Engaging young people in philanthropy benefits both sides


Fiona Halton

Fiona Halton

Fiona Halton

This May, I witnessed a team of six banker graduates stand shoulder-to-shoulder on a city stage with ‘Beef’, a community worker from Prospex, a small charity working with young people in the deprived Caledonian Road area of North London. At 23, rather than in their late forties, it became apparent that these graduates had learnt much about life on the other side of the tracks and how they could make a difference by giving effectively to charities such as Prospex. 

But is this type of engagement the exception rather than the rule when it comes to young people and philanthropy? In a recent discussion, Dr Beth Breeze from Kent University asked why there might be a gap between people getting involved in giving at university and then starting again in middle age. Breeze points to research into financial flows and lifestages produced by the Future Foundation (see p6). No wonder the involvement can drop off: first job; first house (maybe); first child; promotions. It is usually at the peak of their career that people approach Pilotlight realising they want to be involved but can’t find the time. With graduates, there is so much pressure to succeed that many haven’t got the time even to think about it.

So how do we engage them in giving?

RBS and Pilotlight joined forces to develop a project to tackle this. We issued a six-month challenge to RBS graduates to work in different teams with six charities, including Reading Quest, the British Youth Council (BYC) and New Choices for Youth. The tasks they faced included developing and launching a new numeracy app to help children aged five to nine who are struggling with maths, a new marketing campaign to attract funders, and scoping out the creation of a social enterprise.

In the six months the graduates’ worldview shifted to include those in need and the charities that serve them.

Predictably, the graduates were as competitive as ever on stage presenting to the assembled luminaries how they had fulfilled their tasks – but that is no bad thing either. They had learned that using their core skills – the skills they already had and the determination that had won them their graduate traineeship – worked for the charity too. It was intelligent philanthropy and they loved it.

The charities were also asked what was like to work with the graduates. What came through for me was the raw energy and creativity that they brought. Jayne Lacny from Reading Quest, a charity that helps children improve their literacy and numeracy skills, says the development of a new app for children struggling with maths opens up an exciting new future.

‘As a charity, we want to create a trading arm to reflect the work we are doing and make us stronger financially. This project has taken us a huge step closer to this dream, with our team of graduates proving inspirational. We are so much closer now to being able to create and sell our numeracy and literacy work through the production of apps. Alone, we would have struggled. Together, we have achieved above and beyond our expectations.’

The graduates achieved great things for Reading Quest, but also found that philanthropy benefits two sides. They took back new skills to the workplace: from listening to clients to overcoming obstacles on a very tight budget to negotiation and marshalling resources.

They also learnt something else of immeasurable value very early in life. I was moved when I heard from Beef’s team because of what it meant for the future. The team described themselves facing the same struggles as Beef did in raising income and glowed with fresh admiration for the sector. More than that, they were staying on after the project ended to work with the charity in their scant spare time. And they had a different impression of north London from the one they and their friends usually experience: it is an area of immense deprivation as well as bright lights.

RBS graduate George Moore says as well as better understanding the charity sector; it has changed the way he thinks about his giving.

‘When you work for a big organisation it’s easy to take a lot of things for granted, but when you see the daily battles small charities face it makes you really appreciate what you have. It’s also made me understand how hard small charities work and how much they manage to achieve with very few resources.’

Fiona Halton is chief executive of Pilotlight

Tagged in: London volunteering Young philanthropists

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