Why youth philanthropy matters, and how to make it work

publication date: Feb 23, 2016
author/source: Dave Stuckey

Dave StuckeyYouth philanthropy is gathering steam.

As more of us come around to recognizing the potential of young people as change makers, non-profit organizations of all kinds are making efforts to empower younger generations and engage them in philanthropic action. Youth philanthropy is a unique field; one that’s loaded with potential, and quickly expanding.

In a 2014 report, US-based Foundation Center – one of philanthropy’s leading influencers – recognized youth philanthropy’s growth, identifying over 200 organizations worldwide that now offer youth giving programs. One of the key recommendations from the report will be launched later this year: a resource and data-driven global hub that will connect and inspire youth giving.

A lot at stake

Beyond its role in introducing a new cohort of donors and volunteers, youth philanthropy initiatives align with the generational shift currently facing the Canadian workforce. The “silver tsunami” as it’s been called, will transfer a great deal of sector knowledge and responsibility to youth. It will be a challenge for non-profit organizations to attract new professionals when higher-paying private companies are competing to fill the employment gap, but as the decent work movement has shown, it isn’t an insurmountable one.

Imagine Canada’s Sector Source reports that charities and other non-profits (including hospitals and universities) employ two million Canadians and contribute 8% of Canada’s total GDP. It’s a valuable chunk of the economy, and non-profits – with the help of their boards and funders – have a lot to gain by introducing youth to philanthropy and building capacity and motivation for careers in the field. Keeping the sector strong, vibrant, and growing is crucial. There’s a lot at stake.

Long-term impact starts early

Economics aside, non-profits are at the frontline of social progress and have a mainline to emerging needs and systemic problems. Solving these problems, requires communities of compassionate systemic thinkers. And that begins with young people who grow up with empathy for what’s happening around them.

At the organization I work for, the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI), we see many examples of teenagers using their passion and energy to do good in meaningful and resourceful ways, from challenging stigma and raising awareness about causes and services they care about, to starting grassroots initiatives in their schools and communities, to using their skills to help charitable organizations serve vulnerable people more effectively.

Attracting skilled workers to the field is important. But developing youth that actually care is the takeaway here. Encourage compassionate values and attitudes, and youth will reflect them in the paths they choose and the citizens they become.

What’s the best approach to engage younger generations?

From our experience, best practices are emerging that give youth an opportunity to genuinely engage in philanthropy. They form meaningful connections with non-profit organizations and professionals, take on real responsibility, and develop useful skills and competencies. Young people shouldn’t merely be thought of as philanthropists in training. They’re capable and innovative and simply need the opportunity to showcase their abilities.

In this series, we’ll explore best practices in youth philanthropy: what works, why it works, and dive further into the benefits it yields for young people, the non-profit sector, and our communities.

Dave Stuckey manages communications for the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative, a multi award-winning secondary school program that strengthens the social sector by engaging youth in social issues, local charities, and grant-making. You can contact him at dave@goypi.org

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