Reaching Young Donors
Young people are less likely than older adults to donate money or time to charity. The key to reaching them may be engaging them as leaders in charitable projects, giving them responsibility and the power to make decisions.
In 2003, 14-year-old Anthony Phillips attended a workshop held by Youth Venture, a national nonprofit that seeks to engage young people in charitable leadership, on how young people can impact local communities. The seminar inspired Anthony, along with four other attendees, to create their own charity to benefit the urban youth in his hometown of Philadelphia. Their idea: to educate teens on serious issues, like teen pregnancy and domestic violence, by relaying their message during events such as variety shows or a high school all-star basketball game.
With guidance from Youth Venture and the Tavis Smiley Foundation, they created a business plan and were awarded $1,000 in seed money from Youth Venture. Anthony’s nonprofit, Youth Action, went to Youth Venture for advice on budgeting and marketing. Youth Action continues to reach 5,000 teenagers a year with educational presentations. Although he now attends Bates College in Maine, Anthony remains involved with the nonprofit he helped establish. “We’re going to be working in the community probably for the rest of our lives,” he says.
By encouraging him to choose his passion and showing him how to take initiative, Youth Venture ensured Anthony’s engagement. But unlike Anthony, most of the younger generation lags behind its elders when it comes to donating time or money to charities. According to a survey by Harris Interactive, 75 percent of those younger than 30 donated money in the past year, compared with 95 percent aged 50 and older—a difference of 20 percent. A similar discrepancy was seen in the percentage of young people who volunteered their time.
But more and more organizations are finding that the best way to mobilize young adults is by giving them responsibility and decision-making powers.
Finding the Right Motives
“The number one reason young people don’t get involved with nonprofits is because they aren’t asked,” says Nicole Sanchez, executive director of Berkeley, California’s Youth Philanthropy Worldwide, which organizes youth to address international issues. According to Sanchez, charities need to reach out and grab the attention of Generation Y, aged 12 to 27. Most have overplanned lives; they grew up heavily involved with schools, sports, and other activities—a busy schedule few kicked upon reaching the workforce. The younger segment lacks the autonomy that comes with driver’s licenses and bank accounts.
Many young people don’t know where to give or who needs the most help, Sanchez says. Therefore, Youth Philanthropy breaks down global issues into understandable pieces. The organization also tries to build an emotional connection between the young people and those they aid. For example, if a student wants to help educate girls in Afghanistan, Youth Philanthropy will show them photos of schools and homes in the area and try to line them up with an Afghan e-mail pen pal.
Social Class and Civic Engagement
Social class and wealth may play a significant role in determining which young people become involved in charitable works. According to a recent report from the National Conference on Citizenship, people who dropped out of high school were substantially less likely than college graduates to volunteer their time for charity or vote in elections. As the social divide expands, so too does the chasm in civic engagement. However, the report also finds that young people are beginning to volunteer more time than they have in recent years.
Youth Venture is one group that focuses on training youth from disadvantaged backgrounds to become leaders in their communities. It has helped finance 1,000 community projects developed by entrepreneurial students—but still a top challenge is reaching their target group. To do so, it partners with companies like MTV and Ben & Jerry’s or local chapters of organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs. It also relies on word of mouth in close-knit immigrant areas.
Youth Venture also trains its nonprofit entrepreneurs in goal setting, business development, and marketing. Part of the plan includes finding an adult “ally” who will help guide them through the preparation of their sales pitch, since their venture needs to be approved by local community leaders and other Youth Venture grantees. “The main thing that we’ve learned is that you have to give space for them to take initiative,” says Gretchen Zucker, executive director of Youth Venture. “The more you let young people lead and decide how they can have impact, the better.”
Engaging Affluent Children
Those working with privileged youth face a different slew of challenges. Many people who have or stand to inherit large amounts of money are embarrassed by their wealth and try to hide it, according to Karen Pittelman, author of Classified: How to Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use It for Social Change! But by hiding connections and influence, “you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting the movements you’re a part of,” Pittelman says.
In her book, she encourages privileged youth to discuss the advantages inherent in being born to parents in the wealthiest 5 percent, as well as the need for social change. It includes tips on how to address friends and families about favorite causes, and encourages them to attend programs sponsored by Resource Generation, a nonprofit that helps wealthy youth align their money with their values. The book also shares how upper-crust youth with no access to money can help with fund-raising by leveraging the connections inherent in growing up in exclusive neighborhoods with select schools.
The Belief System
In the end, all young people simply need to believe that they can make a positive impact. Teaching them leadership and business skills and helping them to discover their capabilities motivates young people to serve their communities.
“I just thank God that I got involved with Youth Action,” Anthony Phillips says. “It has allowed me to realize that by getting people together who share your ideologies and ambitions, there’s the possibility for doing something extraordinary.”
Youth Philanthropy Worldwide
Amy Braunschweiger is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Copyright 2006 Community Foundations of America
Used with Permission