Youth-Led Philanthropy Q&A: San Francisco Youth Empowerment Fund

San Francisco Youth Empowerment Fund logo

This interview with Breanne Harris, coordinator for Youth Empowerment Fund, is the second post in a three-part series showcasing youth-led philanthropy programs in the Bay Area. The first post can be read hereFor more information on how young people are engaging in support of the social sector, see Foundation Center's report, Scanning the Landscape of Youth Philanthropy

What makes Youth Empowerment Fund (YEF) unique as a youth-philanthropy program?

The Youth Empowerment Fund is extremely unique in the world of philanthropy primarily because it is an initiative of the City of San Francisco's Department of Children, Youth, and their Families. The funds that the young people on the YEF Advisory Board grant out come from the Children and Youth Fund, which is a percentage of city tax dollars that fund children and youth programming throughout the city. The funds allocated to YEF are an example of the city's commitment to youth leadership, voice, and decision-making. Our youth grantmakers give to other teens, to empower their peers to bring their great ideas for projects and events to life. Money goes directly to young people’s ideas, not as funding to already established adult-led non-profit organizations.

Youth on the YEF Advisory Board are selected based on their experience in their communities and their excitement about community change. Board members are a mix of past mini-grantees and youth who have been involved with past grantee sponsor organizations and other non-profit organizations in San Francisco. They reflect a diversity of race, class, gender and neighborhoods that mirror the varied and nuanced experiences of San Francisco youth.

Why is youth-led philanthropy important for our local community?

Breanne Harris, YEF coordinator

Breanne Harris, YEF coordinator

Youth-led philanthropy has two main benefits for the community. First, it fosters social responsibility and 21st century skills in both youth grantmakers and youth grantees. Second, it results in youth projects that address actual youth and community needs because funding decisions are made by youth from the community themselves. Traditional adult funders often use community data and/or their own perceptions to assess needs of communities and create funding priorities.

However, in the time it takes to collect and analyze data and then agree on priorities, the landscape of youth needs and interests can change drastically. Youth grantmakers' funding decisions are informed by their own experiences and understanding of their peers and communities. This results in stronger youth programming that is based on the real needs and interests of young people. This ultimately translates into a society that values the contributions of young people; a society where young people are engaged, connected and responsible for their communities.

What are some of the funding trends or priorities for YEF in 2015?

YEF Advisory Board members commit to at least a year in the program. This means that year-to-year the young people on the board changes, resulting in ever-changing funding trends. Youth on the board are the ultimate decision-makers of what receives funding and, in keeping with this model, YEF does not have funding priorities. The projects that are currently in session are a mix of visual and performance art projects (music, spoken word) and large scale community events.

In my work with boards over the past two years, I’ve found that projects which allow youth the chance to express themselves and practice real-world skills tend to have a good chance of funding. Youth give special consideration to projects in communities that have a real need because of poverty, community violence and/or lack of youth-friendly safe spaces. Throughout the years there has been an overall trend from multiple boards to support creative projects that tackle important social issues, and events that bring youth together to share, discuss and celebrate their experience.

Who can apply for YEF mini grants? What are some pro-tips about the proposal process (including tips on how to find a fiscal sponsor)?

Groups of youth (under 18) with interest in leading and implementing a project in San Francisco are eligible for YEF Mini-Grants. Projects must be youth-led and youth-created to be considered for funding. I’d suggest that youth creating a project think about what their community needs and mix that with their own individual strengths and interests. We want to receive project applications that are unique and serve a real need for young people in a way that adult-created and led programming cannot.

Fiscal sponsorship can be tricky if youth are not already involved with a program at a non-profit organization.  For youth who need a sponsor, I generally suggest going to larger youth-serving organizations like the YMCA or Boys and Girls Club. These organizations usually have the staff and financial capacity to take on an extra program. Adults are usually eager to help passionate and organized young people, so make sure to have a really detailed plan of action and show them how excited and dedicated you are to carrying out the project.

YEF has multiple funding cycles every year so youth should check our website and social media pages frequently to get information about upcoming mini-grants and how to join the Advisory board. We also try to share other youth opportunities for funding and engaging in community work in San Francisco.  The best way to stay in touch is by liking us of Facebook: and following us on Twitter and Instagram: @yef_sf

Kate Tkacik
Kate Tkacik

KATE TKACIK is manager of the Funding Information Network at Foundation Center. Kate provides leadership on the strategic engagement and growth of this network of 450+ domestic and international partners.