Youth Philanthropy

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Youth Club
Youth Philanthropy involves a variety of activities, including grantmaking, volunteering, and junior or next generation board involvement. Youth become involved in philanthropy through a number of avenues and their experiences change as the youth grow and develop.

edited by Brea Reimer (2016) from the original by Ashley Cierlak-Lubben (2004)


Philanthropy is a term often misrepresented and misunderstood by the general public. Although the Merriam-Webster’s Tenth Collegiate Dictionary defines philanthropy as “goodwill to fellow men; and active effort to promote human welfare; a philanthropic act or gift; or an organization distributing or supported by philanthropic funds,” (Merriam-Webster 1993, 872) philanthropy is often perceived as the wealthy giving money to the poor (Agard 2002).

Youth philanthropy is, at the broadest level, youth giving of their time, talents and treasure, just as philanthropy itself is. However, to better understand the importance of the concept, youth philanthropy must be acknowledged as its own endeavor in the world of philanthropy, with separate components of grantmaking, volunteerism, and board involvement.


Historic Roots

Youth Philanthropy is a relatively recent trend in society, growing out of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was at the beginning of the 1980s that many nonprofit organizations in the United States began to face financial struggles, specifically in regards to individual donor funding.  This forced many organizations, such as National 4-H, to reevaluate their mission and programs (Swanson 2002).  It was out of this reevaluation that a few organizations began to consider the future of the sector as a whole.  Understanding that the nonprofit sector was reliant on the time, talent, and treasure of others, organizations started youth programs to ensure the future of the sector.

Simultaneously, a number of organizations were creating a future for philanthropy by starting youth initiatives.  Many family foundations had created, whether formally or informally, a youth or junior board. In 1985, one of the first youth initiatives was started by the National Capital Region Foundation of the District of Columbia to teach youth how to raise funds and create grants.  Concurrently, the National Crime Prevention Council and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation were establishing youth initiatives in the Midwest.  Throughout the late 1980s, programs were developed in other areas such as New York, but many of them no longer exist (Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).

Starting in 1986, Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project (MCFYP) started a ten-year long endeavor, working with youth to develop their talent as grant makers. The Council of Michigan Foundations website contains information on numerous organizations dealing with philanthropy and youth.  The web site also has resources and publications on philanthropy with an emphasis on grants.

Over time, it became apparent that children did not fully understand the concept of philanthropy (Agard 2002).  Therefore, the idea of teaching children about the concept of philanthropy was developed, and thus Learning to Give was born and established in 1997 (Agard 2002).  Learning to Give (LTG) is a “comprehensive program” that includes classroom curriculum, professional development, materials and resources for educators, and publications (Agard 2002; Learning to Give).

Since MCFYP’s initiation, other youth philanthropy-interested groups have followed suit. The Dekko Foundation, created in 1982 in Indiana, followed in the footsteps of MCFYP and created “youth pods” in each county its founder, Chet Dekko, had influenced. (Dekko Foundation) There are six youth pods in Indiana, five in Iowa, one in Minnesota, and one in Alabama.  In 1986, the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) started a pilot program for Teens as Community Resources in Boston.  Then, in 1987, the NCPC started another pilot program in Indiana, based on the aforementioned program.  Youth as Resources (YAR) grew and became a model for youth philanthropy programs across the country. In 1995, the Center for Youth as Resources was established to help coordinate the growing and expanding YAR programs (Center for Youth as Resources). Youth Philanthropy Connect, based in California and founded in 2011, strives to connect youth philanthropy programs to one another in order to better share resources and information and to network youth philanthropists and the adults that support them.

The expansion of the aforesaid programs shows the continued importance of youth in philanthropy.  Currently, there are over 584 programs in the United States and over 256 in other nations. ( As more schools, youth groups and church groups are influenced by programs such as LTG, YAR, and MCFYP, and as next generation boards develop, the future of the philanthropic sector will be insured.



The concept of youth philanthropy is important for many reasons.  The involvement of youth in philanthropy is beneficial to the individual, the organization, the community and society as a whole.

Youth flourish from being active in philanthropic initiatives (Rosen and Sedonaen 2001). Philanthropic deeds give kids ownership and pride.  When young people are not involved in the community they often feel marginalized and unimportant (Crestinger 1999).  Children and adolescents serving their community are given the control and assurance that is needed to build their sense of self-worth.  More tangibly, there is evidence that young people that volunteer, write grants, or fundraise, learn life skills, responsibility, and commitment as well as improve their grades and behavior in school (Safrit 2002; Rosen and Sedonaen 2001).

Organizations in which young people work benefit from their service.  Anecdotal and  professional literature show numerous ways that youth organizations can benefit by including young people in their decision making processes. Many professionals in the field discuss how young adults and children offer new insights into problems along with enthusiasm and energy (Allen 2002; Swanson 2002).   It is also important to remember that organizations are benefiting from youth philanthropy, in that young people are future potential donors (Allen 2002).

Society also benefits from youth philanthropy. The concept promotes a cultural shift, away from viewing youth as lazy, to a culture of viewing youth as assets to the community and society as a whole.

Currently, the idea of youth philanthropy is thought of as a movement. This movement is helping to shape the future of philanthropy in hopes that it will be integrated into each community, school, and youth program.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The idea of introducing youth to the philanthropic sector stems from the need to perpetuate current giving and to expand the potential giving in the sector.

By involving youth in philanthropic deeds, research has shown that as adults, these individuals will continue to give and/or serve the sector in a variety of ways (Agard 2002).  This is important, as 24 percent of the population, in 20, was under the age of eighteen (US Census). 

