More Than Flowers Blossom When Youth Become Fundraisers

After fire fighters visited the Deborah Rothe Group Home in Oklahoma City to talk to the girls there about fire safety, the residents wanted to do more than send a “thank you” note.

In fact, the fire department had been helping the girls whenever they needed them for a long time – to take a lock off a door or cut a bike chain when a girl lost a key.

To do something more meaningful for the firemen who had helped them out so many times, the girls wanted to make the firehouse—the firemen’s home away from home—a little more pleasant. They decided to plant some flowers in front of the firehouse.

Image of gardening tools and plants.“The whole thing, from start to finish, was really the girls’ idea,” says Dianne McDaniel, program supervisor at the 

Deborah Rothe Group Home, which provides long-term care for teenage girls in state custody.

The girls wrote a grant proposal to get money for the project; they went before a panel to explain why they wanted to plant the flowers; and after the grant was awarded, they visited garden centers to compare prices on flowers, fertilizer, and soil.

When the girls learned they needed approval from the city before planting flowers on public property, they went to a city council meeting to make their case. A councilwoman familiar with the girls’ project told them how the meeting would go, and McDaniel helped them prepare their remarks.

On a warm fall day, neighborhood association members came out and helped the girls plant the flowers. Now the colorful tulips and bright, yellow daffodils are the community’s first signs of spring.

But the girls weren’t finished. “Once they had a taste of success, they just wanted more,” McDaniel says. So they wrote another grant proposal for money to buy Oklahoma centennial benches commemorating 100 years of Oklahoma’s statehood. Now community members have places to sit in the neighborhood park and outside the firehouse to enjoy those new flowers.

Planting the Seeds of Sustainability

There are lots of reasons to involve young people in your fundraising efforts. In addition to their energy and enthusiasm, young people can offer creative ideas for raising money and fresh perspectives on those annual events or more “traditional” fundraisers.

Beyond the immediate benefits, you also provide training for young people to take on leadership positions within your organization or community; you position your organization as strongly committed to young leaders and their development in your community; and you cultivate a core group of young leaders to become long-term supporters of your organization. That is, by investing in young people, they, in turn, become invested in you.

How do you get young people to participate in your fundraising efforts? According to a study by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, young people are more likely to get involved when they learn new skills, develop their leadership abilities, experience personal growth, and engage in critical thinking. They also want to see tangible outcomes for their efforts, to know that they are appreciated, and to feel that they are making a difference.

McDaniel found that young people are most effective when they believe in what they’re doing. “The girls have really blossomed as a result of the project,” McDaniel says. Even the neighbors have noticed the girls’ improved attitudes and higher self-esteem. “Now, wherever they go, they will take with them that sense of pride and belonging,” she says.

Tips for Cultivating Young Fundraisers

  • Two young people collaborate using a desktop computer.Include young people in every aspect of planning and decisionmaking. Ask young people for their input at the beginning. Get their ideas on how they would like to raise money.
  • Make it fun! Don’t let young people worry about the finances. That’s your job! The point of getting young people involved is to help them build skills, gain confidence, and feel more connected to their community.
  • Train young people and adults so they can learn to work well together. Help adults consider the assumptions they hold about young people. Think about setting up a buddy system, pairing a seasoned staff member with a young person for questions, advice, and general support.
  • Recognize each young person’s strengths, and consider different ways for young people to contribute. Some young people are savvy with computer graphics, others are more comfortable speaking to groups. Find a role for everyone who wants to help.
  • Celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem. With money left over after planting flowers, the girls organized a pizza party at the firehouse.

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