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Teen 'giving circles' turning small donations into grown-up impact

The concept of giving circles is growing. According to Philanthropy Together, there were around 50 of them back in 1995. Now, there are about 2,500. That is where the 'nextgen' giving circle comes in. It is geared towards younger donors.
On a recent school night, two dozen teenagers gathered in a conference room to make a difference, one sandwich at a time. They are all part of a teen giving circle, which pools their resources together to have a greater impact on a nonprofit of their choice.
It is not just about giving money away, though. The teen giving circle also makes time for hands-on giving, like making 500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the nonprofit “One Sandwich at a Time."
The 'nextgen' giving circle includes 70 teenagers, each raising $100 and making grown-up decisions about where it all goes. After reviewing applications, the teens voted to give their collective $7,000 to the nonprofit "Day One,” which focuses on teenagers facing domestic and intimate violence.
Posted at 7:31 AM, Nov 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-21 12:55:19-05

NEW YORK, N.Y. — On a recent school night, two dozen teenagers gathered in a conference room to make a difference— one sandwich at a time.

"I'm a team person,” said high school student Ana Montan. “I like collaborative experiences."

It is that collaboration that forms the basis of a “giving circle," a concept where a group of people pull together smaller amounts of money and turn them into something with a much bigger impact.

Emily Ades is co-president of Impact 100 NYC, which is a giving circle" comprised of more than 200 women.

"We're just entering our third year and, so far, we have given almost $400,000," Ades said.

The concept of giving circles is growing. According to Philanthropy Together, there were around 50 of them back in 1995. Now, there are about 2,500.

"This collective giving model has democratized philanthropy,” Ades said. “Everyone gives the same amount."

That is where the 'nextgen' giving circle comes in. It is geared towards younger donors.

"And we just thought, why isn't there something like this for teens?” said high school senior Jesse Cavaliero. “Why isn't there something for people like me, at my age, to give back to the less fortunate?"

With that, this youth giving circle came to be part of a growing trend. It includes 70 teenagers, each raising $100 and making grown-up decisions about where it all goes.

"You're collectively giving. You're compiling all your money, you're reading grants, you're narrowing them down,” Cavaliero said. “And then, instead of 70 kids giving $100, it's one whole group giving a big grant of $7,000."

After reviewing applications, the teens voted to give the $7,000 to Stephanie Nilva's nonprofit Day One, which focuses on teenagers facing domestic violence.

"We love being recognized by young people themselves," said Nilva, who is Day One's founder and executive director. "To have young people determining and directing where should funds and their resources go to make a difference in their own lives, really felt exciting to us."

It also felt exciting to the teenagers making the decision.

"You're like, 'Wow, I did that and my vote in that grant process evaluation really mattered,'” Ana Montan said, "and the fact that we're so young and we're still making that process is just, I think, is wonderful."

It is not just about giving money away, though. The teen giving circle also makes time for hands-on giving, like making 500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the nonprofit “One Sandwich at a Time."

"It's amazing. I love the energy," said Erin Dinan, who is with ‘One Sandwich at a Time.’ "There's so much power in philanthropy and it doesn't have to be something that is huge. And I just hope that they leave knowing that they can create a big change in the world."

It is a change that starts with understanding how the world works.

"It's so important for kids to understand the business of nonprofits," Ades said, "and they are learning about that process and that structure while doing their hands-on community service."

For Jesse Cavaliero, seeing their teen giving circle's impact makes it all worthwhile.

"It was really just amazing seeing their eyes wide open, so happy, so thankful,” he said. “And it was really like me -- a 17-year-old kid and a group of friends, of friends, of friends, of friends -- really made a difference."

It’s a difference they hope to carry on into adulthood.