Communication is a valuable and helpful tool in many aspects of life, and philanthropy is not an exception—communication is crucial and vital to the success of a program. Philanthropy requires communication between donors, foundations, and nonprofits. Feedback from those directly affected by funded projects helps grantmaking programs to grow and improve, and gives donors more information and data. Relationships often grow from these conversations, which then allow for even easier and more open communication. When donors remain consistent, these relationships can span decades. However, building relationships can be hard with youth programs, because most have specific age limits for participating youth, creating a constant cycle of new members. If members are only in a program for three or five years, how can we keep board members, donors, and grantees building longstanding relationships and feeling connected to a program? And how can members keep passing down knowledge to new members after they have left? The following is a list of lessons I have learned about knowledge sharing within youth grantmaking programs:
- Share knowledge about people: When meeting with board members, donors, grantees, or even community members as a representative of a youth philanthropy program, keep a list of general topics or things you learned about them that might help the next person connect with them as well. For a first meeting, research might help form this list as well. For example, after meeting with me, you might write Isabel Dawson: Girl Scout, attending Augustana College, passionate about theater and creative writing. Then the next person who meets with me could highlight certain matching characteristics: perhaps they write poetry and have a brother at Augustana. This can help jump start a relationship.
- Use a buddy system: Meetings with board members, donors, and grantees can be awkward and hard at first for youth members, so having a peer partner youth philanthropist can help calm your nerves and carry some of the weight of the conversation, especially if your buddy is more experienced with such meetings. This can also help the donor or grantee because they know one of the members, who introduces them to a new member, who a year or two later, may introduce them to a new member. This way they never have to meet with a stranger and everyone is more comfortable. It also helps returning members get time to connect with new members.
- Create newsletters: Not all information sharing has to happen in person. Newsletters can be a great way to share new information with stakeholders and a great opportunity for youth to hone their writing skills. Making a newsletter monthly or biannually is a great way to give yourself a timeline—and remind future youth members of the expectation to keep sharing information.
- Share clearly stated written accords or contracts: Set clear expectations for future and current members in the program. For example, have them sign a contract stating how many board meetings or grantee meetings they are required to attend. This ensures that they know enough to represent the youth grantmaking program well and answer any questions that the community may ask. You may even have written out goals and expectations of the program, or ask everyone to write a testimonial or give feedback about their time in the program. Writing out the general accomplishments made each year can help future members see where the program came from.
- Use alumni as resources: Have an updated alumni list where members can reach out with questions, or invite alumni to meetings. At these meetings older alumni can share how the program differed in their years, and give advice. Even better are overlapping meetings where graduating, new, and returning members are all invited. My program had returning youth be the ones to explain philanthropy and the program to new youth. I found this was a great way to teach returning members how to teach others, and make the information more relatable to new members.
When it comes down to it, a youth grantmaking program’s constant cycle of new members is actually an advantage in that so many people are involved, and there are always new ideas and a ton of excitement to share. Show others how cool youth philanthropy is, and they are sure to be impressed!