How Teens Meet the Larger Philanthropic Community from Ages 15 - 18

Ready for the World

High-school students are ready to be introduced to all facets of the philanthropic sector including concepts related to the economics, history, government, and geography of philanthropy, as well as to fund-raising, personal giving and serving on a board. This is the time for direct experience.

This is also a time when young adults might want to consider career options in the independent/nonprofit sector, either related to an issue of interest to them (the environment, homelessness, disaster relief, arts management, hospital management, fund-raising, library science), or as an area in which they might apply professional skills (accounting, legal specialty, medicine, construction, engineering).

Youth as Leaders

During this period, many active teenagers develop leadership skills and take on group responsibilities. To prepare them for civic, activist, and service roles, their leadership skills can be enhanced through seminars, conferences, and workshops. Richard Lakes writes “youth have to be brought into small-group democracies where their voices are legitimized and their presence is validated. 5 One form of such a democracy can be a youth grantmaking board, such as one affiliated with a local community foundation.

Teens as Socially Responsible Citizens

Adolescents are now forming their attitudes about voting, their place within the community, and their sense of a greater common good. Alarmingly, study after study shows a rapid increase in self concern and a decrease in the knowledge, interest, and participation by teens in the responsibilities of citizenship. In 1990, the Times Mirror study of five decades revealed that the current young generation, “knows less, cares less . . . votes less,” and, in 1990, were significantly less informed than middle-aged and older people about current events. Civic aptitude among 17-year-olds declined markedly by 1990, with students having particular difficulty answering questions on the political processes and historical traditions of our democracy. 6

What can you do to help your children avoid becoming a part of these statistics? Help them enter political life in situations where their voices will be heard. Help them see that their votes count. Work with them to develop a basic understanding of political institutions. Most importantly, provide experiences that help them learn about and engage with the community, whichever community that is—local, citywide, regional, Democratic, Republican.

Your children approach their world differently from the way you approach yours. They may feel very comfortable in the Internet community while you may not. Try checking out ideas presented on the Internet.  You may find a common area of interest or learn to approach and use the Internet as a citizen and activist, gaining skills in a realm where your teenager can be a very competent and effective teacher.

Philanthropic Concepts for the High-School Adolescent

  • How an individual or group can act in the nonprofit sector for the common good.
  • How the United States Constitution protects and encourages private, voluntary citizen action for the common good.
  • How the roles of business, government, and the nonprofit sector have changed throughout American history.
  • Why people might sacrifice for the benefit of an unknown person.
  • Why a nonprofit organization provides goods and services without a profit motive.
  • Stewardship (sharing wisely the gifts and resources one has).
  • The relationship between individual rights and community responsibility.
  • Why laws alone might not be enough to protect minority voices, and how the independent sector provides a forum for minority views.
  • How enlightened self-interest, egoism, and altruism are the same or different as they relate to philanthropy.
  • How to actively respond to a community problem and identify an action that will make a difference to the problem.

Ideas for You and Your Teens

Promote Volunteering

Encourage your children to be active, regular volunteers in an organization dealing with an issue they care about. Also, encourage organizations in which you're involved to develop policies and programs that support volunteer opportunities for young people (e.g., a youth advisory committee or youth positions on the adult board).

Discussion of Philanthropic Ideas

This is the time to hold family discussions on topics related to philanthropy. High-school students are both cynical and idealistic. Family discussions about complex issues, in a warm and supportive environment, can help your high-school-age adult sort through this complexity. At this age, your high schooler will begin to shift between idealism and realism.

Suggested Points of Discussion:

  • Was Mother Teresa a saint or a loser? She died with only her personal clothing and a few other personal items. Was her life a success? Why or why not?
  • What does it mean to have a “sense of place” and to belong to a community? What is important about it? To how many “communities” does your family belong (e.g., geographic community, religious community, ethnic community, world community, youth community, etc.)?
  • How does giving and serving develop a sense of belonging and community?
  • How does volunteering strengthen the community?
  • What do you see as the key problems of our time? What are the causes and consequences? How might giving and serving make a difference to these problems?

