How Do We Train Youth To Be Givers?


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 – 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, and many of which are included on’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.
  • An absolutely invaluable tool designed to address social justice in our work with young people.
  • Customized gaming software (without any faith reference) to introduce giving concepts
  • More gaming software.

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

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.