Zoë Hayes, an 18-year-old journalist at Y-Press, offers her perspective on helping raise $25,000 to fund her groups’ journalism trip to Benin, West Africa.
As a volunteer with a youth media nonprofit organization, I have witnessed the capacity of people to give—both of time and money.
Most kids have had some experience fundraising, whether it’s going door to door to sell Girl Scout cookies or calling up relatives to sell magazine subscriptions.
But when faced with trying to raise over $20,000 to report on issues of young people in a foreign country, fundraising takes on a whole new dimension. It becomes less of a chore, more urgent and, at the same time, more challenging.
Early last summer, the 120 members of Y-Press, a youth journalism nonprofit organization located in The Indianapolis (Ind.) Star building, approved an in-depth reporting trip to learn firsthand from young people about life in West Africa.
The six-member team’s proposal goal was to travel to Benin, a small democratic nation between Togo and Nigeria. Benin was of interest for several reasons. It is poor, numbering 163 out of 177 countries in the 2006 United Nation’s Human Development Index; it has had peaceful transitions when changing from a socialist to democratic government in the late 1980s; and 46 percent of its population is under the age of 15. It is the stories of these youth, and the future of their country that we wanted to share.
This wasn’t the nonprofit organization’s first time traveling overseas for a story. Since the first report in 1991 about Kuwait’s youth, a process has been crafted which includes submitting proposals and defending the ideas with peers and the board.
Proposal teams with at least two members submit an idea before November’s storyboard, a monthly gathering at which Y-Press members consider possible stories and vote to determine coverage. If the proposal is approved, the team crafts a three-page document outlining its reporting goals, which is due before the first of the year. Each team presents a lengthy packet, which includes preliminary questions, background on the geographic area, and logistics such as destination cities they would visit, possible fundraising sources, sources for interviews and travel expenses.
Once completed, bureau members vote for the idea that they believe is most akin to Y-Press story criteria and is relevant to readers.
Last year, Benin was chosen after staff and Y-Press board of directors’ members cast a tie-breaking vote. The story we wanted to report wasn’t about AIDS or poverty. We wanted to focus on Beninese youth and their determination to improve their country; we wanted to talk about citizenship and issues that they faced.
Once approved, the team realized it had to involve a much larger community in order to raise, in a fairly short window of time, the amount of money required to travel. While every story that Y-Press covers isn’t in its own backyard, the cost of travel to Africa is inordinately expensive. We had to find people who understood the significance of the report and its importance to paint a clear picture of our perceived work in Africa. These would be unique funders with a passion for the story, who had confidence in youth to tell it.
In today’s fundraising environment, travel dollars are hard to find and secure and many foundations do not allocate funds for travel.
In the search for sponsorship of our coverage, we contacted everyone who we thought would have the passion for the story, for youth journalism, or those with the simple desire to hear the voices we knew we’d find.
In the course of fundraising for this trip, we spent hours on the phone with men and women from various organizations who could not give us money, but who were willing to help us look further for contributions. This was, in itself, a form of giving.
When we did finally raise the money, however, it was a great lesson about the power of networking. Many of our contacts were given to us by others and people who couldn’t donate themselves, but wanted to see us cover this issue.
It is important to note that youth who volunteer for Y-Press are giving their time. In 2006, for example, the 120 Y-Press members contributed nearly 6000 hours. As a teen featured in a Y-Press story on youth philanthropy said, “I don’t believe a philanthropist necessarily has to be wealthy. You can be poor. You can be middle class. I’m learning about how you can invest time; there’s such a thing called ‘time dollars.’”
Much of our success is due to youth willing to donate these “time dollars” at every level of the organization. For example, the majority of our story ideas come from members. Bureau members understand that youth involvement at many levels is a key to youth-media organization’s continued success. Y-Pressers helped write funding proposals and give presentations about the organization to current and potential sponsors.
Four youth represent Y-Press members on the Y-Press board, shadowing and assisting the executive committee and attending dozens of meetings to discuss the bureau’s future plans. We believe that student involvement is itself philanthropy—a donation of time, talent, and treasures.
In Benin, we were able to record more than 100 interview with youth in cities and villages in Benin, write five stories, record video pieces (accessible at The Indianapolis Star’s Web site: www.indystar.com/ypress) and produce radio commentaries (http://www.wfyi.org/podcasts/default.asp) for our local National Public Radio station—in addition to travel blogs and photographs.
We didn’t just raise money for our trip to Benin—we raised awareness for Y-Press, and the power of youth journalism, on a national and global scale.
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For young media makers like Zoë, journalism activities are often sandwiched between school responsibilities and life as a teenager. Adding fundraising to this packed schedule is challenging at best.
So why then did these Y-Pressers take on raising $25,000?
One of Y-Press’s tenets is pride of ownership. Like a professional news organization, its youth members conceive story ideas, answer phones, arrange interviews, write and ask effective questions and produce articles. Members learn how to run meetings and how to make connections with people their own ages and older. They also learn that as youth they can make a difference and take responsibility for decisions. Maintaining this youth-driven model is essential to the organization’s integrity and viability.
Fundraising is an extension of this core belief. The key to the Benin team’s success was their passion and desire to tell a compelling story—a story of the country’s young people who are civically engaged, value education, and are involved in their fledgling democracy.
Like all other Y-Press projects, fundraising is a collaborative effort and needs to be youth-driven. We have learned over 18 years that if young people are not invested in Y-Press projects, they will have limited responsibility to see them through.
Sean Hankerson, Y-Press alumnus explains, “[Y-Press] staff [was careful not to] step in and tell us what to do. This is a really important quality. When you are working with young people it is easy to go in and want to take over. But they helped us to learn [to lead] ourselves.”
From writing letters to solicit funds, brainstorming sources with parents, networking with professionals, and identifying potential funding sources, these young people know that they were the key to Benin’s success.
Keisha Mitchell, another Benin team alum, explains: “So much of the time as a young person, you are being dictated to…You’re told what you can’t do and how things are supposed to be done. So it’s really important for youth at Y-Press—or any organization—to feel like they have a voice and control over things that are important to them.”
At Y-Press, youth go beyond in-depth reporting. When Y-Press makes a presentation to a program officer or potential funder, young people are at the table. It is important that funders see the commitment of young journalists’ and make a direct, personal connection with them. Young people write proposals, defend their ideas and invest themselves in connecting with in-depth journalistic issues they cover.
Not every youth media organization will take on a youth-driven fundraising component. Many youth, because of their busy lives or the lack of knowledge fund development, are not always invested in raising funds for their own projects. However, by providing teen voice, leadership, and involving young people in program decisions, proposal writing, and review, young people develop a deeper ownership of their work, while marketing their organization.
At Y-Press, a small team wanting to go to Benin was able to raise $25,000 to get the stories and voices of young people in West Africa—stories they identified as important. It is possible to integrate youth in fundraising. From our experience, youth are eager to take on leadership roles and ownership for tasks, such as fundraising, in order for their projects to go live.
Lynn Sygiel is the Y-Press bureau director. In 1990, she opened the Y-Press bureau, located in Indianapolis, Indiana, which until 1999 was Children’s Express bureau. In one of her past careers, she worked for The Salem Evening News in Massachusetts.
Zoë Hayes, an 18-year-old journalist at Y-Press, offers her perspective on fundraising. Lynn Sygiel, Bureau Director, responds.