1998 Funder Retreat (FCYO Origins Part 2)

In the late 1990s, a small group of funders with an expressed interest in youth organizing initiated discussions about the lack of financial resources available to this important field. To begin addressing this issue, the funders hosted a briefing on youth organizing at the Open Society Institute on December 10, 1997, that was attended by 75 foundation representatives. In a follow-up meeting to this very successful briefing, funders and activists agreed that an important next step would be to convene a lengthier dialogue with youth organizers and funders to discuss the state of the field of youth organizing and how funders can best support its growth.

Subsequently, a retreat was held at the Pocantico Center in upstate New York, December 11-12, 1998. Funders from 11 foundations and youth organizers from 16 organizations in eight states and Washington, D.C. attended the meeting. What follows is a summary of the minutes taken at the retreat.

Throughout the course of the two-day retreat the youth organizers presented their understanding, concerns and perspectives on their work as organizers. Funders also shared information on where funding dollars are being awarded and how foundations view youth funding.

In addition to these presentations, funders and organizers gathered in small groups for discussion and dialogue on specific issues. Funders brought questions about how to better interpret youth organizing for board members and other funders and about how to best evaluate youth organizing as program officers. The organizers used this opportunity to bring some of their questions and concerns to funders, as well as to better network among themselves. Through their presentations, the organizers emphasized the unique approaches they bring to working with youth which set them apart from other kinds of more traditional youth programming.

The motivation for calling the retreat—the lack of communication between funders and youth organizers—was dramatized in these small group discussions. Both sides recognized that foundations do not always understand the ways in which youth organizers define their work. For example, funders emphasize the importance of strategic planning, capacity building, and articulations of long-term vision in order to develop tools for program reporting and evaluation for their foundation boards.

Conversely, the organizers repeatedly raised the financial and personnel constraints they operate under that prevent them from attending to such tasks. Both funders and organizers agreed, however, that without a basis of mutual understanding, it will be difficult to garner the resources necessary to strengthen the field.

Finally, in line with the original intent of this gathering, two specific proposals emerged for discussion throughout the retreat:

  1. Should funders start a funders’ collaborative, and if so, what should it look like? The organizers supported this proposal; and
  2. Should there be a national gathering of youth organizers called together in the coming year?

The organizers rejected this proposal as being premature. Organizers stressed their need for the time and space—and the resources to make them possible—to gather together again for the purpose of focusing on trends in the field, in-depth sharing of strategies and more articulation of youth organizing models.

It is the hope of the funders and organizers that contributed to this report that the field of youth organizing will be broadened and given increased visibility over the next several years so that more young people can take their legitimate place at decisionmaking table around the country. Through youth organizing projects, young people are given the rare opportunity to develop the leadership and analytical skills to identify issues, craft campaigns, and to negotiate with public officials. As Alexie TorresFleming, Director of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, so wisely said, “By supporting youth organizing strategies, we don’t give power to young people, but we create the conditions and stage whereby young people can find their own power.”