23/12/2012 07:35 GMT | Updated 20/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Can Education Combat Britain's Philanthropy 'Time-Bomb'?

The attitudes of fourteen and fifteen year olds at Lampton School belie controversial warnings made by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) this Autumn that: "Charities face a generation time bomb, as younger people lose the habit of giving."


"I never realised that every time I go to school I pass so many charities that I'd never even heard of," Basema Rehman, a year 10 pupil at Lampton School in Hounslow, tells me at an event designed to boost philanthropy amongst students at the academy.

Rehman has just pitched to a board of judges on behalf of Pets as Therapy, a charity that uses dogs and cats to provide therapeutic visits to hospitals, care homes and schools. Along with everyone in her year Rehman formed a small group to identify the needs of her local community. Each group then researched different organisations and chose the one they felt best addressed their chosen social issue. On-site visits and interviews with charity staff augmented the case they then put forward in a presentation to the entire school and the judging panel. The prize is £3,000 paid direct to the top group's charity.

Although Rehman didn't win, she is determined to contribute to her charity and make a difference in the community. As are all the year 10 students I spoke to.

The attitudes of fourteen and fifteen year olds at Lampton School belie controversial warnings made by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) this Autumn that: "Charities face a generation time bomb, as younger people lose the habit of giving."

The swell of support for charities I saw is thanks to the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI), a programme that offers pupils a 10-week practical course in strategic giving. It is taught in 90 English schools via the National Curriculum during Citizenship, Religious Education and even English lessons to whole year groups, mainly those in years nine and ten.

YPI originated with the Toskan Casale foundation in Canada ten years ago and has given away more than £1m to UK charities during six years operating here.

Led in England and Northern Ireland by the Institute for Philanthropy, YPI is separately managed by the Wood Family Trust in Scotland, and also works in the US as well as Canada. It is free for pupils and their schools, with philanthropic funders footing the bill. The Institute also receives support from the Cabinet Office's Social Action Fund.

At present, the cost of the programme averages around £6,500 per school, but ambitious expansion plans could reduce that to just over £5,000 (with £3,000 of both figures going direct to charity).

YPI plan to increase the number of schools by 60 in the next two years by evening out coverage in London and expanding regionally across the rest of England. In the areas where the programme is well known they already have waiting lists, but they are confident of expanding into new territory.

Teachers say it's a great way to engage young people in the concept of strategic philanthropy and provide a way to channel money to local grassroots organisations.

YPI measure their impact on the skill development, knowledge and attitudes of the pupils, teachers and charities at the end of the course through online surveys and focus groups. A survey of more than 100 pupils who participated last year found that 74% say they are more likely to give, and 80% are more likely to volunteer because of YPI.

Of course, it is difficult to quantify behavioural changes once pupils finish the programme and ultimately leave school. Kerri Hall, YPI programme manager, says they are currently developing an alumni programme in conjunction with colleagues in Canada that should boost efforts to monitor YPI's impact in the long term.

Hall continues: "This remains in its early stages but aims to help YPI alumni share their ideas, projects and stories, and enables us to monitor their longer-term commitment to philanthropy... Alongside this, we're hoping to develop relationships with other charitable bodies to monitor changes in the values and motivations of the 17,000 students we work with each year."

The anecdotal evidence for the impact of YPI is a compelling start. Tendai Matsvai, head boy at Lampton and a previous YPI winner, sat on the school's board of judges this year. He is still in contact with the charity he worked with through YPI and plans to volunteer there this summer before he attends university.

Matsvai says YPI is transformative because it shows young people what they can achieve: "Young people aren't shown how to give back. They all think you have to make a big donation. They don't realise it could be just you volunteering maybe a couple of hours a week down at your local charity shop or, every now and then, when you have a spare pound popping it into a bucket. They think that the avenues of donation are limited, when they are not."

If YPI can show more young people how to contribute to their communities, and demonstrate their impact in doing so, worries about a "long-term crisis of giving" might disappear.