Youth and Philanthropy: Engaging Young People in Their Communities

Whenever the subject of youth and philanthropy arises, I feel like I am in a time warp, listening to Paul Lynde singing “Kids” in Bye Bye Birdie.  “What’s the matter with kids today?”

In polite conversation, of course, the question sounds more like this: “How do we engage young people in philanthropy?”

I admit I have grown tired of the question. I am tired of hearing about kids who don’t care, kids who won’t take life seriously. Kids who are not involved. Kids who can’t take their iPods out of their ears long enough to care about their communities. Slackers! Hedonists! Spoiled brats!

So why am I tired of it? Because that doesn’t come close to describing the young people that are everywhere in my life. My daughter, and Dimitri’s sons, and all their friends. The young people who work in our office – and their friends and significant others.

But it’s not just the young people I know. One look at the Iowa caucuses tells the story. One look through the morning paper every morning tells the story as well. Kids seem to be busy creating the future of their world – everywhere!

I wrote about this last month as the Brain Teaser for our Help 4 NonProfits newsletter. The last few paragraphs sparked a ton of emails, all from adults saying, “Right on! That’s my experience as well!” And thank goodness.

Thank goodness, also, for the glimmer of hope we are seeing in the portrayal of young people in popular culture. Yes, there are still dopey books about teenaged crushes. But then there is Robin Brande’s wonderful first novel, Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature. This book is winning awards everywhere, precisely because it shows teenagers making the kinds of intelligent and yes, adult decisions that might equally be made by all the teenagers I know.

And then there is Juno, the sparkling treat of a movie from sparkling director Jason Reitman. Juno is about as honest a portrayal of a brilliantly smart teenager, with loving parents and a healthy dose of curiosity about the world as you are going to find. And imagine, the Academy Awards thought such a story worthy of a best picture nomination! Talk about finally growing up!

No, neither of these works is about philanthropy. But they both celebrate the fact that young people, as they always have been, have tremendous potential for amazing. They are bright. They are aware as aware can be. And they have answers.

Carol Weisman captured that in her latest book, Raising Charitable Children. I confess when I picked it up to read, I was so skeptical, expecting the same condescending drivel we find when folks wonder about young people and philanthropy. And I was so surprised to find a book that indeed celebrates the innate philanthropy in young people, that we started selling the book at our website!

And so when people ask me, “How do we grow philanthropy in young people?” here is what I tell them:

Young people are bright and aware and they have answers.
So don’t ask me. Ask them!

Photo credit: Me! (And yes, Adam, that’s you!)

One Response to Youth and Philanthropy: Engaging Young People in Their Communities

  1. Hildy, thanks for including me in such great company! I love to be on a list like this.

    I agree with you about young people–in fact, they have a lot of answers the rest of us don’t. Conversations with teens and young adults are always rewarding–I love to hear their perspective.

    Great post!