Vision & Voices: Q&A with Youth Philanthropists

Michael McShane and Shane O’Neill are cousins who are active with their family’s foundation, the William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation. The William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation prioritizes youth and participatory grantmaking through its NextGen program. Members of the foundation’s NextGen are youth and young adults up to the age of 30. Through this program O’Neill family members participate in the identification of nonprofit organizations, review of requests, participate in site visits, and make recommendations to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees annually. NextGen members learn by doing and carry the torch of the O’Neill family’s legacy of giving.

Foundation Center Midwest was able to catch up with Michael and Shane between their busy college schedules to get their insights on philanthropy and community.

Foundation Center Midwest: Let's start at the beginning. How old are you? How did you get involved with your family's foundation?

Michael: I am 21, but have been involved since I was an early teen. I remember hearing about it after my mom did her foundation phone calls and at our family reunions. 

Shane: I am 21 years old. I became involved with the foundation when I was 9 years old when my cousins and I were first instructed with making a tough decision: what do we fund at the Cleveland Zoo with $500?

Foundation Center: What's your first memory of doing something charitable?

Michael: I remember working with different organizations through my elementary school such as So Others Might Eat and Martha’s Table in DC. Also, because of my mom’s nonprofit, we would always spend time (particularly around the holidays) volunteering at Community of Hope.

Foundation Center: What issues are you most passionate about, or interested in working on?

Michael: Environmental reform, family stability, homelessness, education, healthcare.

Shane: Families dealing with issues, as well as the environment.

Foundation Center: Is there anything in your community (or perhaps elsewhere) that you want to change, or improve?

Michael: I would like to change the way social issues are discussed. I think that people see conflicting opinions as a confrontation of sorts and are unwilling to sit down and be OK with disagreeing. I definitely have a lot of firm beliefs of things that should be changed but it all starts with communication.

Shane: There's always something that could be improved in every single community. Educating boys and girls at an early age about many things such as safe sex, healthy relationships, and how to prepare for adulthood is something that comes to mind at the moment. I think that teaching people how to care for their environment as well as something like raising their own fruits and vegetables in somewhere like a city.

Foundation Center: Is there anything that you have encountered so far in doing your philanthropic work that has frustrated you? If so, how would you go about changing it?

Michael: Not being able to help every organization we talk too can be difficult but it just means we are helping other organizations.

Shane: Working with people who have different goals and attempting to compromise. Everyone gives up something which is frustrating.

Foundation Center: What advice do you have for adults in power?

Michael: Learn to accept the opinions and values of younger generations. If a generation is enthusiastic and willing to help change societal flaws, stay open.

Shane: Listen to others and be more open-minded. Just because someone is in a position of power does not always mean that their decisions are the right ones.

There is no doubt that Michael and Shane are on the pathway to great things. Their commitment to philanthropy was instilled in them at a very young age proving that it’s never too early to engage young people in the social sector.

Inspired by its recent 40th anniversary celebration and theme of “Doing Good Better”, the Vision and Voices series is a collection of blog posts based on storytelling from Foundation Center Midwest leaders and stakeholders.