“As the individuals who are most invested in the future that philanthropic funds are shaping, youth should absolutely have a say in how funds impact their communities. We are the spirit of our communities and we profoundly understand the consequences of adults’ decisions because they impact our lives directly. No one deserves a voice more than the backbone, spirit, and future of our communities: our youth.
YouthRoots Student, age 18

In 2019, AJL partnered with YouthRoots to pilot their leadership and youth philanthropy program in-school, as part of the curriculum, to give students an opportunity to make real impact beyond the walls of their schools. The program was developed to give students who don’t have access to after-school programming a voice in philanthropic decision-making.

Youth know the issues facing their schools and communities three years before adults and in 2019 the youth in this program identified the most critical issues facing their communities as mental health support for youth and young people in Colorado as well as gun violence and LGBTQ+ students’ rights. They raised money - $3,500 to be exact – and granted it to the Second Wind Fund, an organization with a mission to decrease the incidence of suicide in children and youth by removing the financial and social barriers to treatment.

Perhaps most importantly, the students make a strong case for involving youth voices in philanthropic decision-making. Here’s what the world’s future philanthropists have to say:

What do our youth bring to the decision-making table and why have they been left out?

“Young people are generally left out of philanthropy because many people believe that they are not responsible or capable to make an impact, however, this is important to change because there are many youth that are ardent about impacting the community, a passion that can be utilized in philanthropy. There are many people that have the skill and the responsibility to be effective in this field.”

“The youth definitely should be involved in how money impacts their communities because they are the ones who are going to have to live there in the future. They are the future of their communities and what they have to say about things is a good sign of how things should be or how they want things to be.”

“Young people are often left out of philanthropy because they are seen as “too young”. They are perceived to not have a good understanding of the world because they haven’t been alive for a long enough time. Many people believe that the younger generations don’t have enough insight into what goes on in the world and are too immature to grasp what is occurring. Just because they are young, they do not know what is right for their communities and what is needed because traditions rule and breaking from the mold is seen as something disgraceful.” 

“The young are seen as less due to the fact that they do not have as much life experience (which to many, is akin to maturity). I believe that the youth voice should be heard out more, and it starts with programs like YouthRoots, and hopefully one day it will lead to the voting age being lowered to 16 in order to have more young representation on major issues.” 

“Youth should be involved in deciding how money impacts their community, because if you ask a 40 year old and a 15 year old about where money should go in the community, I see different answers. This brings me to the community needs assessment that my youthboard did last year. I only shared the survey to teenagers with a variety of topics ranging from suicide to dating violence. Teen dating violence had the fewest amount of votes which prompted my youthboard to focus on it. This tragedy isn’t talked about a lot, which is why it’s even more important for money to go to services which combat it. Having the experiences we do with the world at our fingertips provides a different lens to community needs than adults who may prioritize other things.” 

“I honestly think young people are left out of philanthropy, because adults think we’ll mismanage money and organize it in the wrong places. It’s important to change this, because we’re the next group of people to flood voting centers and occupy jobs to make money. Everything will be in our hands, so beginning the process of philanthropy earlier plants a seed in the youth to continue this work in the future for a better one.” 

“Yes, youth should be involved in deciding where the money goes to the community and how it is used… in my participation on the youth board, we made an impact on our community through our voices and our understanding of a community needs assessment, and rather than focusing on what will benefit us, we focused on the community and what would benefit everyone to the highest degree. I may be biased in my perception, however, I believe that those who do not have a large position in today’s communities or governmental politics can truly have an unswayed and unbiased observation of today’s community needs through their own past and their own lens. We can see in today’s society how influential the voice of youth can be right now and how rather than fighting for what benefits themselves they fight for those who need a voice as well and who need people to care about what they have to say. I believe the youth of today have such a potential to change the course of the world in the most positive and enlightening ways.” 

“Young people are oftentimes left out of philanthropy because they have not been given a voice that will be heard and understood by those in charge and many of those who work in philanthropy sectors. This doesn't only boil down to the limitation of the youth voice because today’s youth simply do not hold positions of authority that influence the circulation of philanthropic matters leaving them without the ability to make real decisions that involve how money, aid, help will be directed towards communities from all walks of life.” 

What might the world look like if our youth were in charge?

“If I raised enough money, I could invest in my community’s youth--providing them with resources that will allow them to realize their full potential. I would invest in feeding, educating, and empowering tomorrow’s leaders. I would be able to unleash the immense change youth are capable of impacting when they have access to food, clothing, shelter, mental health resources, equitable education, and mentorship programs.”

“If I was able to fundraise sufficient money, it would be able to help me to accomplish my community change goals because I am able to endorse an organization that can help to alleviate a problem in the community. In this way, money has a pretty large impact on dilemmas such as homelessness in our communities.”

“Money is the thing that makes the world go round. It is sometimes heard over the sound of voices. If I had enough money to accomplish my community goals I would not take it for granted. It would allow me to give better experiences and fresh starts to those in need and it would allow for projects that are important for me and my community to be finished.” 

“It would help me accomplish my community change goals by funding schools in underfunded neighborhoods, and funding services for youth (specifically people of color) so that the school to prison pipeline dies down.”

“I would use my fundraising money and get a community needs assessment through many organizations in the local community and many individuals who have wide-ranging perspectives and beliefs for what should be done. Following this assessment, I would make a judgment on what is the most requested and most needed in my community and where my money can go to make the most impact.”

Still want more? Read 6 Reasons Youth Should be at the Decision-making Table, Colorado Trends of the Decade (2010 – 2020)  and meet the youth on AJL’s 2020 grantmaking committee here.