How to Engage Youth in Philanthropy (Hint: Stop Using the Word Leader)

October 21, 2014 at 11:27 am Leave a comment

headshot of Jessica Working in philanthropy, one can’t help but to be constantly thinking about the future – future grant requests, the future impact of investments on the community and the future of our society as a whole.

Not unrelated, I often think about future philanthropists. What will they look like, what will their passions be and more importantly, will they care?

For many in our field, it may be your job to think about the future of philanthropy. For me, these questions prompted me to attend a youth philanthropy summit at the  Pickaway County Community Foundation in Circleville last month, a city just south of Columbus.

If we want to reach young people, teach them about philanthropy and get them excited about playing an active role in the future of our society, we have to change how we approach youth. This was the main message at the youth summit.

But this message totally rings true. We already know that collectively youth are a powerful group to tap into, and formal youth philanthropy programs are prevalent across the state with 26 active programs involving hundreds of young people ages 5 to 22 in Ohio.

Working in the field of philanthropy – and being part of that demographic group we can’t stop talking about, also known as millennials – I see instances nearly every day about how we can (and should) change our message or the way we do things to be more receptive to the next generation.

students pack boxesFor starters, when looking for groups of students to approach to start a youth philanthropy program, don’t go first to the student council or honor societies – most likely they are already involved and the goal should be to reach youth who are totally new to philanthropy. In addition, don’t call your event a “youth leadership event” because many young people don’t see themselves as leaders – at least not yet. Your goal is to turn them into leaders, but using the term “leader” may turn them off altogether.

Here are four other tips I gleaned from the afternoon summit:

  1. A dead room is a dead audience. This should be a best practice not just for youth gatherings, but for how you approach every presentation. You must be engaging or you’ll lose them, and practice the 13-minute rule. Thirteen minutes is the maximum you can expect to have a group’s undivided attention. After that time period, take a break or move on to something new.
  2. If you build it and market it, they will come. But if you don’t have consistency, structure and adult leadership on your end, they’ll do something else. Make it easy to get involved, and providing food doesn’t hurt either.
  3. Seek to understand, not emulate. Just because the store is called Forever 21, doesn’t mean you should shop there! Do keep up on trends in popular culture, slang, etc. but don’t try to pull them off. Kids will see right through you.
  4. Employ social branding. Make sure the youth involved leave with an experience, something to reflect on and an action item. Think about all the other things kids have going on in their day, and set your engagement apart. What makes your group unique, what do you have to offer and what will they get out of it? Think as a marketer, and tap into their attitudes and perspective.

group photo youth philanthropy retreatAs a marketer and a millennial, I know how important it is to meet people at their level. We can’t afford to be blind to the next generation. With the future of philanthropy resting in the hands of youth, it’s in our best interests to involve them now and get them excited and inspired about the role they can play.

If you’re looking for resources for improving or starting a youth philanthropy program, take a look at our youth philanthropy web page, where you can find best practices, resources and a directory of all the youth philanthropy programs in Ohio. Or reach out to me or anyone at Philanthropy Ohio with questions or for assistance.

Best Regards,

jessica signature

Jessica Howard

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