Youth Grantmaking

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Introduction to Philanthropy
Learning to Give
Philanthropy Education
Youth Advisory Committee
Youth Club
Youth are capable of making informed and responsible decisions about grantmaking, and many organizations put youth in charge of funds that impact community. The history and goals of youth philanthropy and grantmaking efforts include a variety of methods and organizations.

By Mohamed Merzoug


Youth are the backbone of our society and they are uniquely capable to solve problems through service. There are more youth than ever before. Worldwide, 60 percent of the population is under age 30, 50 percent is under age 25, and 40 percent is under age 18. In the United States, 34 percent of the population is under age 25 and 24 percent is under age 18. Between 20 percent and 55 percent of all young people volunteer and are more likely to volunteer when engaged through educational institutes, youth organizations, or religious groups. Young people will volunteer themselves if they are surrounded by family members and friends who volunteer. (Youth Service America).

For Janet Wakefield, former co-director of Community Partnerships with Youth in Fort Wayne, Indiana, youth philanthropy is about helping young people answer the question "What do I care about?" For others, youth philanthropy applies to efforts to involve young people in traditional, organized philanthropy. Some programs use philanthropy to engage youth in their communities and the idea of public service. For example, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation calls youth philanthropy "an approach to empower and establish young people as community leaders." Some youth programs never use the term philanthropy, though their core program elements include philanthropic methods, like grantmaking (Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).

What Are a Grant and Grantmaker?

A grant is non-repayable fund disbursed by a foundation or individuals through grantmakers, often to a nonprofit entity such as educational institution, charity organization or an individual.

Orosz defines the grantmaker as a steward of funds that are precious, funds that often provide the margin between progress and stagnation, between development and decay. It is incumbent upon all grantmakers, to maximize the good these funds can do by enhancing their abilities to effectively and ethically invest them for the common good. When one becomes a grantmaker, you discover that you have entered a truly distinctive trade. Grantmakers must be open and experimental, avoid rigidity, but they also need to recognize standards, to avoid arbitrary, and capricious behavior (Orosz 2000).

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are currently over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States. With so many to choose from, how do you determine which donations on grantmaking to support? Getting answers to the following eight questions can help you make an informed decision (Foundation Source).

  1. Does the organization have a clearly articulated mission statement?

  2. Are the nonprofit’s values congruent with your foundation’s core beliefs?

  3. Does the organization meet a vital need?

  4. What is their stated approach? How sound is it?

  5. Is their program unique or are others doing similar work?

  6. How does the organization define success for its programs, and how does it know that it is succeeding?

  7. Who sits on the board?

  8. Has the organization been tainted by controversy?

After choosing the organization, the grant officer should follow the following steps to finalize the grant; these include: exploring what are the most pressing problems, vetting who will make a profound impact, selecting who is the best match for the donor’s vision, and how leverage resources and deliver value to the community (Full Circle Fund).


Historic Roots

In the mid-1980s, only a few isolated youth philanthropy programs existed. Over a decade later, youth involvement in philanthropy spread to more than 30 states (Tice 2002). The first youth philanthropy initiatives started in the mid to late 1980s. In 1985, the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region in the District of Columbia (formerly the Community Foundation of Greater Washington), started a youth philanthropy program in which young people raised funds and made grants. In 1987, the Marin Community Foundation in California began an effort that combined youth philanthropy with youth governance. The foundation gave resources to the Marin County Youth Commission, which in turn made grants to local youth projects. At the same time, two national organizations, the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation initiated larger efforts. The NCPC founded “Teens Community Resources” with the help of Boston Foundation. In 1987, it established the program called “Youth as Resources” in three Indiana communities. The board was comprised of adults and youth that provided funds to encourage youth led, youth driven service projects in their communities. In 1988, the Kellogg Foundation joined with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Council of Michigan Foundations to provide initial funding for the development of local community foundations across Michigan. To obtain matching funds, newly formed foundations were required to create and set aside funds for Youth Advisory Committees (YACs), boards of an average of 20 young people were given the authority to make grant recommendations for youth programs (Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).

Subsequently, The Mead Surdna Foundation founded “The Student Service and Philanthropy Project” in which students in selected New York City high schools studied philanthropy in their classrooms and made grants to projects developed by other students in the school. The Michigan and Indiana initiatives have continued to grow and evolve and are now the largest youth philanthropy efforts in the nation. Philanthropy studies and school based grantmaking has been adapted for use in other states. These youth grantmaking programs have served as the models for dozens of smaller initiatives around the nation. (Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).

Youth philanthropy is a young movement, one that started about 30 years ago. Today it has the attention of a range of stakeholders, from the White House to grassroots youth groups in urban, suburban, and rural areas. It is a movement that encompasses different ideas about what roles we want young people to play in society. Youth philanthropy has captured the interest of national and local foundations, federal, state and local governments, business leaders and nonprofit organizations and academic researchers. As foundations increasingly make youth issues a priority, they are asking young people to help make decisions about what programs should receive funds. These efforts not only bring a new perspective to institutional philanthropy but help foundations prepare a new generation of potential grantmakers for work in grantmaking. There are now more youth philanthropy initiatives at foundations, community organizations and schools nationwide. Youth led groups gave millions in grants every year. And young people are not simply acting as advisors to adults but final authority in awarding grants (Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).


