The Fenn School: A Youth In Philanthropy Case Study

The Fenn School, located in Concord MA, is a private, independent day school for boys in grades 4-9. In 2006, the Foundation for MetroWest brought its signature Youth in Philanthropy (YIP) program to the Fenn School. (Prior to that, it had been running a privately-funded giving program.)

The Foundation for MetroWest’s YIP program has a powerful vision: “We believe that if you teach children to give, you empower them to change the world. We’re committed to educating our children about the importance of philanthropy and providing them with the knowledge and skills to continue this tradition.” 

Harris Rosenheim, Director of Alumni Giving & Alumni Relations, teaches the YIP course at Fenn. He offered this description of how it works:

MetroWest oversees the program, providing a curriculum and coordinating logistics. Individual schools work with them to adapt the program to their student populations and purposes. It also funds a grant that students at participating schools can use in their own grant-making process.

The YIP course covers all aspects of philanthropy. What is a community? What are the needs of community? How could you be involved in your own community? What are “volunteerism” and “activism?” How are nonprofits managed?

Fenn offers YIP as an elective to 9th graders in the fall/winter semester. I have expanded the basic curriculum to share what I do in my job as a development professional. I cover the basics – What is an annual fund? An endowment? – and describe Fenn’s fundraising process and the role of volunteers.

YIP students are divided into smaller groups, each assigned a different nonprofit sector to research and present in class. This year, fifteen organizations were identified as potential recipients of grants totaling $9,000. That list was narrowed to three organizations.

The class visited each nonprofit in January, asking questions of the staff. They then reflected on the experience, and made final decisions on grant recipients: a pet adoption society, a Big Brother Big Sister branch, and a group that brings birthday parties to homeless children.

The class made a formal presentation to the MetroWest board, explaining how and why they had made their decision. Their proposal was approved. A few days later, they made a formal school presentation. Staff from the selected nonprofits were invited, and presented with checks.

YIP is a wonderful opportunity to expose students to a range of aspects of society, learn the importance of the nonprofit sector, and get first-hand experience giving back to their own community. They learn things at 14 and 15 years of age that I wish I’d been exposed to much earlier in my life.

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