Traditional philanthropic grantmaking needs an update. The age-old model puts organizations through a byzantine application process and often pays little mind to the actual needs of beneficiaries — there’s more emphasis on pomp and circumstance than on funding real change.
Enter Generator Z, a new grantmaking initiative driven by teens. Flipping the traditional philanthropic process on its head, the program, funded by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, is paying one thousand teens in Southeast Michigan and Western New York $1,000 each to share their stories and talk about what’s important to them in their afterschool experiences. Then, programs big or small can apply for easy-to-acquire funding from a $3 million pool to power projects based on what they learned from the teens’ stories. Our mission? To bring Generator Z to life as a digital platform that resonates with teens and afterschool programs alike.
Today’s teens are incredibly media-savvy and they can see through contrivances like none other. It was critically important that we met teens where they are without simplifying their perceived experience or undermining their sophistication as young adults.
In our early concept development, we researched and reflected on content creation for the web and how young people use things that weren’t necessarily built for them, like how we would hack MySpace as teens. Young people excel at making things for themselves using the tools available. As we crafted the name, brand look-and-feel, visual design, and technical functionality of generator-z.org, we dug into the things that Gen Z makes or is a part of, sought feedback on our ideas directly from teens, and carefully built an identity that’s authentic, exciting, and accessible.
We used bright colors, abstract shapes, and collaged elements — often animated with unexpected UI interactions — to bring a tangible dynamism that reflects the program’s mission to shake up grantmaking. And we incorporated generative design with over two dozen variations on the logo’s “Z” mark.
On the technical side, we prioritized ease of use on the front-end, to help teens easily orient themselves, submit an application, and publish their unique, multimedia stories to the platform.
One of the big challenges was creating the workflow and integrating tools (SurveyMonkey Apply and Airtable) so that the grantmaking team could review both the applications and the content that students submitted.
The next phase of the project is the prospective grantees submitting applications and selected grantees submitting progress reports so that the original students who participated as Generators can provide feedback on the programs they’ve developed.
So, in all, we’ve created a program for both students and grant applicants to publish content that speaks to each other through the mediation of the grants administration team.
We’ve received feedback from teens that the site felt really inviting, legitimate, and genuine. And that’s been reflected in the engagement and responses: more than 2000 teens apply to participate in just a few weeks. The system we designed stood up to the challenge as well, as the small Foundation team was able to chose 1,000 Generators from the applicants, and then those 1,000 teen Generators all published an essay within a month, as well as being promptly compensated in the payment method of their choosing.