Next Generation Philanthropists

9 March 2011 | By Cause4 staff

The Big Give has recently delivered a pilot scheme at The Dragon School in North Oxford. Designed to educate pupils about philanthropy and ‘promote the benefits of intelligent charitable giving’ during formative years, it encourages students to research charities to learn more about the plethora of good causes and make informed decisions about opportunities to give.

To think about philanthropic engagement when young is admirable. However, much as these initiatives are to be applauded loudly from the rooftops, their long-term impact will arise not merely from the willingness of young people to dip their philanthropic toes in the water but rather from the Third Sector’s capacity to manage their enthusiasm.

David Cameron has argued that young people will sow the seeds of the Big Society and be given outlets through which they will bloom as philanthropists and committed volunteers in later years. However, the suggestion by David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, that those unable to access University courses this year might instead volunteer to work in charities next year sounds all a bit predictable – a sort of sweetener to mask the reality of their disappointment.

Undoubtedly young people can make an extraordinary contribution to charities, develop their altruistic potential and, in so doing, improve their own life-chances. However, the extent to which voluntary and charitable organisations can meet a growing demand for volunteering opportunities that are both worthwhile and positively beneficial is open to question. Cuts in funding have implications on the ability of organisations looking to fill the void left by the state. Volunteers need careful and time-consuming management – sometimes a willing volunteer can seem like an extra burden upon already hard-pressed staff. Limited opportunities or low-quality experiences will have a detrimental effect on young people’s attitudes towards the Big Society and their philanthropic aspirations.

The encouragement of philanthropy and community engagement amongst the young is palpably a good thing. However, if you lay down the gauntlet to young people, if you challenge their perceptions and promote opportunities to stretch their experience, you must also provide a context and framework which allows them to take action in a deeply satisfying and rewarding way.

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