Dennis A. Collins President & CEO of the James Irvine Foundation said “As a way to involve young people in the formal practice of grantmaking, youth philanthropy represents a rich opportunity to develop both youth and philanthropy. Youth philanthropy can enable young people to connect to educational issues in their communities, build their leadership skills, develop creative and analytic thinking, and nourish their community involvement. Moreover, youth philanthropy can prepare young people become more responsible as future citizens, creating a new generation of philanthropists” (Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).

Youth grantmaking holds great benefits for all the parties involved: the young people who make funding decisions, the foundations which engage youth as partners in their work, the programs that receive grants and the communities those programs serve. Through granmaking experience youth gain deeper understanding in community and youth issues, became better decision makers, and felt more comfortable sharing their views and to learn how to lead. 59 percent of youth philanthropists surveyed said that participation in youth philanthropy programs increased their interest in attending college. Young people engaging in youth philanthropy efforts had an impact in their choice of studies and career path. In fact, many foundations are looking to youth philanthropy as a means to youth development (Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).

Youth led grantmaking almost universally involves young people practicing leadership, solving problems, studying proposals, managing budgets, working together and presenting views to an audience of peers and adults. Leaders of community groups that sponsor youth programs describe the benefits to their organizations, especially when considering grants to programs designed to benefit youth. Additionally, youth involvement in grantmaking will prepare a new generation to continue the legacies of community service and philanthropy. Lastly, the benefits of youth philanthropy are felt directly in communities, local organizations, and schools through the programs that young people choose to fund. The aim of youth philanthropy is to help develop young people into healthy, accomplished adults and educate them about the significance of giving. (Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).

Until recently, policymakers, funders, and program planners have focused on youth deficits while developing programs and policies focused on the prevention of particular problems. This is changing as youth are recognized as resources and social actors who are able to contribute to their own development, to that of their communities, and society in general. (Tice 2002)

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

With half the world’s population under age 25, more funders than ever are looking to engage the next generations in philanthropy, therefore, understanding the funding landscape around youth grantmaking is vital to working strategically and effectively within the youth giving movement. Around the globe, young people are transforming their communities by making grants, since 2001 more than $14 million in grant were given to youth related causes. The growth in youth giving over the last thirty years has created a need for an online hub where data, knowledge, stories, and resources can be shared both locally and globally. This hub was created by Foundation Center with support from the Andrus Family Fund, Leading to Change, and the Frieda C. Fox Family, Conrad N. Hilton, Charles Stewart Mott, and Tarsadia foundations. website offers resources aimed at helping young philanthropists identify and apply best practices in their giving, share their knowledge and experiences, develop their leadership skills, and find potential partners.

Youth Leadership Institute summarized youth philanthropy ambition into four core purposes: to spur youth participation in institutional philanthropy, to increase youth involvement in community change, to promote youth service and giving; and to help youth develop into healthy and productive adults. Many youth programs have more than one purpose. The Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project, for example, balances a commitment to teaching generosity to future adult leaders with the promotion of youth participation in community decision making. Most adults said their program served three main purposes: cultivating giving and serving; increasing youth participation in institutional philanthropy, and encouraging youth involvement in community change (Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).

There are some important ideas to consider when planning the creation of a youth philanthropy program. These include, 1) involving youth from the beginning and listening to their ideas and interests creates a genuine sense of ownership in shaping the program, 2) giving young people the opportunity to lead at every youth leading conversations, sharing personal stories, and spreading awareness are a vital part in generating momentum for the program, 3) value their feedbacks before, during, and after the program, and 4) use the most current social media to reach and connect with them. (Nowlin 2016).

Key Related Ideas

The Council of Michigan Foundations is a community of philanthropists committed to improving outcomes for Michigan, and beyond. Through investing in the state's charitable organizations. It also provides guidance and support to The Michigan Community Foundation’s Youth Project (MCFYP), which helps to coordinate and grow the pipeline of young philanthropists in the state. The Council of Michigan Foundations also established Learning to Give to give all youth, no matter their background and experience, the opportunity to learn and practice philanthropy under the guidance of their K-12 classroom teachers. With a curriculum written by teachers trained in philanthropy education, the effort is designed to integrate concepts and practices of philanthropy into general coursework. Much of the development of school-based philanthropy has occurred in the context of a national youth service movement over the past couple of decades, which promotes youth giving through volunteering and learning about service. The movement grew out of smaller, grassroots efforts as well as federally subsidized service initiatives such as AmeriCorps (Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).

Youth and Philanthropy Initiative: To strengthen support for local social issues by empowering young people to determine where grant dollars would be best put to use in their own communities. Established in 2002 in California, YPI was founded by the Toskan Casale Foundation. Over the past thirteen years, the Toskan Casale Foundation, together with The Wood Foundation in Scotland, and other funders on both sides of the Atlantic, have grown YPI into an international multi award winning social service program that has directed over $12 million in grants to charities across Canada, the United Kingdom and New York City, 100 percent through the choices of over 400,000 informed and empowered secondary students (Youth and Philanthropy Initiative).

