Young grantmakers’ day

Colorful connectors

Author: Sophie, a Listening Fund adviser

I’m one of the ten advisers to The Listening Fund. As part of our role over the past few years, we have designed two grant rounds of Phase Two from scratch, thinking carefully about things like criteria, scoring, and accessibility at all stages, and then chosen which organisations to fund from the applications we received. We’ve spent a lot of time considering how to challenge the youth sector to be more innovative and encourage authentic youth listening – it’s been absolutely central in everything we’ve done so far and will continue to do over the next 18 months.

All the different aspects of this work have been incredibly rewarding, and I’ve learnt a lot throughout the whole process. As such, it was great to get to reflect on my experience so far with other young people who are involved in grantmaking in April. HUDL hosted a day for us to get together and discuss our experiences, and invited the young people from:

  • The Listening Fund
  • Esmée Fairbairn’s Involving Young People Collective, who work as Young Consultants across many aspects of Esmée’s work
  • The Children in Need We Move Fund, a panel of Black young people brought together to design a fund focused on Black joy
  • The Children in Need Sharing Power project, in which young people and trustees shared power in a 50/50 way
  • The National Lottery Community Fund Youth Voice team, who take part in lots of flexible opportunities and professional development

This brought a diverse range of experiences into the space, allowing us to compare easily. We found a lot of differences between our funds: for example, the We Move Fund took a few months from start to finish, whereas The Listening Fund’s Phase Two is three years long, Esmée Fairbairn’s young people are involved with several aspects of the funder’s work whereas most of us are not, etc. This allowed us to openly discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each fund. Before this, I hadn’t met any young people involved in grantmaking outside of The Listening Fund, so I didn’t know what the other experiences were. Having these conversations definitely allowed me to think about The Listening Fund in a more holistic way. This learning, which we’re hoping to compile with help from Collective Discovery, should support other funders to involve young people in their grantmaking or deepen existing work. We’ve been told before that some funders don’t want to start this work because they don’t know how, or don’t think another funder’s model would transfer to their systems, but the wide range of experiences and participation models that we’ve all experienced shows just how many different ways this work can be done effectively.

Alongside these differences, we also found many common threads in our work. Imposter syndrome was something I’d say every single person I spoke to could relate to in some form, and we had productive conversations about how we combat it to ensure we bring our authentic selves to our work. In my mind, imposter syndrome is inevitable to some extent as we’re aware that young people ‘shouldn’t’ be in these spaces, but there are lots of easy, tangible solutions, like reassurance, definitions of jargon, and explanations of systems and processes. We channelled this conversation productively into lists of things we’d like to tell young people who were new to grantmaking, based on everything we’d learnt so far. “You deserve to be here” was very close to the top.

What was most evident over the course of the entire day was the energy and passion we all had for this work. The vast majority of us had really enjoyed our grantmaking work, taken a lot from it, and felt that we’d gotten to make a real impact. For these reasons, there was a collective drive to continue it and push funders to do more. I know I’ve grown so much as a result of being involved in The Listening Fund, and I’d absolutely love to see other young people have similar opportunities. As such, we rounded off the day with a more detailed discussion of what we want to do going forwards – starting off with blue sky thinking, then moving to more practical ideas. Many different ideas were discussed, from more blog posts like this to an annual workshop/conference about young people in grantmaking, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they develop.

I came away from the day absolutely exhilarated. It was great to meet so many new people and chat to them, and I’m hoping to get to know them more when we work together in the future. I’m also really excited to start joining up our work and pushing funders to keep being accountable to young people and involving us in grantmaking. There are big ideas on their way to fruition!  

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