A growing trend we’re seeing today is the rise of youth voices in modern philanthropy. The next generation is ready to take action now.
As recently as 2019, youth ages 10-19 represented 13% of the total population of the United States – more than 41.8 million young people poised to take up the banner of philanthropy and positive action. And according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 55% of young people ages 12 to 19 volunteer or otherwise lend their voices to activism each year.
So how do we engage the other 45% in philanthropy? The good news is that many youth activists – the Greta Thunbergs and Malala Yousafzais of the world – are finding new platforms on social media and in schools.
At the same time, many members of Gen Z are still finding their voices. As we hear from the outspoken, we also need to encourage those kids still hovering on the edges. 2022’s teens and young adults are among some of the most issue-driven, justice-focused of recent generations. It’s high time we welcomed them into the philanthropic fold.
Here are 8 ways to engage the next generation in philanthropy in 2022:
1. Give them a platform.
Youth activism goes beyond the discussion today. For example, US Bank and the University of Minnesota hosted a community workshop initiative driven by students’ reactions to the murder of George Floyd. After a summer of workshops during which students discussed current events and created initiatives for addressing systemic issues, US Bank granted $25,000 to projects run by and for young people around the country. Not only did this initiative offer students a safe, constructive space to discuss their ideas, it offered them the platform and funding they needed to make their ideas a reality.
2. Drive engagement through a giving circle.
Giving circles offer a constructive, collaborative approach to youth giving, along with a learning element that’s hard to find in other philanthropy practices. Using this model, students or friends get together, discuss common issues, and make immediate, impactful change by deciding where to make a collective gift. What’s more, giving circles offer training and experience for the professional world – communication skills, decision-making, budgeting and financial training, among others – and can open lines of communication between generations. Students and youth can engage in giving circles year-round (Example: 100 Teens Who Care Tucson) or they can experience all of this through a one-time pop-up giving circle, which distills the grantmaking process into one session short enough to fit into a school day.
3. Offer creative volunteer work.
Many schools and universities are taking student activism and giving to a new level. Creative volunteer work – a campus-wide Day of Service, a travel-based volunteer program, or volunteering at the polls – puts a new face on giving time and talent. Students are finding new excitement and interest in fields, organizations, and issue areas by volunteering that they would otherwise never have experienced. These experiences can naturally lead to a greater interest in philanthropy.
4. Build the curriculum.
Apart from volunteer work, college and high school curriculum are cited as the main pathway for youth into philanthropy. Designing curriculum around philanthropic history, modern philanthropy, and upcoming trends in social, economic, environmental, and racial justice offer students easy gateways into the philanthropy world. For example, Valparaiso University’s Student Philanthropy Programs (SPP) provide opportunities inside and outside the classroom for students to learn about philanthropy. SPP students are encouraged to discover the issues they’re most passionate about and find ways to turn those passions into action in the community, like SPP-hosted pop-up giving circles. When we make it the norm, rather than the exception, to discuss not only critical issues but also methods for approaching them, we arm the next generation of philanthropists with the resources they need to develop an interest and make a difference.
5. Cover pressing issue areas.
Growing up in the era of Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and other tumultuous social movements, many youth activists want change – and they want it now. It’s not enough to approach youth philanthropy with the traditions of popcorn and cookie sales. Rather than running charity drives or school initiatives for a national nonprofit, get youth engaged in giving back by leveraging support for a local community organization or grassroots initiative.
6. Bridge the gap between generations.
Gen Z is a vocal generation, prepared to use their voices to educate and inspire, starting with their family members. However, conversations surrounding pressing issues like racial and social justice can be tough to tackle at the dinner table. Encouraging a culture of open communication and regular conversation between generations allows youth to have their voices heard – and gives them excellent practice at voicing their thoughts and opinions.
7. Promote mentorship.
While it’s still common for teachers, coaches, religious instructors, and more to play a mentorship role in a young person’s life, today’s youth are less likely to see or identify that person as a “mentor”. Developing concrete mentorship programs, perhaps sponsored by a local nonprofit or community foundation, is a great way to facilitate healthy conversations between generations and allow young philanthropists a seat at the table with their older counterparts. Down the line, these connections between generations can lead to jobs, campaign growth, funding, and other critical components of the nonprofit career.
8. Include young people.
Above all, the next generation wants to be included. Young people are often excluded from processes, practices, and policies that directly impact their lives. It’s time to work with Gen Z, instead of simply aligning our values with the campaigns that work for these up-and-coming activists. It’s on the older generations to provide a safe and productive space for Gen Z, one where budding philanthropists can find their voices, share their thoughts, and see their actions make a positive difference.
Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist within the nonprofit sector. Maggie is the Founder and Executive Director of the agency Get Mighty Creative, as well as a co-founder and the Director of Operations for The Undercard Collective, a giving circle focused on representation in music and the arts. She is a Maryland transplant by way of Florida, Pennsylvania, Ireland, and most recently Salt Lake City, Utah. She has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.