What Should You Focus on When Creating a New Program or Revamping Your Current One?

Luke Sturtz


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.

About Luke Sturtz

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.