Fidelity Charitable Expert Series: How donors can support young people

A young girl is getting a piggyback ride from older girl

The COVID-19 pandemic is cutting young people off from connections and resources they relied on. Family financial setbacks, health concerns, social isolation and difficulties accessing remote learning mean young people are struggling.

This spring, more than 1 in 4 young people surveyed by America’s Promise Alliance said they were losing sleep because of worry, were unhappy or depressed, under constant strain or losing confidence in themselves.

Low-income, Black, Latinx and Indigenous youth are disproportionately affected, making long-standing inequities—exacerbated by the pandemic—even more striking.

Since I started in my role at Fidelity Charitable two years ago, I’ve had donors ask how they can help young people overcome the challenges and opportunity gaps they face and succeed in life. Questions like these have always been important, but they are even more pressing now.

For many teenagers and young adults during the pandemic, nonprofits have been a lifeline. Many youth-focused organizations have pivoted to offer their programs virtually while also meeting their students’ urgent needs. A survey by MENTOR, a national nonprofit, this summer found that 78% of responding mentoring programs were providing crucial additional resources to young people, including food, academic support, financial support, mental health counseling, internet access and COVID-19 information in other languages.

The nonprofit Urban Alliance provides job skills training, mentoring and internships to lower-income high school students, particularly young people of color. Its CEO Eshauna Smith explained to me that many of the students her nonprofit serves are now caring for younger siblings and helping them with remote learning while their parents are working essential jobs—while taking classes online themselves and trying to finish high school. For many, their communities were hit hard by COVID-19, with people around them getting sick or worse.

“They may be sharing one computer with their family, with no private space to concentrate,” Smith said. “They are also working to help support their families, or they may have lost the job they were relying on to pay for necessities.”

Imagine balancing all of this while trying to succeed in school, get into college and forge a career path.

For donors passionate about building a more equitable future, now is a prime time to support organizations that connect with young people virtually, meeting their immediate needs and helping them find paths to long-term success.

What is needed and how to help:

I reached out to several nonprofits to learn how they have adapted to support young people during the pandemic—and how donors can help. 

1. Connectivity is key.

Donors can help nonprofits bridge the digital divide, keeping young people connected so they can continue participating in high-impact programs.

When the pandemic hit, nimble nonprofits that got young people connected to digital resources were in many cases able to engage with students more quickly and deeply than their schools could. When young people had their technology needs met, they not only adapted to virtual programming but embraced it. This was especially true when nonprofits provided virtual communities for students, listened to their feedback and adjusted their approach.

When COVID hit in the spring, Urban Alliance surveyed its students to find out who needed broadband and devices, then provided laptops and helped families sign up for internet access so those students could continue participating in its programs. Citizen Schools, a nonprofit that provides hands-on career learning to middle school students, joined with a corporate partner to provide internet to public school students in Somerville, MA. Both organizations enabled students to connect online with mentors and peers as soon as possible

2. Meeting immediate needs is part of a long-term strategy.

By giving unrestricted support, donors can help nonprofits adapt their programming as needed.

Helping young people with their immediate, critical needs ensures that they can continue participating in programs that set them up for success. The nonprofit Year Up went fully virtual in March to continue providing high school graduates and those with GEDs with corporate training, internships and mentoring. It assessed its students’ most pressing needs and prioritized providing technology and additional stipends to cover unexpected expenses and basic needs. To meet other needs, Year Up tapped its network of partner NPOs across the country—for example, referring students facing eviction to housing providers.

Both Year Up and Urban Alliance are working hard to make sure their students have virtual internships this year—not just for the experience, but also for the paychecks since most contribute financially to their households.

Generation Hope, which helps teenage parents in Washington, D.C. graduate from college while at the same time helping their children prepare for kindergarten, has bolstered its case management support to make sure its scholars have food, housing, remote technology, money for necessities, high-quality preschool, and more. The aim is to keep them on the path to graduation while setting up young children for success—it’s the nonprofit’s two-generation solution to poverty.

3. Mentoring makes a difference. 

Donors can support nonprofits that incorporate mentoring into their programs to address issues such as educational achievement, career access and mental health.

Intentional, sustained mentoring relationships have a positive impact on young people’s identity, personal growth, and economic opportunity. Young adults who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college.  Mentoring also supports social, emotional and cognitive wellbeing, which is more critical than ever.

“When COVID-19 hit, young people had relationships based on proximity ripped away from them. We must find creative ways to help them make those connections because it has never been more important,” said David Shapiro, CEO of the nonprofit MENTOR, which now offers virtual portals to help mentoring programs continue supporting relationships between mentors and mentees.

For Chicago student, Eduardo, daily meetings with his Urban Alliance mentor were a rock for him through the early months of the pandemic. He’s now attending Georgia State University on a full-ride scholarship. His goal: give back to his community the way Urban Alliance has served him.

4. The future is focus. 

Donors can help young people prepare for success in an uncertain future by supporting pathways to sustainable jobs in industries like technology, finance and health care—and help nonprofits make large-scale, system-wide changes.

Donors are asking: what will the U.S. economy look like in years to come, and how can I help build a more equitable future?

To address this question, donors need to work to change systems and practices that reinforce inequality. Year Up works with its internship partner companies, advising them on how to make their hiring and retention practices more equitable. Generation Hope is partnering with colleges to help them better support the 1 in 5 college students who are also parents and is working on a policy initiative, too. And many organizations across the country, including Citizen Schools, are addressing resource inequities in public education and advocating for mentoring, STEM-focused career initiatives and other proven programs through advocacy work.

Future-focused donors can help nonprofits like these create long-term change so that generations of young people will have more opportunities for economic mobility.

Sarah Weissberg

Sarah Weissberg

Director, Philanthropic Research

Sarah Weissberg joined Fidelity Charitable in 2018 and has more than 15 years of experience working in the nonprofit sector and philanthropy. As part of the Private Donor Group team, Sarah conducts research and creates custom resources to help Fidelity Charitable donors provide transformational support for nonprofits. She previously worked at Duke University where she connected donors with opportunities to support a wide array of programs across the university.

Before Duke, she spent several years as Director of Member Relations at the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, a statewide association for nonprofits. She also worked at an NPR-affiliated public radio station in Asheville, North Carolina. Sarah holds a bachelor of arts degree from Guilford College, a master of arts degree from North Carolina State University, and a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke. She lives in Durham, N.C.

In compiling this information, Fidelity Charitable has relied on publicly available information, including websites of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and research centers, as well as experts in the arts. Fidelity Charitable is not responsible for the accuracy of such information or the ability of any organization to achieve specific goals. In this report, Fidelity Charitable provides research that donors may use to inform their philanthropy. Fidelity Charitable makes no recommendation or endorsement, however, with respect to any particular organization.

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