Service-Learning at School

Encourage your school to develop high-quality service-learning opportunities as a teaching method. These volunteer experiences tie academic learning to real-world needs and volunteer efforts. Support your teen's involvement in appropriate community service.Advocate for the experience to have academic ties to the school curriculum.

Get Out the Vote

Political awareness is key to political involvement. Have family discussions about current events, political candidates, judicial decisions, and family members' opinions about important topics. Remember, your teen has not reached a final position on any issue yet. Their opinions will change as they mature and go through life's experiences.

Model and encourage support of the political process. Volunteer together at a local campaign headquarters for presidential, state or local candidates. Prepare food to take to your local polling place on Election Day. Have a pamphlet-designing party for your teen's friends, then distribute the pamphlets to encourage other teens to vote. Help your teen hold a brainstorming session on how they can make a difference in the local election.

Charitable Personal Giving

Continue to involve your teens in family decision-making regarding financial giving. In addition, by this time they may have developed regular habits of personal giving from their own earnings or allowance. If they have not, now is the opportune time to discuss financial responsibility with them, including saving, spending, giving, and investment. For a guide to financial planning with an emphasis on giving, see An Asset Builder's Guide to Youth and Money 7 which provides worksheets and activities that help you explore financial issues and set personal priorities.

Careers in Philanthropy

Although the nonprofit sector offers fulfilling occupations, young people frequently do not realize they can build a profession in an area of their personal charitable passion. The careers sort into two major categories. There are professions that occur only in the nonprofit sector, and professions that can operate in the nonprofit, government, or business sectors. For example, a youth minister, a community foundation program officer, or an independent-college development officer are examples of nonprofit careers. An attorney, accountant, public relations/marketing professional, or information technology specialist could have jobs in any of the three sectors.

Questions to Stimulate Reflection - Ages 15 - 18

  • What did y ou think of the service experience (helping/giving/sharing)? What did you like or dislike about it? How did it make you feel? What do you think you accomplished? How could the experience have been more meaningful?
  • What did you like about the nonprofit organization you visited? How did you feel about receiving help or services? Would you like to visit again or to volunteer there? What did you learn there? What purpose do you think the organization or its volunteers serves?
  • What did you like most about the person you helped or to whom you gave? Did you feel you made a real difference? Why or why not? What, if anything would you do differently next time? Are there other ways you can help with this issue?
  • How does it feel to be a citizen of the United States? Our democracy gives us many rights, do we also have responsibilities? What do you understand about the political process? What can you do to become involved in the political process? How can you and your friends make a difference as citizens? Do you think it's important to vote? Why or why not?
  • How does it feel to give away your own money? How do you think it made the person feel who received your gift? How does it feel to control your giving? How difficult is the decision-making? Do you have any concerns? What are they? Do you think your gift made a difference?
  • How does it feel to know your family supports certain causes? Are these causes of interest to you or could they be? Have you learned anything from the example your family sets in trying to make your community a better place?
  • Does the value of helping others or helping to make the world a better place count when considering different career choices? Is there a way to do good and earn a living at the same time? Have you enjoyed your involvement with nonprofit organizations (like Boy/Girl Scouts or 4-H ) enough to consider that kind of job for a career? Nonprofits offer job in—accounting, public relations, forestry, management, etc.—perhaps a career you could enjoy as you make the world a better place.

Activities for High School Youth

  • Encourage your young person to volunteer.
  • Encourage the organizations you support to give youth legitimate roles and authority.
  • Encourage high-quality Academic Service-Learning in schools both for your youth and other young people.
  • Talk with your young person about why your family cares.
  • Become actively engaged in citizen activities.
  • Encourage your youth to become active in personal giving.
  • Explore careers in philanthropy, nonprofits and the helping professions.