Measuring success in youth philanthropy

publication date: Apr 20, 2016
author/source: Dave Stuckey

Dave StuckeyThis is the sixth article in a series exploring best practices in youth philanthropy.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve examined the importance of youth philanthropy: the benefits it has for young people, the non-profit sector, and our communities as a whole. It’s a field with multiple layers of impact, and the more you look into them, the deeper they go.

Youth philanthropy has itself grown up, with a huge amount research, talent and expertise leading the charge: from the engaged professionals at foundations, non-profits and educational institutions, to the scores of young people eager to get involved. Together they’ve established youth philanthropy as a gateway to systemic change, helping youth develop an emotional stake in social issues, build empathy for people in need, and form relationships with their fellow community members dedicated to making a difference. At the same time, the field gives youth a platform to be heard, to lead, and to learn outside a classroom setting, honing their skills and experience by doing truly meaningful work.

My organization, the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI), aims to connect high school students, charities, and funders in order to serve immediate community needs, but also to contribute to deeper social change by influencing attitudes and behaviours in the long-term. Our goal is not simply to make youth philanthropy a single transaction between young people and the non-profit sector, but a bridge – one that encourages long-term engagement, strengthens communities, and leads to a public more aware of the dangerous power of ignorance, and empathetic of social issues and vulnerable people.

Monitoring and evaluation

To this end, we know our ability to measure our contribution, in real time, goes hand in hand with the impact itself. It advances our mission because it helps us continually improve our program, communicate results achieved with and for our stakeholders, and better collaborate with peer organizations. It’s not always a simple process (measuring the ripple effect created by a change in a teenager’s perception about a social issue, for example, isn’t so straightforward) but it’s important in keeping our momentum in this fast-evolving field.

Organizations involved in youth philanthropy will undoubtedly run the gamut in how they gather and use data. What works well for some might not for others. YPI’s indicators of success include demonstrated changes in young people’s empathy towards vulnerable people, their confidence speaking up for others, and their understanding of social issues. Some of the methods we use to capture this data include student, charity, and teacher surveys, as well as focus groups and testimonials. Case studies bring to life wonderful examples of how young people, after taking our program, have stayed involved in charity work or community development, and cite YPI as inspiration.

Share what works, and what doesn’t

Over the years we’ve developed relationships and partnerships with other youth giving organizations, and have shared a wealth of data on what’s been effective – or not - in our work. We’ve learned that operating in a silo is something to avoid, and collaboration through information sharing is key in driving higher levels of impact.

US-based Foundations Center also recognizes the need for collaboration in our field, and is currently at work on launching a global hub that will connect youth giving organizations, pool data and resources, and inspire partnerships for deeper impact.

In addressing systemic social issues, youth philanthropy is very much part of the solution. When it clicks, young people’s perspective on social issues, stereotypes and stigma, and their role in their community can be completely transformed, and the resulting outcomes can be long-term and wide-scale. The amazing organizations who are dedicated to engaging younger generations to care about what’s happening around them deserve a lot of credit for their accomplishments. And we go further when we work together.

Dave Stuckey manages communications for the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative, a multi award-winning secondary school program that strengthens the social sector by engaging youth in social issues, local charities, and grant-making. You can contact him at

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