For families interested in engaging multiple generations in their philanthropy, younger family members need opportunities to learn and build skills and competencies necessary for future leadership. These skills and family philanthropy knowledge should be taught in tandem with a broader awareness of systemic challenges, and an understanding of wealth, privilege, and equity. During NCFP’s Engaging Youth Peer Network Retreat, staff and board members of family foundations gathered to learn about practices for engaging youth in philanthropy and how to facilitate real-life learning experiences. Here are four important practices for engaging the next-gen in philanthropy:
Follow organizations on social media
Following grantee partners (or potential grantees) on social media is an easy way for youth to quickly connect with the organization, learn more about their services, and interact directly with their content. It sounds simple, but since many teenagers and young family members are already plugged into social media, it is a quick step to connect them to what these organizations are doing in real-time.
During the pandemic, many nonprofits couldn’t update their websites quickly or no longer had the capacity to do targeted online emails and blog posts. But many kept up with their social media and shared updates and information through these channels. Two youth participants at the Retreat mentioned how they were able to learn more about social justice and important terms by following movement leaders or nonprofits on social media.
Making space to discuss the news and current events
Beyond learning more about the philanthropic space online, participants mentioned how important it was to make space for youth to talk through the difficult events of the last year. Younger kids and teenagers are taking in a lot of information at a quick pace, and they need time to process what is happening and a safe space to discuss with peers or trusted adults.
Speakers from the Andrus Family Fund and Surdna Foundation shared about the family’s upcoming book club for youth, structured so younger family members can read books on social justice with their parents and various family members. The book club is just one example of building an educational space for younger family members to learn about complex but essential concepts like social justice, and to contextualize these conversations within their family’s philanthropy. The speakers also mentioned Andrus Family Fund’s social justice toolkit, which leads next-gen participants through multiple educational modules around social justice and philanthropy. It provides key definitions and background knowledge on racial equity, oppressive systems, and intersections with philanthropy.
Not every family has the capacity to do structured learning in this way, but it is important for the adults to provide an environment to discuss what is happening in the news, and provide guidance around the broader social circumstances and systems that create inequality.
Provide opportunities for experiential learning
Experiential learning is another method to engage youth in the work of the foundation and an understanding of philanthropy more broadly. They can range from a typical youth philanthropy program, where a subset of younger family members move through the grantmaking process, interact with potential grantees, and eventually choose an organization to receive their grant.
Other families support programs that are more involved. Shawn Escoffery, Executive Director of the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, shared about the foundation’s various youth philanthropy experiences. Shawn brought a group of next-gen to New Orleans (where one of the founders is from) to see first-hand how sea level rise and environmental degradation affects the area. Another time, he brought the group to different neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and spent time visiting taco carts and talking with street vendors. His priority was to make space for the group to build a connection to real people experiencing the issues they work on at the foundation.
In all of these learning moments, it’s important to give kids an opportunity to see and live the work, and to simply talk to people who have a different live experience than them. But it is important to note that this learning cannot be at the cost of the grantee partner or community members. Youth absolutely need opportunities to engage and understand the work, but take extra care to provide an experience that benefits all parties.
Show up mindfully with community partners and grantee organizations
There are many different ways to show up mindfully with grantee partners and community members. Site visits can be a powerful tool for learning, but many participants noted that they will only visit organizations that they plan to fund, and provide compensation for the grantee’s time spent on the visit. The same goes for a speaker or grantee the family brings into a board meeting or family gathering—compensate them for their time spent educating and informing the family about their work.
Smaller touches matter as well. Showing up in a suit may signal power dynamics that are already in play when a funder visits a potential grantee partner. Making an effort to prepare younger board members to show up respectfully and with an open, learning mindset is helpful, too.
Engaging younger generations in the work can be an especially rewarding and enjoyable experience, and there are many avenues to spark their interest in philanthropic work. Families can provide a space to digest the news and discuss complex topics. Youth also benefit from being connected to grantees and community members in genuine, mindful ways. For more resources on engaging the generation in philanthropy, see Generations Together: Engaging Youth or visit NCFP’s Knowledge Center.