More youth become engaged in philanthropy

Marketplace Staff Jan 7, 2011

More youth become engaged in philanthropy

Marketplace Staff Jan 7, 2011


Tess Vigeland: Got your Thin Mints yet? Samoas, maybe?
It’s Girl Scout cookie time and, thank you very much, I’m hungry now. But the cookies are really all about fundraising, right? One of the classics in kid philanthropy. But these days, young people are getting more involved in higher-end charity decisions. They’re sitting on foundation boards and allocating grant money to nonprofits.

April Dembosky reports.

APRIL DEMBOSKY: Teens are involved in all variety of extra curricular activities — football, glee club, chess. But this group of 22 San Francisco high schoolers gathers on Sundays to learn about strategic grant making.


Leading the meeting is 16-year-old Leah Tabernik.

TABERNIK: The first thing we have to do is find nonprofit agencies to fund this year, so everyone has to do their bit of research.

Tabernik and other teens then do a skit to show the group how they’re going to get nonprofits to apply for money.

STUDENT: Shh. We just raised $6 million and we don’t have anyone to give it to because we didn’t get any grant proposals. What are we going to do? Ugh!

RFP: Da da da! Behold I am super RFP. I am a request for proposal. I bring nonprofits to you.

STUDENT: Help me! I need money to buy school supplies for children in Africa.

STUDENT: No, help me! I need money to free children from sweatshops in Asia.

This year’s group decided to focus on drinking water issues in Southeast Asia. The effort is part of a six-month course sponsored by the Jewish Community Federation, a Bay Area organization that donates to causes around the world. It started the teen program in 2004 to teach young people not just how to write a check, but how to get the most out of every charitable dollar.

Gilad Salmon oversees the program.

GILAD SALMON: We ask teens and young adults to be civically engaged. We talk to them about voting and we talk to them about volunteering, but seldomly have we talked to them about incorporating philanthropy into that as well.

With the so-called Millenial Generation coming of age, the program caters to a cohort of web-savvy youth that know all about humanitarian issues around the globe.

SALMON: This generation have often been called net natives or digital natives. They’re one click to rest of world, and they can research organizations and issues no matter where they are.

Last year teens in the program raised $177,000 and split the money among 25 nonprofit organizations.

This growing participation by teens in philanthropy has charitable groups taking notice — especially in recent years as donations have plummeted.

PAULETTE MAEHARA: The economic situation has caused all nonprofits to look at all types of revenue diversification.

Paulette Maehara is the president of the Association for Fundraising Professionals. It’s an international umbrella group with 30,000 members.

MAEHARA: And the youth market is clearly a very large market for potential donors and potential volunteers.

Maehara’s group wants to tap into that market, too. The association has rolled out a new fundraising curriculum at schools in five different states.

One of these schools is Tortolita Middle School in Tucson, Ariz. Eighth-grade teacher Kathleen Neighbors incorporates the philanthropy curriculum into her English class.

KATHLEEN NEIGHBORS: What is the difference between selling things just to raise some money and actually trying to solicit money for a cause that we’ve identified?

So instead of writing papers about “Catcher in the Rye,” students like 14-yea- old Destiny Bennett are learning to write requests for grant proposals.

DESTINY BENNETT: When you’re writing a request for proposal, you see, oh wow, this really does make a difference. But if you’re just writing on an old book, it’s just another more school work that that I have to turn in.

With the lessons they’ve learned, Bennett and her classmates plan to raise money making and selling salsa to the school community. They expect to bring in $1,500. The students debated giving it to a homeless shelter or an animal rights group, but settled on addiction services for youth.

BENNETT: Students in my school have been secretly doing drugs. But just to, like, make them stop because it can ruin their life forever.

Organizers of the philanthropy courses in Arizona and California hope they can show young people that they don’t have to wait until they’re retired or wealthy to start giving.

SARAH MOSES: It’s great when you can get involved when you’re 30 or something.

That’s Bay Area 15-year-old Sarah Moses.

MOSES: But when you start this young you’ve made an impact already at this age. If I can do that for the rest of my life, I will impact so many people it will be, like, great. It’ll change the world.

The philanthropy course has had an impact on Moses, too. She’s now considering a career in the field.

I’m April Dembosky for Marketplace Money.

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