it work locally. Eleventh graders may hear stories of Civil Rights Movement advocates and research careers in nonprofits. Several Learning to Give lessons teach the motivations for giving in faiths and cultures, showing students that universality of giving. One of our most popular lessons is a science lesson that teaches the mechanics of the water cycle and leads students to recognize the importance of conservation and personal responsibility.
  • Skills of philanthropy may be taught through the tools and techniques of action, such as using social media for advocacy, evaluating proposals and nonprofits, organizing a fundraiser, reading financial reports, and investigating issues. In one lesson, students learn advocacy skills through an investigation of news stories and social media, comparing positive and negative examples of people using their voice to make a difference about gun control, the environment, or the arts. Through critical thinking and communication, they turn their analysis into action. Because there are so many lessons, students have the opportunity to learn a wide variety of skills across a variety of issue areas, therefore developing their personal interests and competencies.
  • Youth action may take many forms, from collecting cans for a food drive to tutoring to advocating for safe drinking water at the state government. Adults may organize the earliest experiences, but as youth gain experience and techniques, they organize events that arise out of investigation along with personal resources and interests. Independent youth philanthropists use problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication skills with each other and in the wider community, while making the world a better place. This empowers youth to feel they are truly good people who can make a contribution, and they are grounded on a path to participatory citizenship and philanthropy.

Every learning opportunity – whether it’s a year-long curriculum or a one hour after school workshop – should build knowledge, skills, and action. Although we may be born with an innate sense of caring, philanthropy is not a skill we are born with. It is developed and nurtured with caring adults through repeated practice and exposure to well-organized and diverse ideas, skills, and experience.

March 19, 2016

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About Betsy Peterson

Betsy is the director of Learning to Give.

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This is probably one of the most frequent questions that we regularly have heard in our work with youth philanthropy programs over the past decade. As a national training agency, we provide over 150 days of training each year to foundations, youth serving agencies, school systems, and more. We have the opportunity to work with some amazingly passionate and committed adults (and youth) that are poised to create tremendous changes in their communities.

It’s exciting to be part of a movement, and intoxicating to see young people transform their schools, neighborhoods, parks, and synagogues in real time. But before the RFP’s printed and oversized checks awarded, we must first gain the attention, trust, and commitment of the youth givers themselves. This relationship is not automatically created, but rather through a combination of time, patience, and more than a few boxes of pizza, a bond is formed. Once established, the question than becomes: HOW do you train a dynamically stimulated youth population to be authentic givers with a focus on long-term change?

While not an exhaustive list, the following five key tactics serve as the underpinnings of the work that we have done with over 2,000 youth philanthropists in the past decade:

1. It’s not about the money
Although it’s an easy draw/carrot/incentive, when we focus philanthropy explicitly on a financial grantmaking experience, we’ve short-changed the model and in turn, misconstrued the holistic meaning of philanthropy. You don’t have to be financially wealthy to be a philanthropist. And you don’t have to have money to “do” philanthropy. Rather, it’s a practice of giving the 3T’s: Time, Talent, Treasure.

If you are just launching a youth grant making initiative, we often suggest that you front load at least 60% of the program with a focus on community needs (see Roots vs. Branches, below) and ways that acts of service and giving can address these issues. Often we start with the question: How did you get here, to this stage in your life? Who helped you? And what if instead of trying to pay them back, you paid it forward? These Millennials and Gen-Z givers represent two generations that has been wired to be nontraditionally altruistic, and service is in their DNA. Capitalize on the passion to change the world first, and then secondly the allure of being responsible for a grant pool.

2. Dead room = dead audience
Music and media are king. There’s a reason why earbuds are permanent extensions of our bodies, as we are motivated by our own personal soundtracks and influences. In our trainings, you will never walk into a silent room. Rather, the music of today (and admittedly some old school) are just as important to the success of the agenda as is the food (yes - you must feed them). But it’s just not filler noise; rather, we know that we can use a lot of today’s music and movies to help teach giving in a non-traditional technique. From dissecting the lyrics of Kendrick Lamar’s “I” or The Script’s “Hall of Fame” or K’naan’s “Is Anybody Out There”, to using video clips from movies, multimedia can amplify how we teach our young people to care about and change their community. One of our favorite resources can be found at WingClips.com - a legal service to download pre-edited movie clips for you to use with young people. Because although you and I might be really good at what we do, Queen Latifah in “The Secret Life of Bees” or Katniss in “Hunger Games” can drive home our same message with a drastically different impact.

3. 13 Minute Rule
You just tried to pull up a website, and you get that spinning pinwheel of death. You know - the signal that tells you that it might take some time for the page to load. How long will you wait? 1 minute? 2 minutes? 10 seconds? This is a generation that has learned “click, move on” if something is moving too slow. We have to teach giving at the same rate. Instead of a long drawn out lecture, or stuffy boardroom meeting, take an avant-garde approach to youth philanthropy, where every 13 minutes the stimulus is switched. Perhaps it’s a new concept, different activity, introduction of a video clip, or use of an interactive group experience like this one. Regardless of the content, the delivery needs to be rapid, relevant, and hands on. Of course there are a great wealth of activities and modules that can be used - including those found at learningtogive.org, and many of which are included on youthgiving.org’s Learn page.

4. Roots v. Branches
Teaching about giving is one thing. Teaching how to be selective with your time to make the greatest impact is another. When we present the concept of philanthropy and giving of their 3T’s to those around them, one of the first questions we start with is: “How will your giving IMPACT another”? In order to answer this, however, the conversation is directed to the prevalence of community needs. What are the biggest challenges or issues that youth are facing where you live? What are the symptoms (or “branches” on a tree diagram) of those challenges? It’s easy to get caught up in the quick fixes that are highlighted in proposals that we read.

Let’s teach our young people how to give to the ROOTS of a community problem. Whether in the form of treasure or time, when we address the causal factors of the challenges our youth face, we gain a greater investment on our giving.

5. Learn from outside philanthropy as much as in…
There are a lot of resources that are designed to teach young people how to give, and many are tremendously innovative! At the same time, there are a lot of tools that were not necessarily designed with a philanthropic use in mind, but can be adapted to create that WOW experience with our young people. Some of our favorites (in addition to great tools from inside the sector found at Teen Philanthropy Cafe, Talk About Giving, and YPII) include:

  • Penny Jars: A “Survivor” like voting experience to allow youth to sharpen their focus of RFP’s.
  • Consensus models: It’s the most difficult way to collectively allocate grants, but also the most challenging (as compared to democracy or majority votes). This is truly one of our favorites.
  • Cappuccino Concept: Or more specifically the foam on top (could also use the imagery of foam on top of a poured soda) can represent the concept of an endowment - skimming the interest off the top.
  • teachingtolerance.org: An absolutely invaluable tool designed to address social justice in our work with young people.
  • simplyyouthministry.com: Customized gaming software (without any faith reference) to introduce giving concepts
  • crowdcontrolgames.com: More gaming software.

What are some of your favorite tools and techniques to teach young people how to give?

March 7, 2016

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About Eric Rowles

Eric Rowles is the president and CEO of Leading to Change. He is a nationally recognized trainer, speaker, and consultant who has worked with over 150,000 youth, adults, administrators, professionals, and policymakers within the past 15 years.

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