New Youth Grantmaking Board at Christ’s Church, Rye
Behold! I am doing a new thing. (Isaiah 43:19)
When Abby Nathanson was in high school, she had an experience that changed her life. She joined a grantmaking board made up entirely of teenagers to learn about philanthropy and charitable giving. Working with other youth from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds to evaluate grant proposals and award funds inspired Abby to pursue an innovative career in the non-profit sector as a program designer and grant writer.
Now the managing director of Episcopal Futures, a program of the Diocese of New York, Abby also serves as the ministries partnership coordinator at Christ’s Church, Rye. In the midst of the pandemic, she saw an opportunity at Christ’s Church to fulfill her dream of replicating her own youth grantmaking experience for a new generation. She proposed her vision for a youth grantmaking board (YGB) at Christ’s Church, to which the vestry confidently gave the green light: the YGB was underway.
Abby first assembled an adult advisory board to provide structure and a plan for first-year funding. Together, they recruited eight high school students from Rye and the neighboring town of Port Chester.
These teens began meeting in February on Zoom to learn about grantmaking in general and to discuss the process for sending out calls for proposals and evaluating potential recipients, with the goal of providing help to organizations and groups in the community of Port Chester to address major needs and make a positive impact.
The YGB agreed that its priorities for this first year would be food security and literacy/education, although it would welcome proposals for other projects. Applications would be received in Spanish as well as in English, and individual mini grants would also be considered for up to $500.
Some YGB members are bilingual, others are not. Some knew each other already from church or school, but all needed to get to know one another in their new identity as a board, working together to build relationships between the church and the community and improve the lives of others while gaining an invaluable educational experience.
Korbii Reiff, a rising high school sophomore and parishioner at Christ’s Church, Rye, remarked on a pivotal moment early in the process. “Episcopal Charities was generous enough to allow us to sit in on one of their grant board meetings to allow us to get a feel for what the process is like and help us decide how we wanted to run our own board. Afterwards, we were able to ask questions of the members of the board, and they gave us some great insight and advice.”
The adult advisory committee continued to support YGB in their regular meetings, as the teens read articles and researched local demographics, crafted eligibility requirements, prepared a call for proposals, and learned the vocabulary of philanthropy and grant writing. Meanwhile, the advisory committee and vestry of Christ’s Church solicited donations for the actual grants. Beginning in the fall of 2021, the current YGB will bear the responsibility of raising funds for the subsequent YGB to allocate. As the June 21 deadline for receiving applications approached, the YGB waited with bated breath. Would they get four proposals? Twelve? The teens were overjoyed to receive 24 grant proposals totaling $134,000 in funding requests.
During a three-day intensive, teens conducted online interviews and on-site visits with applicants. Using worksheets and other metrics to evaluate the proposals, they debated and discussed the merits of each. Criteria included opportunities for ongoing relationship with the church, ability to assess impact within the funding timeframe, alignment with YGB funding priorities and goals, financial sustainability, and use of best practices.
At last, after covering the walls of their meeting room with sticky notes, the YGB decided to award seven grants in amounts ranging from $500 to $4,500, totaling $15,000. They wrote both rejection letters and congratulation notices to applicants and sent thank-you notes to YGB donors.
“Notifying the grant recipients of their awards was the most fulfilling part of the process,” said Lauren Kim, rising high school junior, YGB member, and Christ’s Church, Rye, parishioner. “After a difficult deliberation period, hearing their joyful reactions confirmed that we had made excellent choices.”
Now that the checks have been mailed, next steps include follow-up interviews and site visits in the fall to assess the impact of the grants before recruiting new YGB members, reporting back to donors and the parish, and fundraising for 2022. The most innovative and exciting feature of the Youth Grantmaking Board is the empowerment of the youth themselves. These young people are endeavoring to make real and lasting change in their communities, while building meaningful relationships across cultural boundaries and learning how to be responsible citizens, advocates, and future philanthropists.
“It has been a delight and an honor to build a youth grantmaking board at Christ’s Church, Rye. I believe that this represents an exciting new model for not only outreach and charitable giving, but also for youth and young adult ministry” said Abby Nathanson.