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Jill Gordon

Jill Gordon

Program Director
Youth Philanthropy Initiative of Indiana/Indiana Philanthropy Alliance
Indianapolis, Indiana

Jill Gordon is the Program Director for the Youth Philanthropy Initiative of Indiana (YPII).  Locally based in Indianapolis, Indiana and nationally connected, YPII is a signature program of the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance.   Jill oversees YPII's role in providing trainings, resources, technical assistance and best practices to nonprofits and foundations promoting and supporting youth philanthropy efforts.  Jill brings over 15 years of experience in the nonprofit arena, with a strong focus on program and curriculum development, training and evaluation, grant proposal development and management, and general nonprofit management. Previously she served as the Public and Youth Program Coordinator at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis where she developed and implemented events for diverse community audiences and managed the Museum Apprentice Program, a hands-on, project-based program for teenagers. 

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Over the past five years I've had the pleasure of talking to many adults that mentor youth through their programs. Audiences come from a variety of youth-serving organizations including school and afterschool programs, foundations supporting youth leadership, and even children's choirs and museums! Most of these adults have something in common; they learned philanthropic behaviors (giving and serving) by seeing the actions of an adult in their own lives. Many times that person is a parent or grandparent, a teacher that helped them develop a talent, or a youth pastor that provided constructive service opportunities.

This illustration (A Path to Growing Lifelong Philanthropists) highlights some of the entry points when philanthropic concepts and opportunities can be introduced within a young person's life. They are based on child development concepts, the psychological and emotional changes that occur as a young person progresses from dependency to increasing independence.

Tree and plant Jill Gordon

  • Preschool-age children (3-5) are explorers; they learn caring behaviors and attitudes from the examples of others.
  • School-age youth (6-10) are ready to explore character development and decision-making.
  • In middle childhood (11-13) young people start to think about their place in the world and may dig deeper to express more concern for others.
  • Teens (14-18) express more complex thinking and a deeper capacity for sharing and caring.

Let's take a moment to think about who introduced philanthropic behaviors in your life. Who inspired you to GIVE your time and help others? When did you begin to SERVE those around you? Why are you still ENGAGED in helping youth succeed? Who lit the SPARK in your life and what did they teach you? Mentors open the world up to young people, exposing them ideas and nurturing the unique talents they possess. It's also important for us to help youth explore their values and concerns. One of my favorite activities is writing a "Personal Mission Statement", a summary of the aims and values of an individual. If you are working with younger youth, ask them to think of two items they'd "put in their boat" or rescue if their home was about to be destroyed by flood waters.

To continue this journey of Nurturing Lifelong Philanthropists, here are some ways to empower lifelong serving habits in others and to fuel impactful programming and experiences for young people.

philinthropic photo Jill Gordon

Start Early and Stay Sticky with examples of caring and sharing.

  • Introduce and nurture caring behaviors in your programs. Celebrate the positive emotions that come with helping others. Ask your young people to describe ways they can "care" and "share" in the classroom.
  • Introduce appropriate vocabulary; philanthropy may be a hard word but it's fun to say it this way, "Phil's Aunt Throws Peas!"
  • Seek ways to attach philanthropic labels to desired behaviors: recycle, mentor, vote, share, care, volunteer, serve, give, donate, and lead.

Develop philanthropic behaviors and attitudes through giving of time, talent, and treasure.

  • Communicate the benefits of volunteering and serving in your own life.
  • Make philanthropic activities routine in your programs; work with the community to develop relationships. Invite local nonprofits to speak with your youth and pair that with a hands-on service project.
  • Cultivate "good experiences" by incorporating youth's skills and interests, contributions should be empowering!

Expand opportunities for youth service, leadership, and engagement. Conduct a community needs assessment with the youth in your programs.

  • List the top five needs/concerns in their community (or school, program, etc.)
  • Work in small groups to narrow down to top three.
  • Agree on the number one community need and create an action plan/service project!

For more ideas and activities check out the Youth as Philanthropist resource for hands-on activities that help youth explore the time, talent, and treasure they have to share with others. Visit these Helpful Links to learn about programs and resources that will help you integrate concepts of giving and serving (youth philanthropy) into your programs through service-learning and philanthropic education.

Most importantly, remember the spark your mentors lit inside of you and pass that along to the youth in your lives.

Sun  Jill Gordon

For first breakfast, two eggs, a piece of toast with honey, and two cups of coffee. Second breakfast (a meeting) two oat bites (Cherry Almond and Pistachio), a fancy Americano drink that had apple juice and lemon in it, and herbal mint tea!

I remember it like yesterday, sitting in a room that contained an elderly gentleman recovering from hip surgery as he talked about his passion for ballroom dancing. Photos of this pastime decorated his temporary recovery room. I was an awkward middle school phils giving circlestudent delivering a handmade snow globe (yes, the kind made from a baby food jar). This was part of a 4-H club's service project, visit an assisted living community and sing songs to bring a little cheer to the residents. Almost thirty minutes later, our club leader came around the corner and breathlessly peaked into the room. "We've been looking for you!" she exclaimed. What came out of this experience was the knowledge was the knowledge that by sharing a small piece of my time and my talent for listening, I brought great comfort (or treasure) to a very lonely individual.

This started me on a personal and professional mission to promote youth philanthropy. Now don't be afraid of using that "p" word, it's a great and powerful word that belongs to everyone that is sharing their time, talent, and treasure with others. Everyone can be philanthropist regardless of their age, social-economic income, and family dynamics. But what is youth philanthropy and why should you integrate it into your own programs?

Youth philanthropy is the ongoing and intentional giving of one's time, talent, and treasure to help the common good (both locally and for national/international efforts). Youth-serving organizations can integrate youth philanthropy by engaging their youth in on-going giving, serving, fundraising, and grantmaking (or the giving of funds). Over the years, the most successful youth philanthropy programs tend to include a combination of the following components: philanthropy education and training, leadership development, community service, civic engagement, grantmaking, encouragement of personal giving, fundraising events/ activities, and the development of youth and adult partnerships.

youth philanthrophyYoung people all over the country and in my home state of Indiana are serving their communities by both recognizing community needs and then finding solutions and even in some cases creating non-profit organization to solve those needs. They are giving of their time, talent, and treasure by dedicating many hours of volunteer service and raising funds for their cause. These youth are leaders, strong role models that lead by example so their peers will also take action and care. Lastly, youth have the ability and passion to engage others to make a difference, regardless of an individual's age.

Through research and evaluation I've also found that the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets are supported through youth philanthropy experiences. Interviews with youth participants report that they've learning life-skills through youth philanthropy programs/service-learning. These include the following:

• Consensus Building
• Critical Thinking Skills
• Organizational Skills
• Understanding Group Dynamics
• Facilitation Skills
• Relationship Building

So I'll conclude with a question, why should you be thinking about incorporating youth philanthropy in your organization? Because providing philanthropic educational resources for youth and their families can nurture the spirit of generosity among all, regardless of income level. Engaging youth in giving and serving is an integral part of developing and maintaining a vibrant community and is an investment in building a base of committed nonprofit volunteers, potential board members, and future donors who realize the difference they can make individually and collectively for their community. As educators and the staff of nonprofit youth-serving organizations we have an obligation to help and educate others understand what philanthropy can do for their schools, community and society at large.

Visit these helpful links to learn about program and resources that will help you integrate concepts of giving and serving (youth philanthropy) into your programs.


For breakfast I had homemade gluten free "everything" muffins (cranberries, nuts, yogurt, banana, apple sauce, etc.) and a banana.  Every breakfast includes two cups of coffee at home and one more for good measure at work!


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