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Mentoring Young Adults in the Youth Philanthropy Movement

At Foundant Technologies we have always been supporters of the youth philanthropy movement. We began as early sponsors and supporters of Youth Philanthropy Connect (YPC), a youth-led peer advisory network for young people involved in philanthropy. We attended their conferences and even joined them during their on-the-road events in 2015.

Mark Larimer, our VP of Marketing and Client Success, and I were amazed time and time again at how thoughtful and professional the participating youth, ages 8–21, were at making real granting decisions.

It was on the road in 2015 that Mark and I discussed starting a youth philanthropy project in our hometown of Bozeman, MT. Right away I was excited to be involved and work hands-on with the young adults in our community, helping them learn about our community’s needs and the grantmaking process.

Now, in my second year of our Youth Giving Project, I have some tips for those of you who, like me, may have limited experience mentoring youth. Heck, most days I feel like I’m their age myself! These may seem like simple tips—because they are. A youth philanthropy project should be the product of the participants, not the adults advising them.

You don’t have to go it alone

As we started our program with two like-minded community partners, the Bozeman Area Community Foundation and Bozeman Youth Initiative, I easily found other adults to help me in mentoring the youth. I have the pleasure of working with two wonderful ladies who make the work fun and manageable as we move 10+ students through a 6-month program.

Your role is to mentor

We are very careful to use “mentor” when referencing adults who are helping the team. The term mentor is important because we don’t hold any weight in the decision-making process; we are there as advisors. Also, we do not see ourselves as teachers. We rely on returning students to take leadership roles in teaching the grantmaking experience. Even first-time members can take leadership roles in social aspects of the program. (Keep reading for more on the social side.)

Make it fun whenever you can

We’ve found that it’s very important to create bonds through movement and fun—as well as to break up the sitting and get the blood flowing when making hard decisions. We most often choose games based on the rules of improvisation to help participants find their voices and build trust.

Step up, step back

We set group expectations with every cohort, including my favorite: Step Up, Step Back. This is a great reminder to “step up” to voice your opinion, even if it doesn’t come easily, and “step back” to allow others space to talk. It also reminds me that my role as an adult mentor is to step back. A dear friend recently said her greatest tool when working with youth is silence, and I couldn’t agree more. You’ll be surprised how much you learn by allowing the youth to lead.

To learn more about how you can get started with your own youth giving program, visit

[This post originally appeared on PhilanthroFiles, Exponent Philanthropy’s blog | April 25, 2017] 

Related post: Bringing Youth Philanthropy Home

About the Author

In her time with Foundant (since 2011) Sammie Holzwarth has taken on many roles in her path to becoming the Product Manager of Grants & Scholarships. Starting as an intern with Foundant’s Marketing Team, Sammie then moved into a Client Success Manager role - successfully implementing well over 150 clients. Her Foundant adventure next took her to the Sales Team as Foundant’s GLM/SLM Product Implementation Engineer. Her breadth of knowledge and extensive experience working with a plethora of clients and in varying roles at Foundant fuels her passion and excitement to continually improve GLM/SLM, and herself which she now brings to her role as the Product Manager for Grants and Scholarships! Sammie has a passion for youth philanthropy and has spearheaded the Youth Giving Project in Bozeman, MT as well as serving as an Exponent Philanthropy Next Gen Fellow for 2016. Montana holds a special place in Sammie’s heart as she is a born and raised Montanan; from rolling plains to mountain tops, this is where she feels most at home and takes every opportunity to soak in the outdoors. When traveling beyond the Big Sky State, Sammie loves anywhere with a vibrant culture, and delicious food. Connect with Sammie directly at or on twitter @SammieHolzwarth.

Profile Photo of Sammie Holzwarth