Kids Can Be Real Changemakers, Encourage Them

Photo Courtesy of Digging Wells for Hope

I have three kids, and over the years they’ve been the source of many joys and a few frustrations. But more than anything, they’ve been a source of education for me. I learn a lot from them, quite often as the result of how they view and approach life. Kids have a different way of looking at things. They are slower to judge, quicker to act, and see things from a less cynical perspective.

Nonprofits can learn a lot from this, and need to make sure they aren’t skipping over the enthusiasm and joy of childhood as they seek the support of adults who, after all, have deeper pockets. Right?

But don’t underestimate the power of kids. They’re not just rug rats getting underfoot and in our way. Not only do they believe that they can make a big difference in little ways, but they act on that belief.

As a kid, we were given orange Trick or Treat for UNICEF boxes in school to take door to door with me on Halloween. What was started by a husband and wife as a small local campaign on the streets of Philadelphia in 1950, gave kids the chance to raise money for other kids, and is now a global campaign with an online component. And all that pocket change adds up, to the tune of more than $200 million.

But some of these ideas are generated by the kids themselves. Kids can be real changemakers. For example, just two years ago a 12-year old girl from my church had a burning desire to do something, anything, to help those who were less fortunate. Her mom responded by saying, “When we don’t know anything, we can cry ignorance, but once we know, we should do something about it. If it makes you angry, do something.”

So young Kelly came up with the idea of selling pencils to her friends for $1 a piece to raise money to fight poverty. She knew that access to clean water was a major problem around the world and she wanted to use the money to pay for the digging of deep water wells. After seeing the devastation in Haiti, and learning that less than one-third of all Haitians have access to clean water, Digging Wells for Hope was born. At that point, a 12-year old with a simple idea started a nonprofit organization that in just two years has raised more than $75,000, and has funded the digging of 10 wells. One kid with one idea got the support of family, friends, schools, churches, and local businesses. It snowballed.

Or consider 7-year old Lauren. One morning she approached her mom and said that she didn’t want any gifts for her birthday. Instead, she wanted to have a party where the guest brought shoes to donate to kids in need. Her mom discovered Soles4Souls and partnered with them for the party. Lauren sent out a video invitation, and in the end collected more than 500 pairs of shoes. Other kids have done similar sorts of shoe donation campaigns, some collecting over 3,000 pairs.

So don’t forget about the kids. While we spend our time chasing down major donors, foundation grants, and corporate partners, we might be overlooking a significant resource.

Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Listen to kids and their ideas. Don’t dismiss an idea just because it’s “childish.” Kids can come up with some pretty solid ideas, or at least ideas that can be shaped into something big.
  2. Encourage them. Kelly and Lauren have one big thing in common: their parents encouraged them. Rather than ignoring their children, they encouraged them to take action. We need to fan their flames of enthusiasm, rather than extinguish their ideas as mere foolishness. We might believe it can’t be done, but let’s not let our adult cynicism get in the way.
  3. Equip them. Their parents went a step further. They equipped their kids to follow through on their ideas. What can you do to help kids do great things? How can you work alongside them?
  4. Recruit them. Nonprofits need to develop “kid-sized” volunteer and donor programs. Not only will we benefit from those programs, but we’re shaping the donors and volunteers of tomorrow.

Kids like Kelly and Lauren should be an inspiration and encouragement to us. Let’s allow their big thinking and enthusiasm to become infectious. And with nearly 25% of the U.S. population under the age of 18, we can afford to ignore them.

What are you doing to tap into the power of kids?