Jake Lerner and Andrew Spector Tulsa Changemakers
When we launched Tulsa Changemakers, a youth leadership development and action organization, and set our first annual budget, we came across the phrase “Your budget is your values” – and the message stuck. with us.
No matter what we say that interests us in meetings, or what carefully selected list of terms and phrases appear on our website, ultimately the things we spend money on and the ability of staff are our values.
“Your Budget is Your Values” was especially important to us this year as we added our third employee, nearly doubled the capacity of our after-school programming, and embarked on other exciting projects to elevate youth voice and leadership.
One of these projects is our work supporting local nonprofits by incorporating youth perspectives into organizational decisions.
Young people are often the target of nonprofits, philanthropic investments, and government programs, but they are rarely engaged in program development, budgeting, and decision-making. Most work involving young people is done for them, not with them.
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Stakeholder engagement has become an increasingly popular value in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits that aim to address a wide variety of challenges not only want feedback on their programs and offerings from those who engage with them, but they also want to create opportunities for co-creation.
Foundations, too, are more interested in including the beneficiaries of philanthropy in the philanthropic process itself. The idea that the people closest to the problems can better understand and solve these problems is essential.
There are many youth organizations in Tulsa that see the value of including youth in their processes. Indeed, young people have specific and necessary things to say about programming, hiring, measurement, branding and much more.
Through our work supporting local non-profit organizations to develop their capacity to make youth voices heard, we are able to meet visionary leaders who want to see young people influence and inform the things they do. These organizations value the voice of young people.
The problem is that it’s not always in the budget.
To effectively involve young people in organizational decisions, you need staff time allocated. You need to consider barriers to participation, including transportation.
If you are asking students to meet after school, you should consider offering a snack or lunch. Building the infrastructure for youth voice in your organization isn’t easy and it doesn’t come free.
Youth voice requires advance planning, staff capacity and fundraising, which means it needs to be in your strategic plan and budget for it to really show up in your year of programming.
Organizations are missing out on the tremendous opportunity to benefit from the voice of young people while providing young people with a meaningful development experience.
If you want young people to contribute to decision-making in your youth-facing organisation, it needs to be in your strategic plan, it needs to be in the day-to-day responsibilities of your staff and it needs to be in your budget – because your budget is your values.
Jake Lerner and Andrew Spector founded Tulsa Changemakers in 2016.