Bruce DeBoskey of the DeBoskey Group.

Can Kids Really Be Philanthropists?

With philanthropy as their cause, kids are not only the leaders of tomorrow; they’re demonstrating passion, insight and ability to be leaders today. Young people, viewing the world through a different lens than their parents and grandparents, are raising money, giving it away, and creating inspired outcomes.

Children can become engaged in philanthropy at young ages by donating gently used toys and books. As they mature, kids can be encouraged to set aside a portion of their allowance for charity and volunteer in service projects with siblings and parents. As young adults, they can participate in honest communication with their elders about the family’s money, philanthropy, estate planning and legacy. These approaches help young people learn about compassion, collaboration, community, caring for others, and causes that are important for their future and our present.

For three generations and continuing, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has helped kids give up Halloween candy and raise over $164 million to help needy children around the world. This child-focused philanthropic initiative has taught millions about global poverty and demonstrated that small acts of generosity can make a big difference in the lives of others.

Several Denver-based programs help kids learn how to raise money and invest it in support of worthy causes. By learning the strategies and tactics of philanthropy, kids become more engaged, develop important skills, collaborate with peers, make difficult choices and experience their ability to impact the world.

Young Philanthropists Foundation works in more than 40 schools serving 15,000 students annually. YPF’s signature initiative, the Penny Harvest, helps students harvest “idle pennies” from family and friends, use those funds to make micro-grants to nonprofits, and participate in corresponding service projects. YPF teaches students about civic engagement and teamwork, and helps them develop a greater understanding of their classmates, school and community.

YouthRoots trains high school students in communication skills, leadership styles, and group dynamics, helps them find their strengths, passions and personality styles, guides them in raising money from businesses, and empowers them to invest those funds in local charities. One student said, “YouthRoots has instilled in me the belief that every person has the power to make a difference, and each individual can play a seminal role in sparking change.”

Rose Youth Foundation is an initiative of Rose Community Foundation for Jewish high school students. Each year, RYF teenagers work together to identify needs in the community, learn about grant-making approaches and strategies, and make grants to nonprofits. In RYF’s first decade, nearly $500,000 was granted, teens’ identification with their faith tradition was strengthened, participants saw that they could make a difference in the world, and many continued to lead and volunteer for other nonprofits in later years.

Other excellent resources on youth philanthropy include Do Something, Learning to Give, and YesKidzCan!

Adults who participate with young people in philanthropic activities often learn new ways to view and address social problems, and become better- educated and inspired to do even more with their own charitable initiatives.

Lisa Farber Miller, senior program officer at Rose Community Foundation, advises that

As adults, we need to fight the instinct to do things for teens and their future. Instead, we need to empower them to make a difference now. Engage them in grant-making decisions. Give them adult opportunities to make an impact and improve their community through philanthropy. They won’t disappoint you.”

The lessons kids learn from participating in philanthropy last a lifetime and help inspire them and the adults who know them to care, give and act boldly to make the world a healthier, more just and more sustainable place.

This post originally appeared in the Denver Post on Sunday, February 19, 2012 and is posted here with permission by the author.

About Bruce DeBoskey

Bruce DeBoskey, J.D., is a Colorado-based philanthropic strategist working across the U.S. with The DeBoskey Group to help families, businesses and foundations design and implement thoughtful philanthropic strategies and actionable plans. He is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and workshops on philanthropy. More information at or @BDeBo.

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