Youth Funding Youth Ideas (YFYI) is a youth led program of Communities in Harmony Advocating for Learning and Kids (CHALK) that funds youth led projects in San Francisco that benefit the community. YFYI is composed of 10 youth from various backgrounds between the ages of 14 through 18. Youth staff makes funding decisions of up to $5,000 per youth project, totaling $100,000 per year (Youth Funding Youth Ideas).

Youth Empowerment Fund (YEF): The organization aims to runs programs and creates opportunities which empower San Francisco’s youth to be citywide change makers and celebrates their outstanding leadership. YEF offers resources and support to San Francisco youth by providing direct access to funding, connecting youth to city government, and fostering opportunities for community collaboration. Awards of $125,000 are given annually in mini grants supporting projects initiated and led by youth citywide. Young people in San Francisco can apply for up to $10,000, three times a year, to fund their unique ideas and vision addressing important community issues and need (Youth Empowerment Fund).

Important People Related to the Youth Grantmaking

W.K. Kellogg (1860–1951): Established in 1930 originally named the W.K. Kellogg Child Welfare Foundation. Mr. Kellogg proved true to his word, instructing the staff to, “Use the money as you please so long as it promotes the health, happiness and well-being of children.” Over 20 years ago, in efforts to increase the giving capacity of community foundations and to engage youth in the grantmaking process, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, under the leadership of Russ Mawby, sponsored a Youth Challenge for Community Foundations to grow youth endowment funds. (

Charles Stewart Mott (1875–1973): is a charitable foundation founded in 1926 by Charles Stewart Mott of Flint, Michigan. Mott was the leading industrialist in Flint through his association with General Motors. The foundation administers funds through four programs: Civil Society, Environment, Flint Area, and Pathways out of Poverty, and it also funds special exploratory projects. It supports nonprofit programs throughout the United States. (

Related Nonprofit Organizations

Learning to Give: Established in 1997, Learning to Give set out to prepare all youth for lifelong philanthropy and participation in civil society by learning the skills, knowledge, and action of philanthropy infused into K-12 curriculum. Learning to Give is now found in classrooms across the world where their free teacher resources - lesson plans, teacher training, and background information - empower young people to define philanthropy, discuss issues, and take action to address needs in their communities. 

Foundation Center: Established in 1956, Foundation Center is the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide. Through data, analysis, and training, it connects people who want to change the world to the resources they need to succeed. The Center maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. and, increasingly, global grantmakers and their grants, a robust, accessible knowledge bank for the sector. It also operates research, education, and training programs designed to advance knowledge of philanthropy at every level. Thousands of people visit the center's website each day and are served in its five library learning centers and at more than 470 Funding Information Network locations nationwide and around the world (

Youth Service America was founded in 1986, YSA supports a global culture of engaged children and youth committed to a lifetime of meaningful service, learning, and leadership. Their mission is to help all young people find their voice, take action, and make an impact on vital community issues. Through YSA’s programs, youth lead community change through: Awareness (educating others to change behaviors), service (using their passion, creativity, and idealism to solve problems through volunteerism), advocacy (to change policies and laws), and philanthropy (generating and donating financial and in-kind support) (

Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) launched the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project (MCFYP), a groundbreaking effort to spread youth philanthropy throughout Michigan’s community foundations. The CMF provides guidance and support to the MCFYP, which helps to coordinate and grow the pipeline of young philanthropists in the state of Michigan. Today, there are over 1,500 young people serving on 86 Youth Grantmaking Committees, with endowment fund assets exceeding $62 million. These endowment funds were to be used exclusively for grants allocated by youth advisory committees for local nonprofits' youth programming. These grantmaking committees are known as youth advisory committee, youth action council, youth advisory council, youth alliance committee and many others. Youth grantmakers give $1.5 million in grants per year across the state (


Reflection Question - Given the growing need and participation of youth in grantmaking and fundraising, should philanthropy be taught as an integrated component of K-12 education?



  • Foundation Center. Accessed on November 20, 2016
  • Foundation Source. Accessed on November 27, 2016
  • Learning to Give. 
  • Nowlin, Kelly. “How Do I Start a Youth Grantmaking Program to Ensure Youth Voice? What Are the Benefits of Doing so as a Funder?” 2016.
  • Orosz, Joel. The Insider’s Guide to Grantmaking: How foundations Find, Fund, and Manage Effective Programs. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000. Xii, 20-24
  • Rosen, M. and Maureen Sedonaen. “Changing the Face of Giving: An Assessment of Youth Philanthropy.” Youth Leadership Institute. 2001. 1-3, 9-13, 16-18
  • The Council of Michigan Foundations.
  • The W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Accessed on November 22, 2016
  • Tice, Karin. “Engaging youth in philanthropy.” New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, No. 38, December 2002. 5
  • Tracy Family Foundation.
  • Youth Service America. 
  • Youth and Philanthropy Initiative. 
  • Youth Funding Youth Ideas.
  • Youth Empowerment Fund. 

This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.