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Creating a New Path for Inspired Philanthropy

by Wendy Kennelly
Foundation Manager at Jewish Community Foundation of Calgary

The Jewish Community Foundation of Calgary has focused on inspiring and facilitating philanthropy for 25 years, and teen philanthropy had, since 2005, been a small part of the Foundation.  It was that year that leadership and staff created B’nai Mitzvah funds for pre-teens, supported by a Calgary Jewish philanthropist who ‘topped up’ each individual fund by $250 when they reached $750 in capital.  

But in 2014, the time felt right to research trends and programs in teen philanthropy.  We wanted to get a sense of what teens were responding to positively, and how we might give our teen philanthropy program a makeover!

The launching point was an internet search on ‘teen philanthropy’. It should be no surprise which organization was at the top of the list – Jewish Teen Funders Network!  It was immediately apparent that teen philanthropy is thriving in North America and Jewish teen philanthropy is center stage. As a mid-size Jewish community in Canada, we’ve undertaken small, methodical steps to trial new teen philanthropy programming.  

If your small to midsize organization is considering entering the teen philanthropy pathway, here’s a highlight of the steps we’ve taken to offer insight and inspiration.


o We analyzed what was already happening in the community and determined there was ‘room’ for a teen philanthropy program

o Confirmed a teen philanthropy program aligned with our organizational strategic plan

o Met with three influential Jewish philanthropists to introduce the concept and received positive feedback and support

o Presented analysis and community feedback to gain support from our Board of Directors

o Considered many types of teen philanthropy programming and what might fit our community best

•The Incremental Planning Approach - Before introducing a permanent teen philanthropy program we decided to create some type of small pilot project to test the market.  A pilot project would allow us to collect insight from teens involved, and give us the necessary data to present to the JCFC board and the stakeholders.  Once we confirmed the pilot project a success we could move to the design of a permanent program or second stage pilot project within the city of Calgary (8 month program).

•Teen Philanthropy Camp Pilot – We utilized the philanthropy camp curriculum designed by JTFN to present a partnership opportunity with our local Jewish summer camp.  The concept of a 2-day minicamp program was designed and activated in August 2014.  

The program was well received by teens and all project partners.  Camp BB Riback invited JCFC to continue with the program in 2015 and the community responded positively to our communication regarding the pilot.  Grantees that were selected by the teens were moved by the choices made and their opportunity to be involved in such a unique program.

•Pilot Program Evaluation & Community Consultation – After the pilot program was completed, we reported results to the JCFC board.  It was agreed that before we develop a teen philanthropy endowment fund and a permanent program, we should continue with a second pilot project in Calgary, based on a full program curriculum outline by a teen philanthropy program ‘peer’.  From here, we consulted with JTFN who agreed with this strategy based on the size of our Jewish population.  Additionally we met with every local Jewish teen program coordinator and informed them of our plans for the second pilot program. Everyone was supportive.

•Calgary Teen Philanthropy Pilot – We immediately began working on branding and program partnerships to fund and lead this second pilot project.  Our program partners became our Conservative synagogue (location and co-facilitator) and the B’nai Brith Lodge (matching funds -10:1 for teen grant fundraising up to $3000 and coverage of program expenses for one year)  We focused on the idea that teens can change the world in 24 hours (2-90 min. sessions/month for 8 months)!  Our program launched officially on October 1, 2015.  It has been a challenge to inspire teens to register for a program they know little about.  We now have a small group of engaged teens in grades 8-11, and they are excited to be the young spokespeople for this new program.  In only one month since the pilot launch, we have agencies, leaders and community members applauding us for this fresh and energetic solution to inspire philanthropy and leadership.  

Our approach to development and structure for teen philanthropy has been slow and methodical, but we’re confident this is the right approach for our community.   We’re on the right path! 


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