Strengthening the Youth Sector

Lessons for Funders, Leaders + Boards

This webinar focused on the Youth Engagement Fund’s report, Strengthening the Youth Sector: Lessons for Funders, Leaders, and Boards. With input from over 40 executive directors, staff and board members leading youth-oriented civic engagement organizations, this report helps funders gain a better understanding of how we can better support the development and retention of excellent leaders in this sector of the work.

Moderated by Austin Belali, Youth Engagement Fund


  • Ashley Spillane, Impactual
  • Matt Singer, Former Executive Director, The Alliance for Youth Organizing (Bus Federation)
  • Tiana Epps-Johnson, Center for Technology + Civic Life
  • Sam Novey, Foundation for Civic Leadership

ACCESS THE RECORDING HERE  (This is a member-only resource)


Read the report and share it with your grantees.

Top Five Recommendations for Funders

  1. Increase transparency: be aware of the power dynamic between you and your grantees; publish grantmaking criteria and deadlines; and consider giving multi-year grants.
  2. Provide basic support on finance and governance: hosting office hours with subject matter experts or playing matchmaker to connect new EDs with mentors can go a long way. It’s not overstepping to do this if your grantees are asking for it!
  3. Engage in governance: know the health of an organization’s financial and governance practices before you fund them. Consider paying for independent organizational health audits; fund development of board member trainings on governance and management;  be an active participant in financial management and oversight of your grantee organizations.
  4. Prioritize transitions: young professionals transition between jobs at a high rate – and organizations tend to be unprepared to deal with this. Consider requiring transition plans as part of your grant application; help fund development of a playbook to guide leadership transitions; and support organizations through their transitions.
  5. Be an active resource to your grantees: visit them and attend their events; reduce your convenings or add value to them for attendees (e.g. the Knight Foundation provided head shots for grantees that attended their grantee convening); provide your grantees with encouragement and feedback.

Tips for Building a Strong Nonprofit Board

A strong nonprofit board is critical infrastructure that all organizations should have, yet young organizational leaders may not be equipped with knowledge for how to build one. To build an effective nonprofit board, organizational leaders should seek board members who:

  1. Love the organization’s mission;
  2. Are accountable to the audience it serves;
  3. Have the capacity to serve in their role;
  4. As a whole, offer expertise in all areas of the organization; and
  5. Are committed to developing strong relationships with staff.

Next Steps: Opportunities for Funders

The Youth Engagement Fund aims for a multi-year collaborative effort to support leadership development among youth-led organizations. They invite your participation in these efforts to strengthen the sector:

  1. Share the report with your grantees and ask for their feedback
  2. Take the non-funding steps on your own
  3. Support the Youth Engagement Fund’s efforts to 
  • Develop a board training program
  • Create a leadership transition toolkit
  • Offer year-round coaching support for young executive directors

For more details, please contact Ashley Spillane, Impactual or Austin Belali, Director of the Youth Engagement Fund at the Democracy Alliance.