Young People Love Organizing for Social Good. Here's How to Make Their Work Even More Powerful.

Unfortunately, increasingly scarce funding for youth organizations since the recession has made millennial advocacy and organizing harder on all levels.
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Young people have always used political organization and activism to push social justice and political change. Unfortunately, increasingly scarce funding for youth organizations since the recession has made millennial advocacy and organizing harder on all levels. Large foundation funding accounts for over 70 percent of all youth organizations' budgets, but only a handful of older, usually multigenerational organizations, are funded on a consistent basis. Alternative solutions to large donor giving need to be found to enable more youth organizations on every level -- local, state, national, and global -- to operate on a level playing field.

The Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing, a funding and infrastructure-building organization for youth organizations run by young people from diverse backgrounds in rural, metropolitan, and other settings, has been working on this for ten years. FCYO funds such youth organizations on the local level on up, helping them build social movements to help young people live better. Eric Braxton, the organization's Executive Director, believes more organizations should adopt this model, because "...attempts to create youth advisory structures can result in tokenization rather than helping young people develop the collective power to address the roots of inequity." Instead, he says, "we have found that the most effective way for young people to achieve lasting change is to build powerful organizations that cooperate as part of a broader social movement."

Nexus, a global organization joining young wealth holders, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and impact investors to catalyze global change, realizes this. When I asked Jonah Wittkamper, Nexus' co-founder, how to make youth organizing sustainable, he told me that "...a key stumbling block to uniting youth-led non-profits and movements has been funding. If the next generation of philanthropist can unite in diversity then it can create a space for everyone else to come to the table."

Young people have relied on diverse coalitions to drive social change for decades. Applying that idea to youth philanthropy is what Nexus has been working on since 2011. "A union like this," Jonah told me, "could allow the millennial generation to overcome previously intractable age-old problems." Age-old problems, like diversifying grantees and sustainably engaging young philanthropists, definitely hold the youth movement back. The question, then, is how best to build a sustainable model for youth philanthropy?

It's a difficult question to answer. Page 8 of FCYO's 2014 Youth Scan shows that even when youth organizations get funded, donors can still dictate what they do with the money, which often takes away from the youth-driven authenticity of the work. Even issue-driven funders sometimes only focus on achieving specific policy-driven goals through their giving, placing much less energy into building infrastructure in vulnerable communities.

An unconventional funding method may bear a solution to these problems. In 2013, Mountain View, CA-based tech startup accelerator Y Combinator, a type of company known as a startup accelerator which biannually invests small amounts of money ($120,000 USD) in a large number of handpicked startups, announced on its website that it would begin accepting nonprofits, in addition to tech startups, into its accelerator program. Instead of providing a certain amount of capital in exchange for equity, though, Y Combinator proposed simply giving successful nonprofit startup founders a $50,000 gift in support of their organizations.

Page 14 of FCYO's 2013 Youth Scan supports how beneficial this kind of controlled giving can be for nonprofits. It shows that most youth organizations operate on shoestring budgets of or under $350,000, and, regardless, achieve amazing things. The Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council, a youth-led initiative working to create a federal-level, youth-led council working with the White House and Congress on youth policy and youth programs, is a great example of this. Just this past March, the organization re-launched an ongoing lobbying effort for the passage of a bipartisan resolution in the House expressing support on the federal level for a Presidential Youth Council -- on a budget of $190. In the past, they have lobbied successfully for the passage of such resolutions in New Mexico's, Indiana's, and Massachusetts' state Congresses on similarly tight budgets.

Applying the startup accelerator model to youth philanthropy is a heretofore-unexplored strategy for youth organization fundraising. By working together and giving small amounts of money -- between $30,000 to $100,000 -- to seasonal batches of highly accomplished, high-potential youth organizations, young wealth holders can maximize their social impact without sacrificing their overall asset growth trajectories in the short term. This giving model has the potential to make philanthropy for youth organizations more equitable. If taken seriously, the popularization of this giving model could lead to the elevation of many more young advocates -- who otherwise might not have had the resources to succeed -- on issues that plague the Millennial generation. In this way, active young people will have better chances not only to fund their causes, but also to help their peers achieve greater life outcomes over the long term through broader-based, better funded youth advocacy.

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