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Philanthroteens: Transforming Teens Into Givers, Part 3

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Following is Part 3 of a special Giving 2.0 blog series on raising giving children. My hope is that the ideas, resources, knowledge and tools presented here and on my website (www.giving2.com) will inspire and educate your family's philanthropic journey. These posts aim to empower you to share your giving values with your children by providing practical and actionable ways to create positive change together.

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"Working with youth will be like a stone thrown into a pond; the ripples keep expanding far beyond our time and place, far beyond our ability to measure or perhaps even envision."
-Dr. Russell G. Mawby, former CEO, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

When it comes to giving, we can draw inspiring lessons from today's youth. The volunteer rate among sixteen- to nineteen-year-olds, in terms of hours given, has almost doubled since 1989, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. Last week, I wrote about how colleges and universities are developing programs and fields of study in social entrepreneurship that can empower a new generation of individuals to create both nonprofit and for-profit companies with social benefit. This week, I'll highlight the work of young social entrepreneurs and teen philanthropists.

From Global Engagement...

About eighteen months ago, Elizabeth Newton took my Stanford undergraduate class, "Philanthropy and Social Innovation" (she was earning her MA in Education at the time). During our last class she presented a powerful idea-the creation of a nonprofit that could educate and empower teenagers to be philanthropists. With hard work and passion--and the support of a few key board members, including Kiva-co-founder Jessica Jackley (who met Elizabeth when she came to talk in my class)--she made that idea a reality.

Elizabeth established Allowance for Good in the summer of 2010 to cultivate a culture of giving, inspire American youth to become "the next generation of engaged global givers and citizens," and contribute to the evolution of education in developing countries. Allowance for Good invites teen investors--it calls them "Young Catalysts"--between the ages of thirteen and eighteen to pledge $5 or $10 of their allowance on a monthly basis or to make a one-time funding commitment to selected international education projects through a Student or personal PayPal account or credit card. And helping create such accounts (while also setting boundaries around the use of the student PayPal account) is a great way for parents to help empower teens to be philanthropic.

The organization teaches participants that thoughtful contributions--however small--can broaden their perspectives of the world and help make a difference in youth education in developing countries. Teens learn about global educational needs and select projects to fund. Additionally, these teen funders receive pictures, videos, and stories of how their donations create impact. Allowance for Good aims to reach students of all socioeconomic backgrounds and to demonstrate to them that, by participating as a global citizen, they're not limited by income, race, or culture.

The program allows young people across the world to take up giving opportunities that are both tailored to and benefiting teens. Essentially, it democratizes the philanthropic act and makes it accessible to anyone of any age.

...To Local Engagement.

An inspiring example of teen philanthropy that engages in local, collaborative giving is the Teen Philanthropy Program of SV2 (Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund), the venture philanthropy partnership I created and led for its first decade.

Launched in 2009, the SV2 Teen Philanthropy program offers a comprehensive philanthropic experience through which 6-12th grade children of SV2 partners develop deeper knowledge of the nonprofit sector and grantmaking practices. They also actively learn about a variety of social issues and the nonprofits addressing those issues, and are often inspired to make a bigger difference through giving their time or own dollars outside of the program. SV2 staff members and partners (sometimes even parents of the teen participants) lead the program in close partnership with a Leadership Committee-a group of returning high-school students who have graduated from the Teen Philanthropy program.

The SV2 Teens program has grown quite a bit in its first three years--it started with thirteen teens in 2009, and last year in 2011 it had twenty-five. Hopefully, it will have even more this year. The participants are middle and high school students from a variety of local schools who have chosen to participate in this program and give their time, energy, and talent to nonprofits.

These "philanthroteens" spend an annual twenty hours over five to seven sessions during which they volunteer at local poverty-fighting organizations, talk with nonprofit leaders, and work as a group to make funding decisions. This year, the SV2 Teens will also participate in a three-hour poverty action simulation with their families to help them gain empathy and perspective before diving into their service projects.

Here are a couple of examples of what they've achieved. In 2009, SV2 Teens granted the San Jose's Awaso Hope Foundation $5,000 to buy desks for the school the foundation is building in Awaso, Ghana. SV2's donors were so inspired by this project that several of them got together and matched the gift to Awaso. Last year, the teens gave $5,500 to furnish a new computer lab at Family House, a Ronald-McDonald-House-like charity in San Francisco. During their grant presentation, the Family House staff told them about a second big need-a new dishwasher for residents to use. One of the SV2 teens and her family stepped up to donate the dishwasher too.

The teens' grants reflect SV2's core mission--to build the capacity of nonprofits, funding infrastructure and organizational management capabilities, so that the nonprofits can deliver their goods and services more effectively. And like SV2 partners, the teens are able to see how they've made a difference through their involvement of time, dollars, and talent, as well as inspire additional gifts from others around them, leveraging tens of thousands of dollars through their efforts. All of this while developing their own capacity to give in a way that matters more.

The words of the teens themselves capture the power of this program:

"I'd never really tried to help anyone but myself," said Rachael K., a 9th grader. "Working with SV2 Teens has helped me to think about the change I could make if I tried!"

"Coming into SV2 teens three years ago, I didn't want anything to do with it," said Alex S. (12th grade). "Now I look forward to every session and know that I am making a difference in the world, locally and internationally."

From such early-stage changemakers, these words are inspiring--for, with a giving legacy that has begun at so young an age, just imagine the ripple effect each teen will create over a lifetime.

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen is the author of Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, November 2011). For a host of resources to make your giving matter more, please visit www.giving2.com.