Youth Philanthropy: Hope I give before I get old

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Pardon the pun, but there's an age old question asked in almost every era of marketing: how do you capture the imagination, attention and spirit of youth? And for practitioners in the third sector, the question is a burning one, considering that philanthropy is a trait that benefits from modeling examples at an early age.

In the current epoch, there's a heavy trend toward leveraging new media - Internet-based social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter come readily to mind - to reach out to youth and to young, emerging professionals to preach the values of giving back to one's community, whether on a local or global scale.

Not your parents' MTV generation

However, quantifying the success of online outreach of this kind is still in its early stages and isn't readily available. That said, take a cursory look at Facebook and Twitter sites of well-known youth philanthropists such as the Kielberger brothers - founders of Free the Children and who have been featured in numerous CharityVillage articles, Hannah Taylor, the youthful founder of the Ladybug Foundation, Canadian youth volunteer service organization Katimavik, and Bilaal Rajan, who founded Hands For Help back in 2006, to name just a tiny few. Add up all the Facebook and Twitter followers and fans of just these few inspiring folks, and the numbers would boggle the mind of marketers had they tried to emulate this viral popularity a scant decade ago.

  1. Free the Children/Me To We: approx. 12,000 fans and followers
  2. Hands for Help: Main site 90. Bilaal's site: 532
  3. Katimavik: Approx. 6,000 fans and followers
  4. Imagine Canada: 255 fans and counting

There are many others and most of the above sites are just getting started as their creators figure out new ways to get their messages and missions across.

"Young people need models, not critics" – John Wooden

Wooden apparently could not have been more right. According to the 2007 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Philanthropy, (CSGVP), the following stats were tallied, showing that Canadian youth are ripe for engagement and are already more involved philanthropically than one might think. (The following compilation of data is courtesy Imagine Canada):

  • Young Canadians aged 15 to 24 were more likely to volunteer (58% volunteered) than Canadians in any other age group.
  • Those aged 15 to 19 were more likely to volunteer than the 20 to 24 year olds (65% vs. 47%).
  • However, 20 to 24 year olds volunteer more hours on average (182 vs.116)
  • Generally speaking, the likelihood of volunteering decreases with age (after 35-44), while the number of hours volunteered increases.
  • Those 65 and over volunteered an average of 218 hours, while 15 to 24 year olds volunteered an average of 138 hours.

This would seem to play out in the realm of outreach on the Internet, with youth being the early adopters of any new communications/social networking technology. But alongside those with virtual philanthropic tendencies is also a more physically involved cohort of youth.

It's always time for philanthropy

Theresa Wetzel, 25, is a manger with in Toronto - the volunteer, grassroots arm of the Framework Foundation - which hosts annual events in six cities across the country where youth bid on artwork with volunteer hour pledges instead of money. Once their pledges are fulfilled with whichever charitable organization sponsored the particular piece of art, the volunteer "wins" the picture.

According to Wetzel, the majority of Timeraiser volunteers are youth. And the organization appeals to the demographic because of its unique engagement strategy. Wetzel submitted the following stats to CharityVillage as proof her organization is making a difference and attracting youth.

Since 2004, the Timeraiser program has successfully expanded to six cities across Canada and has to date:

  • Invested $295,000 in the careers of emerging artists
  • Engaged 3,600 Canadians to pick up a cause
  • Raised 45,000 volunteer hours
  • Supported over 250+ NGOs

"In my experience the best way to attract youth to philanthropy is by providing them with the tools and resources to get connected easily to causes that are important to them and providing them with meaningful volunteer opportunities," Wetzel says. "The Timeraiser, in particular, is focused on skilled volunteerism so we encourage agencies to post positions and to recruit volunteers with particular skill sets, as those are the types of volunteer positions volunteers are looking for. Also, through out new initiative Civic Footprint, we are asking individuals to see how they use their time and money for causes that are important to them throughout their lifetime and to work out a plan about how they are involved in their city. The Timeraiser and Civic Footprint are great ways to get young people involved in their city and to think about the long-term impact they want to make in their community." CharityVillage also attempted to contact the people at the Toskan-Casale Foundation's Youth Philanthropy Initiative (YPI), but there was no response by deadline.

However, the YPI's work is worth noting in that, as its name suggests, it's specifically targeted to Canadian youth in high schools. The initiative's goals and mission were previously written about in these online pages in a 2008 Q&A with one of the foundation's founders, Julie Toskan-Casale.

Since its inception in 2001, the YPI has "enabled young philanthropists to donate $2,500,000," according to their website.

YAC it up

Lastly, one enduring, cross-country philanthropic initiative geared toward youth is the Community Foundations of Canada's Youth in Philanthropy program.

This program helps kids participate in what they call "YACs" or youth advisory committees, which is described on their website as a "council made up of young people from a diverse range of backgrounds who want to be actively involved in supporting their community. Each YAC is part of its local community foundation, locally-run public foundations that build and manage endowment funds to support charitable activities in their area. Canada has more than 155 community foundations, and more than 50 YACs."

From 2008 to 2009, Winnipeg students partaking in the YIP program made 164 grants totaling more than $115,000 to numerous charities. More than 300 students, representing 22 Winnipeg high schools and the Boys and Girls Club of Winnipeg, participated in the program during this time, according to a statement released by the foundation in May.

Spreading the word

A small end note: One of the main drivers behind the adoption by youth of any new cause (or product) is that old standby of sales success: word-of-mouth. , a London-based youth marketing expert lists this as one of his top 10 marketing tools for youth.

"We're all struggling to get a handle on word-of-mouth. But let me tell you, your best customer advocates are all around you - your employees. Empower them to spread the word," he writes in his 50 Youth Marketing Trends for 2009 blog. It's sound advice for selling products and just as sound for selling philanthropy to Canadian youth. The proof is in the Tweeting.

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is president of WordLaunch professional writing services in Toronto. He can be reached at

Please note: While we ensure that all links and e-mail addresses are accurate at their publishing date, the quick-changing nature of the web means that some links to other web sites and e-mail addresses may no longer be accurate.

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