Executive Director Letter

Young people have paved the way for progressive movements that have led to transformative conversations their elders may have shied away from, reversed narratives about guns, climate, reproductive justice and the direction of education, and driven record voter turnout levels. Many have been playing a leadership role in supporting their communities through the COVID-19 pandemic, and engaging in organizing, mobilizing, and education efforts that center Black liberation and the dismantling of white supremacy. The Youth Engagement Fund (YEF) will continue to trust, follow, and fund the leadership of youth of color as key stakeholders and leaders in ensuring that historically disenfranchised communities and youth have access to, and shape inclusive democratic processes.

The global pandemic, the uncertainty of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the courts, the uprisings in defense of Black lives, and the economic instability have elevated the importance of the role of young people of color in US social, cultural and political life that will be defining for the progressive movement and will transform the structures and face of U.S. democracy for years to come. We are in a moment of transformational solidarity and engagement where we need to get behind the leadership and innovation of youth led and focused organizations and leaders who will be harnessing the energy of their peers and their communities into civic participation via local elected board roles, state, primary, and the general elections in this new decade. This is a pivotal time for the future of the youth vote in a moment of deep political consciousness and engagement that must not be overlooked and must be resourced robustly.

Today, via YEF’s 2021 Summer Docket, I am proud to present the launch of our first-ever multi-year grantmaking and capacity building cohort –Seeds of Power, and first set of statewide youth civic engagement collaborative grants centering the states of Arizona and Georgia.

We invite you to push the boundaries of your institutional plans, grantmaking strategies, and narratives of what is possible by trusting, funding and following the lead of young people of color into building a United States that is dignified for all of us.

In Gratitude + Solidarity, 


The Youth Engagement Fund (YEF) is the only donor collaborative in the U.S. specifically focused on deepening and expanding civic engagement among young people of color under 35. YEF serves to close the gap in the civic engagement universe that ensures the role of young people of color is present in conversations, strategies, and grantmaking. As a team led entirely by women of color movement organizers and philanthropic strategists —each with lived experiences and collective expertise of 40+ years in social justice work —we understand the importance and the major impacts that youth, women, gender diverse people, immigrants, and communities of color face. We seek to increase funding to grow the ecosystem of organizations and leaders working on youth of color civic engagement in the South and Southwest.

For 14 years, YEF has worked with young people to ensure their perspectives, issues, and solutions are part of democratic governance through targeted grantmaking. We’ve provided $30 million in grants for youth civic engagement and by 2023,  plan to give $10 million annually. YEF has a track record of investing in youth and building infrastructure that strengthens democracy over the long haul while delivering political victories in the short term. We have trusted relationships with youth of color groups in Arizona, Georgia, Texas, Florida, and New Mexico —states where the majority of people under 30 will be people of color by 2036.

In 2020, a wave of newly engaged young people was activated into the highest youth voter turn out in U.S. history —an estimated 52-55% participated in the November elections. We are in a moment of transformational civic participation where following the leadership of youth of color is crucial to a thriving democracy.

Grantmaking Strategy

Guided by YEF’s strategic plan, our grantmaking strategy continues to amplify the leadership and voice young people of color to strengthen the organizing and civic engagement infrastructure, primarily across the South and Southwest. 

Our grantmaking is mindful of the following elements:

Rooted in Racial Justice Innovation in the Civic Engagement Field
Leadership Development Geographic Focus
Building Local & State Infrastructure Opportunities for Changing Conditions
Impact of Partnerships & Collaboration Youth of Color as Decision Makers

These elements  are rooted in YEF’s vision to:

  • BUILD sustainable state-based civic engagement infrastructure of youth of color social justice organizations across the South and Southwest to expand their capacity to engage young people of color in the electoral process, and develop them as civic leaders. 
  • GROW and diversify the leadership pipeline for progressive change through the development of new generations of social change leaders of color.
  • CATALYZE philanthropic support for the centrality of young people’s voice and agency in building progressive governing power that advances democracy, equity, and justice.

Youth Civic Engagement Collaboratives!

