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THINKpiece: How teenagers can get involved in Philanthropy?

Before we get into how high school students, like yourself, can get involved in philanthropy and social entrepreneurship, we should establish what these words actually mean. Google defines philanthropy as “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money,” and a social enterprise as “a company built on a foundation of philanthropy.” Pretty vague, isn’t it? Besides, we teenagers don’t have much money in the first place, so what can we even do? The simplicity of these definitions (disregarding the money part because you don’t need a large starting capital to make a change out of the gate) is actually a strength because philanthropy, at its core, is about organizing actions to address a cause you care about.


Still pretty vague? No problem.


Here is a list of comprehensive steps on how you can get involved in Philanthropy.


What do you care about?

This is the first step. Before you start researching how to start a nonprofit or how to do volunteering, brainstorm what causes you care about. A cause could be something like keeping your community clean or something more niche like looking after the wellbeing of terminally diagnosed geriatric patients (which is a real cause by the way - you can get involved here). I actually found that it's easier to figure out the stuff you don’t enjoy so you can filter out activities in the later steps. For example, if working in high noon summer around fresh soil makes you want to sneeze already, then pass on activities that involve gardening.


Engaging with Volunteering Groups

If you have minimal experience with volunteering or community service, the best advice is to just get involved first! Join clubs at school that do volunteering as they are easy to reach and already established. This allows you to build experience and also notice which parts of the volunteering process you enjoy, so if you do decide to expand efforts later, you know what parts you will be able to handle and what parts you would need help with. If you want to get involved in a more specific cause but not sure what exactly, volunteer match websites like volunteermatch (these campaign organizations are very direct as you can see) are an excellent resource to find organizations near you that are looking for volunteers. In addition to experience, the time spent in organizations like these also broadens your connections with other volunteers or organizers and your connection with your community - two very important things you will need in order to succeed when you move on to the next steps in this article.


Setting Up Your Own Initiatives

Once you have some experience with volunteering locally, you can expand your efforts and amplify your impacts. There are several organizations dedicated to organizing campaigns at both the local and national level and they can serve as a strong base to start from. These campaigns are often things you’ve heard before like food and clothing drives, and they are very easy to get involved in - chances are, your school already has a club that is doing these activities (like Key Club). Dosomething.org is an excellent resource to get started as it is a well established national organization that has campaigns that you, as an individual or as a group, can get involved with straight after making an account. Since the campaigns are broad and easy to get started with and they have a familiar way to track your progress (they use pictures), it is very simple for you to grow your effort from an individual one to a larger group initiative - such as by starting a club at your school and later nonprofit. In fact, this is highly encouraged to start larger initiatives because dosomething.org is known for their scholarships awarded to student-led initiatives. If you are interested in this kind of volunteering, be sure to take a look at NYLC and YSA as they are also renowned resources for students looking to expand your campaigns.


Starting a Nonprofit

Okay, look, I’m a high schooler too, and I know it seems like everyone is starting a non-profit nowadays and it is tempting to start here too because after all, starting a nonprofit is a great way to show your leadership, initiative, and demonstrate community impact. However, that sentence before is missing the most important factor of a nonprofit, often ignored by many high schoolers starting nonprofits for the sake of college applications- nonprofits are meant to help people first! Seems pretty basic, but here is the hard truth - nonprofits are not always the best way to help people.


The pros of a nonprofit include, a required step to apply for grants, a legal structure to manage funds, and also a way to continue your efforts past high school. The cons of a nonprofit include time consuming legal work, high fees during startup and hence reduced flexibility if started too early. These cons are especially relevant for students who are trying to establish their own organization since they can easily lose sight of the reason their organization should exist in the first place - to service their community!


Does this mean starting a nonprofit is a bad idea? If you are just starting off volunteering then your focus should be on building the experience, resources, connections and most importantly - the passion - for volunteering. Once you have expanded your efforts and your impact then you can consider a nonprofit, as nonprofits are a good structure to apply for grants and manage funds giving you more freedom in your endeavors. However, as a high schooler, your reach will often be better received when it is through a club or established organization. And to circle back to the college discussion - as much as you think a nonprofit will look good to colleges, how much impact you are able to create is far more impressive. If you are able to make a bigger impact with a school club then stick to that because it shows colleges that you genuinely care about community service and speaks more about your character and passion. If you are at a stage where you want to expand and a nonprofit structure fits your goals, here are some resources to help you get started:


Conclusion

In conclusion, while the concepts of philanthropy and social entrepreneurship might initially seem daunting or vague, they offer a vast landscape of opportunities for high school students to make a significant impact. By identifying what you care about, getting involved with local volunteer groups, and gradually expanding your efforts through established campaigns, you can build the experience, connections, and passion needed for meaningful community service. Ultimately, the goal is to make a genuine difference, whether through school clubs, local initiatives, or your own nonprofit. By focusing on creating real change, you can not only enrich your own lives but also contribute positively to their communities.


Do you want to get involved in your community and spearhead your own initiatives?

Philanthropy Kids is a DFW-based nonprofit dedicated to celebrating and inspiring philanthropy in youth. Through their Impact Factory incubator, teens and young adults can start social impact organizations, and get a head start on their business and community leadership journey. Philanthropy Kids aims to inspire the future of philanthropy and build a generation of givers. 

For more information click here.

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