The first and most important step in starting a youth grantmaking program is to ask as many questions as possible. These should be questions within your community as well as about the broader youth giving movement.
First, survey your community.
This includes: talking to local youth, talking to local nonprofits, and talking with other grantmaking organizations. By doing this, you are speaking with the constituents of your program, your potential grantees, and cultivating partners who can help with the effort. As a corporate funder we didn’t know a lot about any of the items above, so a key move for us was reaching out to our local community foundation. They were able to pull a list of all of the organizations funding youth programs in our community.
Through this process we were able to identify a local nonprofit who had a vision for a similar project. This youth organization had historically funded youth projects, and was hoping to add a layer of youth-led decision making around which projects of their peers to fund. The true beauty of this was that our new nonprofit partner knew the youth to work with and the things that moved them, however, they did not know what much about the grantmaking process, which was our area of expertise. By taking the steps to connect within our community, we set the groundwork for an effective partnership. Now, instead of “competing” we were collaborating! From my experience, any time you can collaborate when working with youth grantmaking programs, the better. Not only did partnering round out our program knowledge, it also doubled the resources – time, talents, treasures, and ties – to impact the youth within our program, and decrease the work for individuals.
In addition, with a full list of youth-driven organizations in the community we now had an idea of who to tap on as we began our request for proposal process. Who better to educate our new youth committee on the needs of these great organizations and programs than the organizations themselves! We effectively did this through a nonprofit panel at one of our monthly meetings, where the youth committee members got to take a turn at being at the question askers.
Connect to the broader movement.
Second, reach out to others in the youth giving movement. By visiting YouthGiving.org you’ve already made a great start. There are numerous program schedules and agendas that you can find, leverage, and make yours. Lessons and activities that are tried and true already exist, so avoid “reinventing the wheel.” Your time is better spent engaging with youth and in the community than creating “lessons.” Check out the YouthGiving.org Learn section to search for these resources!
Last, but not least…
Finally, even when you get the wheels in motion it is important to keep them moving. And the best way to do that is to, you guessed it, keep ASKING QUESTIONS. At the end of the year ask participants what they liked best and where they see room for improvement. Then use this information to continually improve your program moving forward. When asked what they would like to see for the next year, our youth said they wanted to meet more frequently. So, we’re restructuring our schedule and looking forward to an even more involved group this year!