67 posts categorized "author-Derrick Feldmann"

Talking about social issues with the uninformed

June 29, 2021

Family_meal_table_debate_GettyImages_Thomas Barwick_PhilanTopicMy father always said to avoid controversial subjects like religion at the dinner table. He meant to warn us about introducing potentially divisive topics into an otherwise pleasant evening. Today, though, with social media, a twenty-four-hour news cycle, and cell phones at many dinner tables, social issues have become part of the daily fabric of life. Information abounds, overwhelms, and is tuned out. Causes must find a way to be heard above the noise and misinformation — and need to be heard and understood especially by the people who aren't listening at all.

Communicating about your cause with an audience that lacks knowledge isn't necessarily the same as talking with those who actively oppose you on the issue. The key is not to raise the defenses of the uninformed by being polarizing in your attempts to educate them.

When engaging audiences who have no information about or have taken no stance on your issue, the success of your message lies in its construction and method of delivery.

Let's start with the messenger.

The messenger must hold up under the audience's scrutiny. When we think about the narrative of a cause and how it is consumed, we can no longer think only about the written or spoken word. Today, the efficacy of a narrative depends just as much on who is delivering it as what it says. Can the audience see the messenger as having relevant expertise or authority to make the stated claims? Does the messenger have a reputation worthy of the recipient's trust — a personal connection and a relationship built over time based on consistent support for the individual's interests?

The messenger must also be able to authentically articulate a message, opportunity, or call to action that is relevant to the recipient. In other words, causes must provide a narrative that, when delivered, both feels real to the messenger and makes the recipient feel heard and not judged.

The message must meet four criteria. Once you've found a credible messenger, the message itself must include four crucial elements:

1. The recipient must see the message as objective (no hidden agenda). Construct the message carefully so that any decision to respond is up to the audience. Those who feel you've made their decision for them will not react genuinely.

Nonprofit example: A Truth.com video uses tobacco companies' own words in its messaging to persuade young people to stop using tobacco products: "This is what Big Tobacco said about the Black community, read by the Black community.... 'We don't smoke this sh*t. We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the Black, and the stupid.' 'Young Blacks have found their thing. And it's menthol.'"

Corporate example: In 2017, then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning Syrian refugees from entering the United States. Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh issued a strong message to employees: "If we stay true to our values and support those who champion equality and justice while working with policymakers to ensure our voice is heard, I'm confident our business and our communities will be stronger as a result."

2. The delivery should not polarize but instead show proactive action. Don't use language that drives the audience away before they've heard and digested the message. If you want them to be open to educating themselves about your issue, avoid using snarky, preachy, or blaming language such as, "You might be surprised to learn..." or "You probably didn't know...."

Nonprofit example: Truth.com's messaging is open to people who aren't yet certain they're ready to quit smoking. Their "Growing Wave of Quitters" messaging includes "Meet the Quitters" and "Convince me to quit vaping" graphics, breathing exercises to reduce stress, a "Not sure if 'This is Quitting' is for you?" quiz, and, for those who choose to try to stop, a support-by-text program. Even though the harmful effects of using tobacco are well established, Truth.com doesn't berate its audience for ignoring them.

Corporate example: Bergh's proactive plan was clear: "We will not sit idly by. Because our employees are our first priority, we are reaching out to any employee who may be directly affected. We will stand by our colleagues and their families and offer support to any employee or family member directly affected by the ban."

3. The message should offer a clear, simple opportunity for the receiver to become informed on their own terms. Keep it simple: Don't overload the message with facts or create a long narrative, because the audience may think learning is too much work. Getting them involved in the process of educating themselves will, in turn, support the narrative and make the issue feel real.

Nonprofit example: Truth.com offers a variety of entry points for educating oneself about tobacco depending on interest: Cigarettes, vaping, or opioids; tobacco companies' marketing practices; the health effects of tobacco; quitting alone as opposed to with support; etc. They also offer print, video, audio, and social media resources.

Corporate example: Bergh's letter was straightforward and succinctly set forth a few relevant facts explaining how the country "has benefited immensely from those who have come to the U.S. to make a better life for themselves and their families, and we would not be the country we are today were it not for immigration." He also showed "why the action was consistent with longstanding company policy."

4. The recipients of the message must view themselves as part of the community to which the message is being delivered. Trying to communicate information about something completely unknown to an audience is a waste of time and energy. Your audience must have a point of personal reference if they are to be interested enough to accept your call to learn more and act.

Nonprofit example: Truth.com's messaging is highly visual and features young people across diverse demographics.

Corporate example: Addressed directly to Levi Strauss employees, Bergh's message felt highly relevant to the community to which it was delivered. "We desegregated our factories in the U.S. 10 years before it became the law of the land. We were one of the first companies to offer domestic partner healthcare benefits, long before it was popular. We have been a strong voice for inclusion, diversity, and giving everyone an opportunity to achieve their fullest potential at LS&Co. regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or religious preference. We know, deep in our soul, that diversity of all kinds is good for business and that a diverse organization will outperform a homogeneous one every time."

Communicating effectively about your cause includes assuming good intentions in messaging, stories, and calls to action. You will find yourself more naturally communicating to better inform your audience when you assume that they are interested in doing good — rather blaming them for not supporting your cause already.

Once you know how to approach your audience, you have to plan to get them to take action in support of your cause.

Moving the audience through three phases: intrigue, education, and intentional action. Causes need to work harder to create narratives that build from interest to education to action.

1. The interest phase. This is where you pique your audience's interest so they'll want to learn more. This can require building trust and support — using credible messengers — as well as helping the audience see themselves as part of the community.

