Investment is needed to empower more young people to be active citizens

Investment catalyses action

A stable source of funding has been crucial in supporting organisations across the youth, environment, education and health sectors to work more closely with young people and create opportunities for them to affect change. This needs to continue.

The #iwill Fund has leveraged almost £100 million of investment into youth social action since it was launched in 2016. However, these funds will all be spent out by March 2023. As of December 2020, there have been no further commitments from Government or The National Lottery Community Fund - the two ‘seed funders’ - to continue funding beyond the end of this #iwill Fund.

We are calling for more investment into the #iwill fund until at least 2025.

The model of the #iwill Fund, made up of numerous match funders, has helped to align a diverse range of funders around common goals. Funders, government and arms-length bodies will have greater impact in the future through building on these foundations. BBC Children in Need has initiated discussions across the broader children and youth funding landscape to establish a ‘funders collaborative’ for children and young people. Together, funders must explore how broader collaborations could be forged beyond the lifetime of the #iwill Fund.

Should we prioritise outcomes for young people? Or outcomes for our communities? The answer is both.

Funding for youth social action must continue to emphasise the importance of the double-benefit. Young people’s self-development is vital, but tangible community benefit should remain a priority, as described in the six principles of quality youth social action.

Many youth social action programmes supported by funders are delivered by organisations whose historic focus and expertise lies in supporting young people - rather than tackling broader social issues.

Through the work of the #iwill Fund Learning Hub, they have found a perception that positive outcomes for young people are the primary objective when creating youth social action opportunities. Furthermore, a review conducted by the Learning Hub of all evaluation frameworks within the #iwill Fund found that the focus of the research questions and methodology led to community benefit being evaluated secondary to young people’s benefit.

It goes right to the heart of youth social action that it is able to be of as much value to communities as to the young people taking part.


Double Benefit

Future youth social action projects must build-in wider social impact, as well as impact on young people themselves.

This does not need to be in opposition to programmes being youth-led - particularly if young people are offered the support and tools to work through their own Theories of Change and define their own goals for community impact.

Community Benefit and Youth Social Action, #iwill Fund Learning Hub


All Ages Action

There is an opportunity to invest in organisations which deliver ‘all-ages’ social action opportunities, encouraging them to integrate young people into their Theories of Change. The Woodland Trust and NHS provide compelling examples of how a move to involve more young people is driving social and environmental impact - with both of these organisations benefiting from financial support and targeted programming to help make that shift.

Integrating Youth Social Action and All Ages Social Action, #iwill Fund Learning Hub

Embedding the principles of youth social action into broader funding portfolios is the way forward

The future of investment in youth social action, Sir Trevor Pears CMG

When we became involved with #iwill, as a foundation we were already fully committed to working with young people and supporting them. The campaign offered us a terrific opportunity to accelerate what we were doing and work in partnership with others.

Crucially, our values were aligned. Both Pears Foundation and #iwill wanted to recognise and celebrate young people, open up institutions that had been closed to youth social action opportunities, and give young people a voice and influence.

Being part of #iwill has broadened our thinking to consider how to encourage youth social action across different sectors.

Historically, organisations had a habit of putting themselves first. Now there’s a greater understanding that we need to collectively support young people to grow their confidence and skills with meaningful, valuable volunteering opportunities.

Cooperation between organisations should encourage a sense of team spirit within the sector, putting a spotlight on the best, most impactful work and cutting out the work that’s less effective. This might lead to fewer funding requests for projects or a name on a building, and more going directly for core funding. Each funder needs to play to their strengths to create a funding ecology that supports the sector.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, everyone has had to do more with less. However, if you align funding and stick to the principles of relational funding, that’s an extremely powerful approach. By ‘relational funding’, we mean where funders build deep, long-lasting relationships with the organisations they support, based on trust and a shared vision.

Looking to the future, there are still big gaps in social action opportunities for young people from younger age groups and from disadvantaged backgrounds. We need to close those gaps and make more opportunities available.

We’re a nation of volunteers and social activists. Our hope is that youth social action can collectively encourage young people to see volunteering and engagement as a core part of who they are and what it means to be a citizen.


Since 2016, we have seen moves by funders including Pears Foundation, BBC Children in Need, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Paul Hamlyn Foundation to integrate the principles of youth social action into their broader strategies. This includes involving young people in decision making, as well as looking at how young people can be change-makers on the issues they themselves, and their communities, face.

What more can funders do to support youth-led change?

#iwill Ambassador and Step Up To Serve Trustee Naomi Lea, offers 5 tips for funders to support youth activists taking it upon themselves to make positive change, drawing on her experience with her social action project - Project Hope.

Be Clear
Be Flexible
Allow progression
Think differently

There are lots of barriers that young people face in accessing funding that could be overcome quite simply, but may mean you have to think about things you haven’t had to before.

Young people may not have access to an account for the money to be sent to so consider sending them the funding on a prepaid card that can be used to access it and keeps it in a dedicated space. Young people may not understand the process that it needs to go through, including things like how to work out a budget. Peace First are a good example of an organisation that provide a way for young people to work through the process step by step with feedback and coaching at every stage.


Listen to what young people want from you

Different young people will be at different stages of their volunteer journeys and will have different needs from funding available. Experienced young people may feel confident coming up with an idea, applying for funding, spending the funding and reporting back with very little input from any ‘adults’. Support should be tailored towards any group of young people and ultimately young people need to be trusted to know what works for their group.

Be Clear

Be clear in everything you do.

Funding application forms are often complicated and full of jargon. If there’s any mention of constitutions or policies it immediately feels inaccessible to most young people. Make the form as clear and simple as possible and make sure all of the essential requirements are made clear. Offer support to young people too if they aren’t sure if they meet the requirements.

Its easy to forget when you do the job day in day out that some of the jargon used in the sector doesn’t make any sense to young people. Be clear too on what you expect back from the young people as a result of the funding and be honest about what the terms and conditions are upfront.

Be Flexible

Be flexible and allow young people to be creative.

Having a really rigid process isn’t always helpful for young people, be prepared to be flexible and to change processes to better suit them. For example your funding might ask that a report is provided at the end, but young people may not be confident writing a report how you are used to. Consider how this could be done differently, perhaps by providing prompt questions or even allowing young people to create a video or creative piece in replace of a report.

Allow progression

Create funding opportunities that allow progression.

Giving large chunks of money out to groups of young people can feel daunting for both organisations and young people themselves, so instead consider how you can offer progression to young people. You may start with a small grant of money for 6 months and then if that is successful offer them to apply for further funding, perhaps for a larger amount.

This offers young people a tangible goal to work towards and doesn’t leave them feeling like they don’t have the opportunity to create a more long-lasting project that is going to continue for longer than 6 months. You can’t give a group funding for 6 months and then tell them they can no longer access anything else for another 3 years.