Whether working locally, nationally or internationally, almost every single nongovernmental organization, also called nonprofit organizations, should rely on children and youth in their daily activities, including staffing, leadership, evaluation and more. Youth engagement in nonprofits happens through their mutual energy, commitment and passion; however, the onus is on adults for engaging youth and not vice versa.
If you had a problem in the Black community, and you brought in a group of White people to discuss how to solve it, almost nobody would take that panel seriously. In fact, there’d probably be a public outcry. It would be the same the for women’s issues or gay issues. But every day, in local arenas all the way to the White House, adults sit around and decide what problems youth have and what youth need, without ever consulting us.— Jason, 17 years old, Youth Force Member, Bronx, NY
Ways Youth Engagement in Nonprofits Happens
Youth as Board Members — Young people can be vital and integral to organizational leadership. Every nonprofit should engage youth on their board of directors; local and international youth-focused NGOs should have at least one half of all board seats assigned to full-voting, regular youth members. Mutual mentoring and adult champions of youth engagement must be strategically developed in order to ensure longevity and effectiveness.
Youth-Led Programs — Creating obvious, powerful and significant opportunities for young people to lead their own programs is another way youth can change the world through nonprofits. Working across many issues that are important to themselves, local and international communities, and with many different technologies both in-person and online, youth-led programs can be educational, social, cultural and empowering.
Youth as Founders — When adults aren’t responsive; when young people see the need; and when there’s authentic determination focused on changing the world, children and youth need to start nonprofits. As social entrepreneurs, young people can create and grow dynamic, responsive and engaging operations focused on meeting unmet needs and fostering social change around the world.
Needs for Youth Engagement in Nonprofits
Training — Children and youth who become involved in operating nonprofits and NGOs need substantial training and technical assistance to be consistently effective, engaged and empowered staff and leaders. Training should focus on practical, applicable skills for their positions, while educational opportunities should development their knowledge relevant to the missions they are trying to accomplish and the visions at their core.
Inspiration — With the vast majority of NGOs being adult-led, adult-driven and adult-oriented (including youth-serving nonprofits) young people sometimes need inspiration and motivation to take action. Providing examples of youth action in organizations; offering meaningful opportunities for action; and creating new approaches to engaging youth as leaders and staff can all provide motivation.
Funding — Foundations, philanthropists and funders of all stripes should provide substantial and sustained funding to support youth engagement in the operation of NGOs and nonprofits, and make this funding the normal and regular expectation of all youth-serving organizations. Infusing funding opportunities with this is key for the future of youth engagement, and anything less than this is disingenuous and inauthentic at best.
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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support youth engagement in nonprofits in your community or organization, contact us.