Currently, the inclusion of youth in the philanthropic sector helps to develop a stronger sector by providing more energy and a fresh perspective on important community issues (ibid.).


Key Related Ideas

Public Act 444 was an act passed in Michigan that influenced at what age members of a board could vote.  The age limit was lowered from 18 to 16 in 1988 (Calhoun 2002; Allen 2002).

Younger Americans Act (H.R. 17 and S. 1005) is new legislation that assures young people will provide access to resources in the community and services that will prepare them for young adulthood.  In the legislation, the importance of community service is discussed (Calhoun 2002; National Youth Development Information Center).

Foundation Center’s, at, contains youth philanthropy information, including a funding map, program directory, resources, news, and events.

Youth Grantmaking is defined as young people awarding monetary contributions to organizations of their choice through established institutions or governing bodies. For older students, see “The Grantmaking Process”, a lesson plan to introduce students to this process.

Learning to Give, a project of The Council of Michigan Foundations, is an online hub for a myriad of lesson plans that incorporate philanthropy. They are designed for K-12 educators of all subject areas. Youth Service Organizations and Youth Grantmaking, two briefing papers on, dive deeper into specific areas of youth-related philanthropy.


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Kathy Agard, author of Our State of Generosity, has been heavily involved in the philanthropic sector for over forty years. “She served in numerous executive level roles across local, state, regional, and international nonprofit organizations. For nearly twenty-five years, she led the development and implementation of two of Michigan's major philanthropic initiatives — the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project (MCFYP) and Learning to Give — for the Council of Michigan Foundations.” (Our State of Generosity)
  • John (Jack) Calhoun, who was appointed U.S. Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, by President Carter, was very influential in expanding the Youth as Resources program. He continues to be influential through his writing on the subject of youth in philanthropy. Calhoun is currently the Senior Consultant at National League of Cities.
  • Mike Goorhouse, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, was a youth philanthropist is still heavily involved in the philanthropic field. He has received a number of awards and honors, including the Community Foundation’s first ever Young Philanthropist of the Year in 2009. “In 2011 he was named one of the top 30 Civic Leaders under the age of 30 in the nation by Splashlife and the National Conference on Citizenship. In 2013 he was given the Catalyst Award by Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy.” (Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland Area)
  • Phillip Lovell, Campfire’s Director of Public Policy in Washington, D.C., spearheaded the project to get the Younger Americans Act into congress.


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The Dekko Foundation has been supporting its youth pods since their inception in 1997. Youth pods were created wherever Chet Dekko had philanthropic ties- Indiana, Iowa, Montana, and Alabama. It strives to let youth become better philanthropists through grantmaking, service projects, and its biennial conference, rotating its host county to always be one that its youth pods calls home. (
  • Youth Philanthropy Connect (YPC), a special project of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation, connects youth grantmakers (ages 8-21) and the adults who support them to each other, to resources, and learning across the U.S. YPC hosts biennial conferences and then regional gatherings on the off-years. (
  • MCFYP (Michigan Community Foundations Youth Project) has been established for over twenty years and helps to coordinate and pipeline youth philanthropy within Michigan. It oversees 86 grantmaking committees and hosts a yearly two-day conference for youth. (
  • Learning to Give is an organization that works to provide tools for educators so that philanthropy is valued in our culture. Learning to Give provides curriculum, publications, and resources in hopes that philanthropy will be taught as “an integrated component of K-12 education” (
  • National 4-H is the non-profit partner of 4-H and the Cooperative Extension System.  The National 4-H has been a leading organization in promoting youth in philanthropy.  This organization has worked to make youth philanthropy a central focus in many of its programs.  As well, the National 4-H stands out for its inclusion of youth on its board of directors (


Reflection Question

Think about one group or organization with which you are currently involved. Is it a sports team? Church youth group? Student council? Theater or arts group? Do you play in a band? With that group or organization in mind, think of one activity you and your teammates could accomplish together that would be considered philanthropic.



Allen, Paula. “Youth and Philanthropy: Legal Issues, Practical Consequences.” New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, 2002.38: 49-65.

Agard, Kathryn A. “Learning to Give: Teaching Philanthropy K-12.” New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, 2002. 36: 37-53. 

Bokoff, Jen and Dillon, Amanda. "Scanning the Landscape of Youth Philanthropy: Observations and Recommendations for Strengthening a Growing Field." Foundation Center, 2014: [database online]. Available from Foundation Center’s Issuelab. 

Calhoun, John. “Claiming Youth: A new Paradigm in Youth Policy.” New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, 2002. 38:67-81. 

The Dekko Foundation. The Dekko Foundation. 

Learning To Give. Learning to Give. 

Learning to Give. The Grantmaking Process. 

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Philanthropy. 

National Youth Development Information Center. The Younger Americans Act. 

Our State of Generosity. Leader Profile: Kathryn Agard.

Rosen, M. and Maureen Sedonaen. “Changing the Face of Giving: An Assessment of Youth Philanthropy.” Youth Leadership Institute, 2001. Available from the Jewish Teen Funders Network resource library. 

Safrit, Dale. “Developing Effective Teen- Adult Partnerships through Volunteerism: Strengthening Empathy, Engagement, Empowerment, and Enrichment.” The Journal of Volunteer Administration, 2002. 20: 4, 21-26. 

Swanson, Nancy. “The Power of YOUth in Philanthropic Fundraising.” New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, 2002. 36: 91-99. 


This paper was developed in 2004 by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Grand Valley State University. It is offered by Learning to Give and Grand Valley State University. The paper was later edited and revised in 2016 by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis, IN.