Youth Advisory Committees Teach Teens About Philanthropy
During her three years in grant making, Sabena Carim has had many highs and lows. She cherishes the help she was able to give a children’s theater production; she frets over the fact that she couldn't be more supportive of a woman who wanted to develop her horse farm as a service for the disabled. "The hardest part is that you meet so many passionate people and you want to do more, but there's only so much money. You have to make good choices."
Sounds like a typical foundation staff member. But Sabena is 17. She has developed her philanthropic skills and savvy as part of the Youth Advisory Committee of Berks County Community Foundation in Reading, PA. And she's part of a growing trend in youth-directed giving.
A growing number of community foundations are developing YACs. In many cases, the funds are permanently endowed and youth involvement is mandated.
One of the most immediate benefits of a YAC is the impact youth-directed funding can have on the youth issues in a community. Young people themselves are often uniquely qualified to identify areas of need—and potential solutions—in their own circles. "Kids are able to say what's really bothering kids in their own communities," says Richard Mapping, vice president for grant making at Berks County Community Foundation.
Two years ago, the young members of the Berks YAC funded several programs that provided alternative activities to drug use. This sprang from their knowledge that recreational drugs such as Ecstasy were more common in their community than most adults knew. The year’s grants supported a youth-centric production of "Fame" and the county's first skateboarding park.
In the following year, members of the YAC focused their efforts on strengthening the bonds of local families by backing a parent-child weekend church program and parenting classes at a local library. “Donors are often surprised at what teenagers can do,” says Mapping. “But the YACS have been quite successful in developing their own RFPs and their own ideas about how they want to do grant making.”
Developing Future Leaders in Giving
In many communities, YACs are a way for young people to become involved in their communities and develop leadership skills. "We are nurturing the philanthropic sector’s future leaders," says Robert Collier, president of the Michigan Community Foundation's youth project in Grand Haven, MI.
YAC participants generally serve from two to four years, and the work provides them with valuable hands-on giving experience. "If you can encourage young people to volunteer their time and talent, they will likely continue to do so throughout their lives," says Mapping.
YAC members are also starting to reach out to the next generation and set them on the giving path. A Michigan-based YAC has begun giving mini-grants of up to $500 to grade school children for class-related projects such as buying materials for special science projects or new books for the school library.
Providing New Ways to Help Kids
Private foundations often provide initial funding for YACs, which, once up and running, are then able to do their own fundraising. Collier says YACs provide a great opportunity for community foundation donors to make grants to causes that benefit youths. "The idea of a permanent youth fund resonates with a lot of people.”
YACs have the opportunity to grow stronger when they are established within a community foundation. The community foundation provides the YAC with the philanthropic infrastructure to succeed. Additionally, the mentors assigned to help guide the youth running the YAC teach the kids the process of giving. In this way, young people involved with YACs learn how to become more effective philanthropists.
“It's an exciting model,” says Collier. “The young grant makers are getting just as much from the program as they kids they are trying to help.”