Youth Philanthropy Conference Reflections

I recently attended the 3rd annual Youth Philanthropy Connect conference in Disneyland hosted by the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation. In attendance were representatives from 12 family foundations across the United States, with participants aged 8-80. Day I covered Philanthropy basics, Day II discussed the nonprofit landscape, and Day III was the Giving Circle where $3,500 in grant money was designated by the kids to 5 area nonprofit organizations. I really enjoyed the dual excitement that the kids had for learning about and participating in philanthropy and that the adults had for discovering constructive ways to empower and involve younger generations in their families' grantmaking. It was refreshing to hear thoughtful, intergenerational conversations about topics like leveraging nonprofit investment, personal values and mission statements, funding women and girls health initiatives, identifying community needs, and financial regulations.

The Giving Circle on Saturday morning was the highlight of the conference. While other kids were off playing at Disneyland, the conference youth aged 8-20 were holding an animated board room meeting to decide where to give a pool of $3,500. The previous day, five local organizations who had submitted short proposals gave five minute presentations about their work; the money could be distributed to any or all of these groups. Sharply reasoned questions about community needs, budgetary concerns, impact, operating v. program support, strength of programs, and sustainability were posed by the group and answered by their peers. Dissenting opinions were voiced and listened to respectfully, and weighed with high importance before any decisions were made. The system for deriving consensus and honing in on a funding strategy was completely driven by the youth; the adult facilitator was very skilled at stepping back and participating only to ensure that all voices were heard. Other adults in the room commented after about how much they learned from watching the deliberations, which was a proof point for me of reverse mentorship.

Youth who attended the conference are pursuing a wide range of hobbies, volunteer opportunities, and vocations, but they all are committed to being involved in philanthropic giving throughout their lives. It was energizing to hear their genuine enthusiasm for their ability to give and contribute. The participating adults, too, reaffirmed my personal commitment to empowering youth and developing quality grantmaking resources to improve knowledge in the field.

How are you involving youth in your funding efforts? What experiences can you share?