Youth-Driven Philanthropy A Case Study of the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project

Over 20 years ago, the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project (MCFYP) was launched to engage youth in philanthropy through Michigan’s many community foundations. Today, there are over 1,500 young people serving on 86 youth advisory committees (YACs) that collectively grant $1.5 million per year.

“The YAC and MCFYP youth philanthropy model is unique because it is 100% youth-driven. It aims to support local youth and put them completely in the driver's seat by allowing them to conduct community needs assessments, fundraise for special projects, create service opportunities for other youth, and most importantly, make grantmaking decisions that will affect the lives of their peers,” shared Danielle LaJoie, a member of the MCFYP committee and a former “YAC-er” herself.

This youth-driven model is perhaps most visible in MCFYP’s annual Youth Grantmakers Summer Leadership Conference, where all youth engaged in grantmaking in the state (and a few from Indiana, Illinois, California, New York, and Turkey, too) spend the weekend together learning from one another. This event is entirely planned, coordinated, and facilitated by youth under the age of 21. “The youth that attend this conference will never see an adult on stage or in their breakout sessions,” shared Danielle, “the end result is that youth are able to fund and support effective programs, all while gaining skills and experiences that they may never have had the opportunity to develop otherwise.”

With overall guidance from the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) staff, the MCFYP committee attends a 3-day planning retreat for the conference to brainstorm and make decisions on a theme, speakers, session topics, and facilitators. There are usually standard sessions on topics like grantmaking, needs assessments, fund development, and service projects, and there are more thematic sessions that change year to year such as those on motivational values and diversity. Once the conference sessions are chosen, they are divided up between MCFYP committee members to facilitate. The MCFYP committee also carefully plans social activities, social media engagement, giveaways, and “open spaces” at the conference where participants can speak on any topic related to the conference theme.  “We’ve found that activities like this form extremely strong friendships and bonds between participants from all over the state and allow organic conversations about their specific programs to flow,” shared Danielle. The MCFYP conference planning retreat serves as a valuable team and leadership-building process in itself, where MCFYP members learn to trust one another and develop strong collaborative relationships that transcend their participation on the committee.

Danielle remembered attending her first Youth Grantmakers Summer Leadership Conference in 2011: “I had just joined the Battle Creek, Michigan area YAC only a few months before, so I was still trying to understand what exactly impact was and how I could start to make it in my community. I attended some incredible sessions during the conference, but the most impactful experience was when the 300+ youth grantmakers gathered together to read through four grant proposals, discuss them in groups, watch presentations by the potential grantees, and then decide through a vote which of the organizations would get the $5,000 grant.”

Programs like MCFYP that empower youth to learn and lead do not only create impact in the communities that they serve, but they also help to develop future civic leaders who will strengthen and sustain the social sector in the years to come.

For more information on the MCFYP model, click here