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  • Writer's pictureSylvester Chisom

How To Create A Youth-Led Philanthropy Program: Empowering The Next Generation Of Changemakers

Updated: May 1

As I prepared for our engaging fishbowl discussion at ABFE titled "Sankofa: Building and Sustaining Youth-Led Philanthropic Movements," I found myself deeply inspired by the potential of young voices to drive transformative change. Alongside esteemed panelists Jason Terrell from the Walton Family Foundation, Jeremiah Steen of Critical Youth Theory, Sabrina Greig and Lauren Sills from the NBA Foundation, David Ledbetter from Howard University, and Amber Hamilton of the Memphis Music Initiative, I was compelled to share this inspiration more broadly. It led me to develop this blog post aimed at disseminating best practices for implementing youth-led philanthropy.

My goal with this blog post is to help equip organizations with a practical, actionable template to empower the next generation of philanthropic leaders. If you are looking to delve deeper or would like to discuss additional support, I invite you to reach out via email at Together, we can harness the vibrant energy and innovative ideas of our youth to nurture lasting social impact.

Best Practices On Youth Led Philanthropy

Empowering Youth as Agents of Change in Philanthropy

In today’s rapidly evolving world, the fresh perspectives and energetic spirits of young people are crucial in driving social change. Youth-led philanthropy is a dynamic approach that not only fosters leadership skills among young individuals but also deeply impacts local communities. Drawing from a vibrant panel discussion at ABFE titled "Sankofa: Building and Sustaining Youth-Led Philanthropic Movements," I am inspired to share some best practices for organizations aiming to empower youth as philanthropic leaders.

1. Providing Real Decision-Making Power

True empowerment comes when young people are given real decision-making roles, not just the illusion of choice. Youth should have the authority to make substantive decisions about funding allocations, project selections, and strategic directions. This involvement must go beyond advisory capacities to actual governance and operational roles, ensuring their voices are not only heard but have a direct impact.

2. Structured Training and Mentorship

To effectively contribute, young philanthropists need the appropriate tools and knowledge. Organizations should provide structured training sessions in financial literacy, project management, and ethical philanthropy. Additionally, pairing youth with experienced mentors in the field can bridge knowledge gaps and offer invaluable guidance, allowing young philanthropists to navigate complex challenges and grow their capabilities.

3. Focusing on Local Impact

Youth-led philanthropy should prioritize initiatives that have a clear, tangible impact on local communities. This approach not only addresses immediate community needs but also allows young philanthropists to see the real-world effects of their efforts, reinforcing the value and importance of their work. Encouraging projects that youth are passionate about increases their engagement and commitment.

4. Incorporating Technology and Innovation

Leveraging technology can enhance the effectiveness and reach of philanthropic efforts. Digital platforms for crowdfunding, social media campaigns for awareness, and online workshops for training can engage a broader audience of youth. Additionally, innovative solutions like apps for tracking project progress or virtual reality setups for empathy-building can modernize and amplify the impact of philanthropic initiatives.

5. Creating Networks of Young Philanthropists

Building a network of youth engaged in philanthropy provides a supportive community where young individuals can share ideas, collaborate on projects, and offer mutual support. Regular meetups, online forums, and annual conferences can help sustain these networks, providing continual engagement and motivation.

6. Highlighting Success Stories

Showcasing the successes of youth-led projects not only celebrates the achievements but also inspires other young people to get involved. Sharing stories through blogs, videos, and presentations at schools can highlight the positive changes driven by youth, demonstrating the power and impact of their contributions.

By adopting these practices, philanthropic organizations can create programs that genuinely empower young people as changemakers, providing them with the skills, resources, and support needed to make a significant difference in their communities. As we continue to support and expand youth-led philanthropy, we nurture a new generation of leaders equipped to tackle the challenges of tomorrow with creativity and commitment.

Youth-Led Philanthropy Program Template

I modeled this concept off the Stanford Blythe Fund as a way for a philanthropic organization to structure a youth led philanthropic program.

The Stanford Blyth Fund is an excellent example of a student-run investment fund that provides Stanford University students with hands-on experience in finance and investing. Established in 1978 in honor of the legendary banker Charles Blyth, the fund is managed by students and aims to offer a real-world investment experience. As of December 2023, the fund manages approximately $270,500 of Stanford University’s endowment, investing in a diverse portfolio of stocks, bonds, and other assets​ (Stanford Blyth Fund)​​ 

"Empowering Youth, Enriching Communities: Investing in Tomorrow's Philanthropic Leaders"

Program Overview

  • Name: Youth Innovators Grant Program

  • Purpose: To empower young individuals by involving them in a participatory grantmaking process and providing an educational platform to learn about philanthropy and its impact on social change.

