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Local Youth Board Maximizes Impact of Philanthropic Contributions

A brand new effort by juniors and seniors from North Shore high schools allows students to find out how not-for-profit organizations work by putting them accountable for where donors’ dollars are spent. And this system requires the scholars to lift the cash, too.

The Youth Philanthropy Board, an affiliate of the nonprofit Three Pillars Initiative out of Oak Park, got here to life in the summertime of 2022, when Three Pillars contacted area high schools with the thought.

“All the colleges were enthusiastic,” said Terri Guercio, of Loyola Academy, the group’s senior program coordinator.

Three Pillars, founded by president Rick King in 2010, provides a model and curriculum for the philanthropy boards, in addition to logistical support. It has arrange philanthropy boards at high schools nationwide. The intent, said Remington Sheehan, senior program officer with Three Pillars, is for the boards to be student-led. The boards have adult coordinators and mentors, but decisions are made by youth in this system.

The board requires students to make a two-year commitment. Of their junior 12 months, they determine which of the various local nonprofits they would love to offer with a $2,500 grant. In total, the primary cohort had $10,000, raised privately, to award. The scholars put out a request for proposals to a big selection of groups. When ideas got here in from the nonprofits for tactics they might spend the cash, the board broke into teams of scholars from different schools. Each team made a site visit to a nonprofit to find out how it worked and its goals for the funds.

Kate Henry, a senior at Winnetka’s North Shore Country Day, said that the location visits were a fantastic point of contact and helped construct a relationship with the nonprofits.

“We saw the programs they were offering, we talked to people within the programs. We heard real stories from real people,” Henry said.

Then the teams presented their findings to one another, and the entire board hashed out which nonprofits would receive the grants without advice from adults. This meeting, said senior James Sohigian, of Loyola Academy, was “pretty intense.” Groups got here in favoring the nonprofit they’d visited, but “the goal was to achieve consensus, and we did that. This was not a majority vote. We desired to be all in,” he said.

In the long run, he added, it was essential to the board that it select nonprofits with which it could proceed a relationship into the long run.

“It was amazing,” Guerico said of the board’s decision process.

The scholars focused on organizations that might serve students their age. They brought a youth perspective to how dollars can be spent, which may be very much an element of Three Pillars’ intent, Sheehan noted.

“The boards profit communities because they offer youth a voice,” Sheehan said. “This can be a technique to incorporate student voices, and it’s interesting to see how that grows” over time. “And the scholars are good at it!” he added. “It’s often surprising to see how worthwhile their opinions and decisions are.”

The Three Pillars model, he noted, differs from many other service clubs that students can join.

“This provides them resources and a selection. It’s empowering,” he said. “It’s also more of a commitment. It’s a grant making cycle and a fundraising round. Students lead it.”

Emma Bevenour, a senior at Regina Dominican High School, said the board is “different from anything I’ve done.” She and other board members have long been involved in service clubs and activities, “but this goes beyond service,” she said. “We learned in regards to the organizations’ processes, how they use the cash they receive, and the way they’ll profit from it.” Also, “once we handed out the grants we developed a relationship with the organizations.”

These partnerships have moved into the subsequent 12 months, with the kids volunteering with the nonprofits and marketing their events on social media.

Students undergo an application and interview process to be chosen for the board. Guercio said that she and Jennifer Harrington, a program mentor who works at Regina Dominican High School, reach out to teachers and counselors at the several high schools, asking them to speak in regards to the program with students they consider can be an excellent match. This rigor contrasts with clubs that students select to hitch. Guercio thinks it ends in a wider mix of scholars with differing experience.

As seniors, board members must raise the cash that the subsequent 12 months’s juniors will dole out to chose nonprofits. They learn learn how to write an appeal letter, determine where the letters might be sent. They organize and run an event, which this 12 months might be a dine and donate at Pizza by Sal’s from March 17-21.

The scholars will even seek grants and interact with potential donors.

“The seniors need to get comfortable asking for money,” Harrington said. “It’s a life skill. They need to ask others to hitch them in funding this work.”

The seniors have also created an Instagram account: (at)youthphilanthropyboard.

Asked whether involvement within the board has modified how they give thought to philanthropy, all the scholars said yes. Henry noted that before joining, “I had a preconceived notion that only successful business people could do it.” Not true, she thinks now. “Anyone can do philanthropy with a bunch.”

For Henry, the experience also made her much more enthusiastic about studying business in college because she has seen the business side of philanthropy.

Sohigian said he’ll proceed with philanthropy going forward, partially because he has learned that it isn’t only about donating money.

“It’s all about creating an environment where two parties can work to create change in the long run,” he said.

Donors, Harrington said, have told her that they feel their money is amplified by flowing through the board on its technique to a nonprofit. The funds’ impact is increased since it gives students real-world experience of how the not-for-profit sector operates, then moves entirely into the community. That time, she noted, “is within the appeal letter.”

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