As we gear down from another school year, our minds turn to the young people in our communities and what we have done to prepare them for lives of fulfillment grounded in whatever communities they will inhabit as they grow and mature in our mobile society.
This was the first year Whatcom County high school seniors were required to complete culminating projects for graduation.
The projects had to include some research that resulted in learning and growth by the students, connection with a community mentor and a final presentation to a small panel of educators and volunteers from the community.
Why not have schools and communities to make philanthropy and community service a more concrete requirement of these culminating projects?
This would add a larger community context that has two distinct advantages: 1) students get some solid experience in learning the benefits of being part of a caring, helpful and interconnected community that will likely lead to future involvements on their part, and 2) community individuals and organizations will benefit from the students’ research and from whatever interactions they have with the students.
It is these face-to-face purposeful connections that ennoble individual lives and create true community.
There are other important reasons to engage many in some kind of practical philanthropy learning effort. First and foremost, teens who volunteer for community service are twice as likely to do so as adults, compared to those teens who do not. They also tend to donate more to charity as adults.
A second reason that commends philanthropy training — the getting and granting of money — for teens is that it creates ownership and leadership skills that help them immensely in later life in all arenas.
The greater investment in youth philanthropy projects is also an object lesson in the different lives people lead in this country and the complexity and difficulty in giving other people’s money to charity responsibly.
A third reason is that a recent study by the Bridgespan Group in Boston estimated that charities with annual revenues of $250,000 or greater will face a huge shortage of nonprofit senior managers over the next decade.
Part of this need for 640,000 nonprofit senior managers is the retirement of the baby boomers who started turning 60 this year, and part is the tripling of nonprofits since 1986.
An additional reason for this large gap is that nonprofits are much less likely than business to promote from within. Business gets about 65 percent of its managers from internal promotions, while nonprofits move only 30 percent to 50 percent up.
Bridgespan Chairman Thomas Tierney put it this way: “If nonprofit executives, philanthropists, funders, government leaders, and others who care about the nonprofit sector do not aggressively address the leadership deficit, the effectiveness of nonprofits will decline, undermining social results and shortchanging our communities.”
Investing in our future by turning our attention to giving teens the knowledge and experience to become important contributors of their time, talent and treasure throughout their lives is a wise thing to do.
Tom Reis of the Kellogg Foundation put it this way in 2003: “Once you’ve got a committed philanthropist, they’re going to be committed the rest of their life, so why not get 70 years out of them, rather than thinking about philanthropy about a year before they’re about to die and they’re going to write their wills?”
The good news for us here in Whatcom County is that we do not have to re-invent the wheels of youth philanthropy. We just need to look to those who are already doing good work in giving the next generation what it needs to carry on the important work occurring now and to create better and more effective charities that will have to address new and different challenges as well.
Consider, for example, the South Carolina Youth Philanthropy Partnership created by a community foundation, a private foundation and Junior Achievement in that region.
The students in 14 schools took an elective class in philanthropy, which was taught using a wide variety of guest speakers from local philanthropic organizations.
They were also offered a 1:10 match for money they made from their Junior Achievement projects, which meant they granted $226,000 to community organizations by utilizing the same due diligence that adult grantmakers do.
The Kellogg Foundation in Michigan has become the leader in youth philanthropy. In 1988, Kellogg began to set up youth councils in Michigan that empowered teens to raise charitable dollars and have full control in granting it to community nonprofits. Twenty years and over $65 million later, there are now 86 community Youth Councils in Michigan. Most important, hundreds of Michigan teens have been given the practical skills and experience to become community leaders as adults.
Consider such organizations as Youth Noise, Do Something, Youth Service America and Youth Venture. Each of them has provided opportunities in other states for teens to understand from personal experience the value of being part of something bigger than themselves.
The personal satisfaction that comes from this work is a lifelong gift to them, but it is also a savvy investment by the rest of us in building a strong future for the various nonprofits that add so much to our lives together in communities.
Whatcom County organizations could simply adapt what their peers in other areas have done. Each of the 55 community foundations in Michigan has a Youth Endowment run by teens. Many United Ways have established youth programs.
The University of California, San Diego Foundation has established the UCSD Student Foundation that gives students the opportunity to run their own foundation under the mentorship of UCSD Foundation board members.
The Kaufmann Foundation in Kansas City has established a 30-member Youth Board and given it $250,000 annually to grant as the young people decide. A private school in Florida set up its own foundation that students run with money they have raised.
We could do any of those things here. Who is willing to step up and make the best long-term investment of your life?