May 2016: Nonprofits Today

Nurturing the next generation of giving

Rande Richardson

Rande Richardson

In the most recent issue of NNY Living magazine (Spring 2016), Norah Machia, who has long written about the work of the region’s nonprofit organizations, presented inspiring examples of the next generation making a real difference. If you accept the premise that vibrant communities need things that government can’t, won’t or shouldn’t provide and that the private sector has not found a way to make profitable, then you also believe that our charitable sector needs passionate supporters of all ages and backgrounds who are willing to give time, talent and treasure.

All of us have benefited in some way from the nonprofit organizations in our communities. Each of us is one pink slip or other unfortunate event from needing the safety net services of the nonprofit sector. Many of our most cherished nonprofits do more to help stop the cycles of poverty than government ever can or will. It would be short-sighted to presume that nonprofit organizations only exist to serve those in need. Our libraries, museums, churches and arts, cultural, educational, mentoring, counseling, health care and philanthropic organizations are part of the fabric of our lives.

I was recently approached by a student interested in pursuing membership in his National Junior Honor Society. Today’s honor societies are about much more than earning good grades. Their slogan, “Honor Our Future Now,” focuses not only on developing values of scholarship, but also on service, leadership, character and citizenship. They strive to perpetuate a culture of engagement and a sense of community within communities, improving the lives of others while improving one’s own. The emphasis is on a well-rounded human being who is positioned to have a lifetime of success and fulfillment, both personally and for their community and their world.

This seventh-grade student was able to quickly list several examples of his direct participation in civic engagement, community service and other ways of giving back. Within the past six months, he had participated in a community tree planting, had volunteered at church and the local food pantry and had even made a small monetary contribution to his favorite charity.

At the Community Foundation, we spend a lot of time not only thinking about how to encourage giving back with purpose and meaning, but also laying the groundwork for the next generation to be both interested and inspired to become outstanding ambassadors for their communities. Since 2010, more than 100 students from local high schools have participated in the Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council initiative. In addition to learning about their communities and the work nonprofits do to improve them, it has developed individual leadership skills in a group setting, increased the awareness of volunteer opportunities, and allowed young adults to have a meaningful impact on the quality of life in the north country.

Through an intensive community review process, 70 organizations have received a total exceeding $90,000. Many students and their parents have said that the experience was one of the most transformative of their high school careers and has better prepared them to further broaden their reach in college and the workplace. Marcus Lavarnway, a Youth Philanthropy Council alumnus and now a student at Clarkson University, said “My experiences on the council have made me a better person, student, and community member. I came out of YPC with numerous experiences that have changed the way I think about life and my community as a whole.”

The Foundation’s LEAD Your School Challenge is well underway. South Jefferson Central’s LEAD team recently partnered with five nonprofit agencies to promote student involvement, volunteerism, awareness and philanthropy. The Youth Philanthropy Council is expanding to the Sackets Harbor and General Brown school districts and we are discussing the possibility of adding a program for middle school students in the future.

In addition to the GPS for Success career path program, the Community Foundation is working with partner WPBS to embark on a project to record testimonies of individuals for whom making a difference has been an integral part of their lives. Documenting these stories not only recognizes and celebrates a culture of giving, but also can inspire future generations to carry the torch forward.

A 15-year career in funeral service has served as a constant reminder of the importance of keeping perspective during our all-too-short time on this earth. There are many things that comprise a fulfilling life. I believe being engaged in one’s community is an important and rewarding piece. This has always been a community where we have cared for each other and sought to do the right thing. We must do all we can to ensure that that tradition continues.

It is our responsibility to help the next generation awaken to the opportunities to experience the benefits and joy of making a greater, long-term difference in their neighborhoods, communities and their world. They are our hope. They are our chance. What will we teach them?

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org. His column appears every other month in NNY Business.