“I Don’t Know Any Different”

September 10, 2013

Imagine a place in which all youth were compassionate, empathetic, and giving. Where they engage in giving wholeheartedly with their families. And are excited to learn about how they can give more of themselves in a way that aligns with their values and interests. Where they make statements like “I don’t know any different” when talking about their philanthropy.

I had the privilege to be in such a place in June at the third annual Youth Philanthropy Connect. A youth-designed conference for fellow philanthropic youth and their families, this conference is a unique experience, set within Disneyland, the “happiest place on Earth.” Launched in 2011 and hosted by The Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation, the initial gathering was a small affair with four family foundations and 35 next generation youth. This year, 12 family foundations from across the country, and 60 youth gathered together to uncover their values, define their personal mission statements, learn about the basics of philanthropy, do fun service projects together, and participate in a giving circle, which was the ultimate experience.

The youngest attendees, youth ages 8-12, participated in specially designed Early Explorer sessions, expertly facilitated by Amy Johnson of Classrooms for Change and Heather Jack of Future Philanthropists. Older youth could choose between one of three different sessions like “Learning Leadership through Philanthropy” or  “Social Media for Social Good.” Adults had their own concurrent track throughout the conference. I had the pleasure of facilitating a discussion about how we can build foundation-nonprofit relationships to promote youth philanthropy success. Michael Moody, who conducted the Next Gen Donors research, shared key findings to support the conversation.

The highlight, however, was watching the giving circle deliberations. On the final day of the conference, after hearing presentations from five local organizations, and reviewing mini-grant applications via a site created by Foundant Technologies, the youth engaged in a lively discussion about each of the organizations and the youth-related projects they were proposing. How did the group’s values align with those of the organizations? What were the pros and cons of the projects? How would they divide the money amongst the potential grantees? Sitting there, listening to these youth, I was taken back to my own stints as a grant proposal reviewer. I was impressed to hear these youth asking such astute questions, similar to ones I’d heard in past review sessions, and really critically thinking about how the money would make a difference for each project. In the end, through a process of discussion, voting, and then debate, each organization was awarded a grant, albeit different sizes.

Amy Johnson facilitating giving circle

Amy Johnson facilitating giving circle


This experience was the perfect way to draw the conference to a close. It was inspiring to watch youth engage in such spirited discussion knowing they were taking this opportunity seriously. They validated my faith in the future of philanthropy. Each of these youth are prepared and determined to make a difference in this world.

If you’re looking for an opportunity for your next generation family members to learn about philanthropy in a relaxed, supportive, and fun environment, mark your calendar for July 24-26, 2014. You can even register NOW and get the Early Bird Rate!

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