Philanthropy. It’s not a word readily associated with teens. But as non-profits are learning, the next generation is the now generation.

Long past the days of dropping coins into tzedakah boxes at religious school and well beyond the typical b’nai mitzvah projects in the 7th grade, teens are seeking meaningful ways to give back to the community.

A growing trend

In its broadest sense, teen philanthropy is the social activism of young people giving of their “time, talent and treasure.” It is better understood today as a growing trend to help youth answer deeper questions such as “What do I care about? How can I make a difference?” Teen philanthropy is an approach to empower teens as leaders, advocates, decision-makers and change agents by engaging them in real-life issues and purposeful work in community organizations.

“In spite of declining participation in both formal and informal Jewish educational programming, Jewish teen philanthropy has emerged as a major national trend,” says Margo Pernick, Executive Director of The Jewish Fund in metropolitan Detroit. “Across the nation today, there are more than 100 active programs sponsored by Jewish federations, foundations, schools, social service agencies and endowment funds.” Recognizing the enormous potential and benefit of teens working with professionals in the grantmaking process, The Jewish Fund has launched its own Teen Board.”

Seeking to develop teens as philanthropists

“We’re looking for a diverse group of Jewish teens in the 10th and 11th grades,” explains Martha Goldberg, Teen Board Coordinator. “With 25 available positions on the Board, we envision creating a forum where teens can meet and share their individual experience and skills. We welcome applicants with proven leadership ability, as well as those who have yet to be engaged in community programming but demonstrate leadership potential.  Students will be selected based on their level of interest and enthusiasm for the project, as well as how they will fit with creating a broad-based group of young people reflecting the diversity of the local Jewish community.”

Raising questions. Finding answers.

What if someone gave YOU $50,000 and said, “Take this money and use it to make our community a better place.” What would you do? That is the essential question Jewish teens will work together to answer as hands-on grantmakers for The Jewish Fund Teen Board.

Each year of the program, the Teen Board will have $50,000 to grant to both Jewish and secular non-profit organizations in metro Detroit. Membership on the board represents a significant commitment of time and responsibility. Board members are required to meet monthly throughout the academic year.

“This is a pilot program with the power to model youth philanthropy – even beyond the Detroit community,” observes Martha. “We are honored to be one of two communities selected by the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN) to take part in the first cohort of the Teen Foundation Board International Rollout. This initiative seeks to create as many as ten new high-quality Jewish teen foundations by 2016. The Jewish Fund Teen Board will receive support, resources and consultations from JTFN for the initial five years of programming.”

“The Teen Board is a very real, very substantial demonstration not only of tzedakah and tikkum olam, but of the immediate social and financial impact that young grantmakers can have upon the world we live in today,” observed Dr. Richard Krugel, Board Chair of The Jewish Fund. “For young people looking for ways to create change, to be a part of something bigger happening in the city and to network and make lifelong friends, The Jewish Fund Teen Board is an ideal platform.”

How the Teen Foundation Board works

The Teen Board is conceived as a youth-led program, where teens work side-by-side with The Jewish Fund staff as respected colleagues fully empowered and aligned with the organization’s legacy of Sinai Hospital and its mission to support community programs and services that help at-risk individuals improve their health and human condition.

Each year, a new cohort of 25 members will collaborate to decide how they want to engage their Jewish values to benefit the community. They will research and identify the needs and issues in the community, determine funding priorities and meet with organizational leaders to determine how to create positive change through grantmaking.

Laying the foundation

Over the course of the academic year, the teens will work together as a real philanthropic foundation. Kicking off the year with a full-day retreat and continuing with regular monthly meetings, they will:

  • Learn the process of grantmaking while applying Jewish values to philanthropy
  • Acquire critical research skills and enhance leadership abilities
  • Debate social justice issues
  • Participate in intensive training on how to acquire and evaluate grant proposals from non-profit organizations
  • Conduct site visits, utilizing professional interviewing techniques
  • Challenge one another to make thoughtful, insightful grants that address causes that matter most to them, within the scope and mission of the Jewish Fund

In launching the Teen Foundation Board, The Jewish Fund has created an unparalleled opportunity for young people to develop life skills, a sense of purpose and a strong commitment to the well-being and future of the community. As Laura Lauder, one of the funders of the initiative, observes, “The Jewish values learned and leadership skills gained by Jewish Teen Board members will help these teens succeed in college and beyond.”

Who should apply?

The Jewish Fund accepts applications on an annual basis from teens interested in joining the Teen Board. In order to apply as a first year board member, teens must be in grade 10 or 11, and identify as Jewish. Following the successful completion of a year on the Board, students can apply for an optional Leadership experience, provided they meet the participation requirements.  Applications are now available online at www.thejewishfund.org/teenboard and will remain open through Monday, September 8, 2014.  Interviews will take place September 14-18.

For more information, email Martha Goldberg at mgoldberg@jfmd.org or call 248-642-4741.

The Teen Board International Rollout is funded by the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN) and Laura Lauder, in cooperation with the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula Marin and Sonoma Counties.

Teen Philanthropy A New Generation for The Jewish Fund