  • Grant Amount: $10,000 allocated annually.

Target Participants

  • Age Group: High school and college students (ages 15-22).

  • Recruitment: Through schools, local youth organizations, and social media campaigns.

Program Structure

Orientation and Training

  • Objective: Introduce the principles of philanthropy, basics of grantmaking, research methodologies, and overview of the nonprofit sector.

  • Activities: Workshops led by experienced grant managers and guest speakers from the philanthropy sector. Research Phase

  • Objective: Participants conduct research to identify pressing community needs and potential organizations that align with the program’s mission.

  • Method: Small teams utilize surveys, interviews, and secondary data to gather information on local issues and existing community organizations. Proposal Development

  • Objective: Teams develop grant proposals based on their research, suggesting how the $10,000 should be allocated.

  • Guidance: Ongoing mentorship from a professional grant manager to refine proposals and ensure feasibility. Participatory Grantmaking

  • Objective: Engage all program participants in the decision-making process to select the winning proposal.

  • Process: Each team pitches their proposal to the entire group, followed by a structured voting process to decide the allocation of funds. Monitoring and Evaluation

  • Objective: Oversee the implementation of the funded project and assess its impact on the community.

  • Activities: Regular check-ins with grant recipients, mid-term and final reports, and a presentation of outcomes to the program participants. Career Exploration in Philanthropy

  • Objective: Provide insights into various career paths within the philanthropy industry.

  • Activities: Career panels, job shadowing opportunities, internships at philanthropic organizations, and networking events with professionals in the field.

Oversight and Advisement
  • Grant Manager Role: An experienced grant manager provides oversight, ensuring that the program adheres to its goals and objectives, offering guidance during each phase, and facilitating the educational components.

  • Advisory Board: Composed of educators, local nonprofit leaders, and past program alumni to offer additional support and insights.

Benefits for Participants
  • Educational Advancement: Gain hands-on experience in grantmaking, research, and project management.

  • Professional Development: Exposure to the philanthropy sector through direct involvement and networking opportunities.

  • Community Impact: Directly contribute to local social change initiatives by identifying and funding vital community projects.

Program Evaluation
  • Annual Review: Conduct an annual review involving participants, fund recipients, and program staff to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the program.

  • Feedback Mechanism: Regular feedback sessions with participants to refine the program and enhance the learning experience.

Benefits To A Philanthropic Organization:

  1. Community Engagement and Insight: By involving young people in grantmaking, the organization gains unique insights into the needs and trends within younger demographics. This can help the organization stay relevant and responsive to community needs, especially those of younger populations.

  2. Capacity Building: Training young people in grantmaking and research can expand the organization's reach and effectiveness. These young volunteers bring new energy and perspectives, potentially leading to innovative solutions for community issues.

  3. Future Leadership Development: The program helps cultivate the next generation of philanthropic leaders. Participants who gain firsthand experience in philanthropy may become more likely to pursue careers in the sector or become lifelong philanthropists themselves.

  4. Enhanced Reputation and Credibility: By demonstrating a commitment to youth and education, the organization can enhance its reputation as a forward-thinking and inclusive entity. This can attract more donors and partners who value innovation and community involvement.

  5. Increased Diversity: Including diverse young voices in decision-making can help the organization address a broader range of issues and come up with more comprehensive solutions. This diversity in perspectives can lead to more robust and effective philanthropic strategies.

  6. Sustainability: Engaging youth not only helps address current community needs but also ensures that there is a pipeline of informed, skilled individuals ready to support the philanthropic sector in the future. This aids in the long-term sustainability of the organization and its mission.

  7. Public Relations and Marketing: Youth involvement can enhance public relations efforts, as initiatives led by or involving youth may receive more attention from the media and public. This can increase the visibility of the organization’s efforts and attract further support.

  8. Leveraging Technology and Innovation: Young people are often more adept with technology and new media, which can help the organization improve its use of digital tools for philanthropy and communication, keeping it current in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

These benefits highlight how a youth-led philanthropy program can not only impact the participants but also significantly advance the organization's goals and extend its impact within the community. By following this template, the philanthropic organization can create a dynamic and impactful youth-led philanthropy program that not only educates young people about the field but also actively involves them in meaningful community change.

Thank you for reading. I hope it helps. If you are looking to delve deeper or would like additional support, I invite you to reach out via email at

Together, we can harness the vibrant energy and innovative ideas of our youth to nurture lasting social impact.

-Sylvester Chisom

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