Philanthropy Is Inspiring when Kids Make the Decisions

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June 17, 2015; Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, MA)

There’s an aphorism that’s often used by nonprofit organizations to recognize and reference long-time donors and other generous supporters: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” This quote—commonly but mistakenly attributed to Winston Churchill—is even more compelling when it references young philanthropists.

Though the term is derived from a Greek word meaning “for the love of humanity,” philanthropy has evolved over time to be associated with writing large checks. However, supporting community organizations ranging from human services to animal preservation to educational institutions can take many forms. But no matter what organization one chooses to support, everyone has the power to make an impact and shape the world.

According to Maggie Neilson, co-founder and CEO of Global Philanthropy Group:

“Philanthropy looks completely different today than it did five to ten years ago. Philanthropy is no longer just something people pursue at the end of their lives and it’s no longer the exclusive pursuit of the super wealthy. Young people want to engage in philanthropy, and they want to see it integrated into their everyday lives. Now, more than ever, the lines between philanthropy and business are blurring. We’re seeing the rise of B Corporations, such as Patagonia, and companies such as TOMS, which have made it easy for everyone to do something good in the world through their everyday purchases. Beyond that, donors are beginning to expect nonprofit organizations to take cues from the business world… Smart organizations understand this and are finding ways to engage people at a younger age, and are connecting them directly to the issues.”

Philanthropists have over many years donated millions of dollars to all chapters of the Boys and Girls Clubs, but recently, the time had come for an inspiring role reversal. Eight members of the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, Massachusetts, were given control of $5,000 courtesy of the Highland Street Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Initiative (HSYPI). HSYPI is a program for middle, high school, and college-aged youth that engages and empowers students to choose and fund nonprofits that address community and societal needs. Each group of students evaluates community nonprofits by making site visits, presenting their findings to the group, and collectively deciding how to allocate funding. The program culminates when students award grants to their chosen organizations at a check ceremony.

The eight high school student members spent 10 weeks researching and interviewing a variety of nonprofits before deciding who would receive grants: $2,000 went to the MSPCA Nevins Farm (Animal Care and Adoption Center) for a free vaccination clinic for dogs; $2,000 was awarded to Elevated Thought, a nonprofit that promotes social justice through art and will use the funds to create a city-wide beautification program of public art projects in Lawrence; and $1,000 was donated to the Merrimack Valley YMCA for its outdoor leadership program for local teens.

Joseph Guzman, who will be a high school senior, explained that before he took part in the project, “I didn’t even know what philanthropy was.” Now, he understands that the role of philanthropy is to “promote the welfare of others.” Steven Tran, who will be a junior, learned that everyone can be a philanthropist. He plans to attend MIT and study computer science. Rosa Reynoso, a senior in the fall, said there was “lots of debating” among the participants as to which organization should receive donations. She plans to study biomedical engineering.

This demonstration of philanthropy beginning early in life bodes well for the sustainability of nonprofit organizations. Winston Churchill would be proud.—Debbie Laskey