I just sent an email to a really fantastic organization that is starting an advisory board targeting younger people. It’s not the first time we’ve been asked for advice in this area (and hopefully not the last! ask away!) so I figured I might as well take those same thoughts and put them up on the blog.
A lot of these start-up “young professional” or “20-something” groups start with good intentions and then fizzle out. Here’s how to build a group that creates value….
1) The group must have buy-in and support from the organization in a real way. It can’t be some young staff member’s pet idea and they get given the green light to move forward without any real commitment from the organization.
2) Younger people care about more than happy hour. Some groups mistakenly think all you need to do is host a “happy hour” and you’re relevant. Sure, fun social activities can be a draw, especially if there’s free or affordable booze, but groups that don’t have any real content or connect to the agency mission are short-lived.
3) Younger people care about more than social media. A few years back, several groups thought that if they just got some young people together and threw some happy hours, they would be set. This still happens a little, but the thing I hear a lot is now – we just need a Facebook group, or we just need to start up on Pinterest, because that’s what the young people do. It’s the exact same mindset as the happy hour mindset. Sure, younger people like those things. But they are not any type of magic bullet. Social media can be a great element of your strategy, but it’s not the strategy itself.
4. What DOES work is identifying people in the demographic who care about your organization’s mission, bringing them together, listening them, valuing their opinions, and then building a program. They should have a real voice in the organization, and you should identify ways they can have both an independent identity as this younger group, and legitimate interactions with other stakeholder groups in your organization. This may take a little longer to do, but you’ll wind up with something real and that can last, rather than a flash-in-the-pan.
5. You know what works in terms of cultivating donors, engaging volunteers, building relationships and developing strategy at your organization. (And if you don’t, it’s worth thinking that through before you start a new group.) Rely on those skills first and then layer on what you know and what you are learning about younger people.
Growing the presence of young people in your organization is about diversity. Start with the basics of person-to-person engagement. Respect and value differences. Listen, and hear from people directly what they want, rather than assuming you know what they want. Be open to learning. Be open that you may need to be doing something differently at your organization itself, not just marketing to a new audience and plugging them into your organization exactly as it currently exists. Be honest with yourself and with your new group about what you would like for their participation to bring to your organization. In short: take it seriously.
Thus endeth the lecture,