Or, “children are tomorrow’s leaders.”
We hear variations of these familiar messages from nonprofits across sectors – from education to social services, from the arts to the environment. But what do we really mean when we use these well-worn statements?
This past weekend I had the privilege of working with a group of high school students participating in the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle‘s teen philanthropy initiative, “J.Team.” Over the course of a school year, 28 teenagers from throughout the Puget Sound region are coming together once a month to pool their resources (matched by a generous challenge grant from the community), identify organizations of interest, and then spend the year conducting site visits, meeting staff, and listening to clients, with the goal of awarding grants where they believe they can have the greatest impact. The generosity of last year’s group of teens helped to further the missions of six diverse local and international organizations.
This month, the teens were meeting at a nursing home that had recently submitted an RFP to the group. I used my time with them to discuss the similarities and differences between nonprofits and for-profits (the Seattle Opera vs. Lady Gaga provided a simple comparison!) and the most effective strategies for increasing their pool of funds. Each teen committed to identifying a friend or family member (parents excluded) for a face-to-face solicitation in the first quarter of 2011. Although a few were initially hesitant, they instinctively understood that they would not be asking because J. Team has needs, but because as a group they have the power to meet needs.
But the most inspiring part of the experience for me was not our “nuts and bolts” training session. Instead, it was listening beforehand to the students engage with the site visit speaker, a social worker who was requesting funds for his nursing home’s new hospice. It was dinner time on a dark, very rainy, and cold Sunday evening, yet here were young adults asking thoughtful and thorough questions like experts: “How will our relatively small amount of money make a difference?” “Exactly how many people will we help?” “Who else will you ask to support your work?” “What will happen if we don’t give you money?” “Is it sad to work with people who are dying, and why did you choose to do it?”
As adults, when we speak about children as “our future” or as “tomorrow’s leaders,” each of us means something different. Some of us believe that it is our collective responsibility to care for all of society’s children, not just our own. Some of us want to ensure that our personal passions remain a priority when we are no longer here. And some of us understand that like those who came before us, we hold the world in trust for the next generation. Whatever our motivations, J.Team taught me an invaluable lesson: that many children – or in this case teens – aren’t waiting for us to create a better future; they are partnering with us to create it today.
Is your organization leveraging the enthusiasm and energy of young people? Share the good news with us!
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About the Author
Barb Maduell CFRE
With pithy advice and sensible solutions, Barb guides her clients through the cycle of best fundraising practices, coaching them to greater heights.