Collaboration is key to advancement of social movements. We can look to virtually all of the social movements of recent history to reveal a coordinated effort between individuals, organizations, faith leaders, and often governments to create change. In the 1960s, the U.S. Civil Rights Movement was advanced by a decentralized and nationwide network of organizations, churches, journalists, and individuals working to advance a common aim —liberation from white supremacist societal norms and an exclusionary governmental structure that disincentives participation for people of color. This work continues to this day, including the fight for voting justice which we believe will be bolstered via the Youth Civic Engagement Collaboratives. 

Within this 2021 Summer Docket, YEF is advancing resources in the form of grants and convening support to uplift organizations in Arizona and Georgia to build up on the conversations of this work over the past 18 months and the initial gatherings that took place in May 2021. This set of Youth Civic Engagement Collaborative grants a demonstration of YEF’s commitment to support organizations and leaders as they come together to build and deepen relationships with each other to set the groundwork for a youth-led statewide infrastructure that centers the experiences, leadership and vision of young people of color. We recognize the intentionality that it takes to be part of these conversations to build alignment and long term strategies while simultaneously leading crucial civic engagement efforts that pave the way for progressive social change and look forward to the continued development and expansion of Youth Civic Engagement Collaboratives across the South and Southwest. 

Seeds of Power! YEF’s First Multi-Year Cohort

Seeds of Power was designed after hundreds of conversations with movement, philanthropic, and organizational partners throughout the last two years. In 2020, once again, young people of color rose up to the multiple challenges that were presented by centering the needs of their communities during a pandemic and organized and mobilized in defense of Black lives while engaging voters during a tense unprecedented election season. Their ability to navigate and pivot during moments of struggle and uncertainty led to a wave of civically engaged young people, and a historic increase in the youth vote that has and continues to shift the conditions to win transformational policies and build organized communities. 

Movement partners of the inaugural Seeds of Power cohort will receive the following supports over a two-year period:

  • Trainings + Coaching
  • Evaluation + Research
  • Funding
    • $150,000 two-year general support grant

Local youth-focused organizations are best positioned to create meaningful advances in social movements because their positions as trusted leaders allow them to successfully inspire and motivate youth to take action to create change in their community. However, youth-focused organizations are strained for year-round resources and technical expertise to reach voters consistently around the issues they care about. Especially organizations in the South, a region that has been overlooked and underfunded. Recent data revealed foundations only invest $0.56 per person in the South compared to $1.00 per person nationally. Seeds of Power seeks to disrupt these issues in funding and capacity in the short term with committed offerings to cohort members.

Seeds of Power Movement Partner Profile

  1. Youth of Color led and/or focused: People of color 35 years old and under are the majority of the decision-making body in the organization and/or youth specific programming
  2. South & Southwest: Geographic focus for the 2021 Summer Docket inaugural cohort is Arizona and Georgia
  3. Mighty Messenger: Organizations that are deeply embedded in their communities and are trusted messengers
  4. Movement Focused: Long-term plans with short-term strategies that employ best practices in organizing, civic and voter engagement, and coalition building
  5. Issue Focus: Strategies that employ issue education to boost civic participation (i.e. climate change, reproductive justice, immigrant rights and democracy reform)
  6. Commitment to Learning + Evaluation: Participate in co-design and collection of qualitative and quantitative data and storytelling for landscape assessments, evaluation + research
  7. Commitment to Cohort Participation: Ability to participate in cohort offerings and gatherings over a two-year period

Seeds of Power Inaugural Cohort Partners


There’s a serious generational and racial shift in the makeup of voters underway. In 2020, 50% of young people turned out to vote in the presidential elections, a large increase from 2016 (39%) and 2012 (45%). No one has more “skin in the game” of U.S. democracy than young people when it comes to solving the challenges of climate change, gun violence, the widening wage gap, or affordable healthcare. Young people of color understand that the work of building a true and inclusive democracy, with economic opportunity for all, remains undone. Today is the opportunity to trust, fund, and follow their lead into a new decade of transformation. Join us!

To learn more about joining YEF and stay connected to updates on the Youth Civic Engagement Collaboratives and Seeds of Power cohort, please message Karla Vazquez at karla@youthengagementfund.org.