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Give Better. Give Together: How Generation Z ‘Shakes Up’ Philanthropy

“These kids are savvy, bold, and eager to do good. Like it or not, they’re poised to shake up philanthropy.”

With these words, The Chronicle of Philanthropy waved a flag to its readership about the up-and-coming Generation Z just a couple of weeks ago, but it’s a message that we at the Jewish Teen Funders Network and Amplifier already know. Indeed, thousands of teens are getting first-hand experience in philanthropy by participating in Jewish teen foundations – essentially, Jewish giving circles tailor-made for teens.

The field of Jewish teen philanthropy has grown exponentially over the last decade, with nearly 100 Jewish teen foundations in operation today (and more in the works). These foundations – run by Jewish federations, community foundations, synagogues, schools, JCCs and summer camps – invite and encourage teens to explore issues they care about … and then get involved.

Here’s how it works: A group of about 20 teens, post-bar/bat mitzvah, come together as a “teen foundation board.” They create a mission statement based on their shared values and priorities, and then set out on a philanthropic journey together. They learn about the nonprofit sector and the grantmaking process; they read grant proposals and go on site visits to organizations seeking support. They grapple with big questions like, “What does Jewish giving mean?” and “What’s the change we want to make in the world with our giving?” They decide together which organizations they want to fund with their shared grantmaking pool, which is comprised of their own contributions, money they raised from family and friends, and/or grants from local funders. Guided by Jewish values and peer-to-peer discussions, teens work through consensus to arrive at their final grantmaking decisions.

camp philanthropy

camp philanthropy

We believe that Jewish teen foundations are so compelling because they speak to the interests and strengths of this generation (born starting in the mid-90s to the early ‘00s):

  • Gen Z is socially aware and wants to “do good.” New data gathered by the marketing firm Deep Focus found that 20 percent of children and teenagers want to start a charity in their lifetimes. Social-media guru Beth Kanter dubbed them “PhilanthroKids,” observing the ways teens apply their technical and social-media skills to support charitable causes. Jewish teen foundations tap into this mindset and skillset, providing a meaningful, smart, and gratifying way to give.
  • Teens are ready to build on very early experience with philanthropy. From dropping coins in the tzedakah box to sponsoring a relative’s participation in a fundraising event, from baking for a school bake sale to raising money through an online crowdsourcing platform, most teens involved in Jewish teen foundations have already been introduced to the concept of money as a key ingredient when creating social change. Jewish teen foundations allow for a deeper dive into an exploration of the nonprofit sector, the essential role of philanthropic dollars, and the many questions and considerations that go into making funding decisions. And through their participation in a real grantmaking process, teens enjoy a rare – and eagerly welcomed – opportunity to take on real responsibilities and drive major decisions.
  • Teens want to be with their friends. Many participants in Jewish teen foundations worked on a philanthropic bar/bat mitzvah project, an individual project created around a teen’s interest areas. Now in high school, teens have a special opportunity to join with their friends and peers to engage in a project as a group. In addition to pooling their dollars and leveraging their financial impact, teens enjoy being part of a group of fellow leaders, givers, and doers. The group experience is social and educational, and creates a sense of community that teens crave.

JTFN has known for years that the early experience of collective giving through a Jewish teen foundation is just the beginning of what we hope will be a lifetime of giving through Jewish values. Now, this hope is much closer to becoming a reality: Amplifier provides a natural pipeline to the “grown-up” universe of Jewish giving circles.

Of course, many of the reasons we listed above for Jewish teen foundations’ appeal to Generation Z are the same reasons why people of all ages are joining and starting their own giving circles. Circles provide an empowered, social experience of philanthropy that can evolve as teens grow up, form new communities, and explore new interests.

Teens who have served on a Jewish teen foundation board are natural candidates to launch new giving circles in their adult years: on their college campuses, within their Hillels, with their Birthright Israel busmates, with their sorority sisters, or with their fellow teen foundation graduates as a self-directed alumni program. In doing so, teens can build upon their teen foundation experiences, apply the skills they learned, and exercise leadership in a new way throughout their lives. And now that they’ll be running circles themselves, Amplifier’s tools and network can help them to take charge of their own collective giving experiences.

Amplifier’s online platform serves as a “one stop shop” for teen foundation alumni as they transition from participating in a staff-supported foundation to a peer-led giving circle, providing educational and grantmaking resources and a ready-made docket of grant proposals from many of the 380 organizations listed in its directory. Perhaps most importantly, Amplifier welcomes teen philanthropists into a growing universe of Jewish giving circle members – people who, at all ages and stages, have come to recognize the power of collective giving through a Jewish lens.

And here, it is our shared hope that teens will not only learn, but contribute to – and even lead – this growing movement.

Joelle Asaro Berman is responsible for overseeing the Natan Fund’s Amplifier program, a global network of giving circles motivated by Jewish values and inspired by changemakers who are making a difference around the world. Joelle can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @joelleab.

Stefanie Zelkind is the founding director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network, a central resource for the growing field of Jewish teen philanthropy. She got her first taste of a collective giving as a co-founder and participant of “No Small Change: A Tzedakah Collective for Women and Girls.” Stefanie can be reached at [email protected]

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