2. The education phase. Here you deliver a fact within a story that helps individuals see themselves and their beliefs from a new perspective — likely from that of a person similar to them, a real peer rather than an influencer. Ideally, you will use campaign-themed messages creatively wrapped in claims and stories.

3. The intentional action phase. Now you can help the audience make the decision for themselves whether or not to answer your call to action. The word "intentional" here is built on the decision-making process they go through based on their own interests.

Two years ago, just after the longest government shutdown in American history at the time, Zaid Jilani and Jeremy Adam Smith wrote in Greater Good Magazine: "If Americans don't learn to build bridges with each other, we may see more government shutdowns, lying, segregation — and even violence." Their words were prophetic, but my point has less to do with violence than about understanding. As causes, we can recognize that bridge building is needed not so much because we disagree with each other, but because we may be uninformed. Taking this approach lowers the temperature of conversations around social issues enough that we can even have them at the dinner table.

Heashot_derrick_feldmannDerrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

Social issues are getting personal

April 21, 2021

I’ve talked in this space about how social issue engagement builds from what interests and engages us: we educate ourselves, get motivated to act, then look for like-minded people to join in pushing for change. In the recent past, research conducted by the Cause and Social Influence research team I lead has revealed that young Americans (ages 18-30) are concerned about social issues that impact others, including racial equity, climate change, hunger, and animal rights. But a third of the way into 2021, we're seeing a new twist.

Findings from the first Cause and Social Influence survey in 2021 reveal that the issues of most interest to young Americans right now are those that directly and personally affect them.

Empathy is a normal human trait

Being concerned about the well-being of others is the definition of empathy. Learning that countless number of our fellow Americans go to bed hungry each night motivates some of us to do what we can to address the immediate need and prompts others to do something to eliminate the root causes of hunger in America. Both reactions are normal and a necessary component of action for change.

Having empathy means we put ourselves in the place of another and try to share the feelings he or she is experiencing. But when an issue is relevant to our own situation — when we're the ones sharing, feeling, and experiencing the issue as our own — our empathy deepens to another level. We begin to understand what someone else is feeling because we've been or are in the same situation.

This is where many young people find themselves today. Previous research has shown that millennials and Gen Z are especially empathetic, and that their empathy leads them to be socially aware and active. In 2020, they (like many of us) took action on a range of social issues, including racial injustice, social isolation, and voting rights. Now, in 2021, they are finding that some of those issues have more personal relevance than others and have entered the stage of engagement where an issue's relevance to one's own situation is driving their engagement.

Empathy is directed inward

The biggest indicator of the shift? According to Influencing Young America to Act, Spring 2021, healthcare premiums now rank among the top three issues of interest to millennials and members of Gen Z. Given the pandemic's effect on healthcare systems, joblessness, and most every other aspect of life, that makes sense. And it certainly makes sense that it has raised concerns among young Americans about their own ability to be and stay healthy while financially supporting themselves.

Given that young people were already dealing with high levels of student debt and job insecurity, the pandemic and the health concerns it poses has underscored the precarity of their personal situations. And while healthcare premiums may not be a burning social issue, it is a very personal issue.

Fig.1.1_Cause and Influence_1Q201

Indeed, while healthcare reform as a general concept was of concern to young Americans in 2020, healthcare premiums only showed up in the top tier of issues for the first time in March 2021. Two weeks after President Biden expanded health insurance premium subsidies as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, 60 percent of our survey respondents said they believed the country was on track/totally on track -- though they were less hopeful about where things would be a year from now.

Fig.1.2_Cause and Influence_1Q201

Fig.1.3_Cause and Influence_1Q201

As young Americans look to a post-COVID economy, their own well-being and that of others appears to be top of mind. And while they are still deeply engaged in helping others, especially when it comes to racial equity and animal rights, their own changing health and economic situation cannot be ignored.

Causes must recognize how other issues affect them

Causes always have had to pay attention to how their issue can be made relevant to target audiences. Typically, they do this with campaigns featuring compelling images, videos, and stories crafted to help supporters and potential supporters feel what people most impacted by the issue are going through. So what does a cause do when its target audiences and people impacted by the issue are one and the same?

For starters, their campaigns need to encourage those who are impacted by the issue to talk to their peers about their own experiences while also standing up in support of the issue. This goes beyond people impacted or interested in an issue looking to recruit like-minded people to the cause. It means getting individuals with the same lived experience to join forces as a collective and share their hard-earned insights to bring about change.

It also means causes must intimately understand how they relate to the young people they’re trying to reach. The best way to do this is to interact with them and help them understand the interconnectedness of your particular issue with the issues young people are dealing with at the moment.

Finally, causes need to encourage supporters to elevate their voices in a way that directly and personally communicates the relevance of their individual experience. For example, while petitions continue to be popular, causes should start to think about augmenting them with personal stories. Rather than simply asking members of your target audience to sign a petition, package it with a story of someone impacted by the issue that potential signers of the petition can relate to.

The shift in how empathy is being channeled as the pandemic begins to wind down is something we all need to pay attention to. COVID impacted all of us, one way or another, and issues that once may have been seen as only involving certain groups or populations have changed and, in many cases, broadened out. As nonprofit leaders, we need to recognize that yesterday's supporter may also be today’s beneficiary.

Heashot_derrick_feldmannDerrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

Are you inspiring action for change with both a short- and long-term approach?

March 05, 2021

Protestors_holding_hands_Halfpoint_GettyImagesWhen I talk with organizations about what they are doing to inspire action for change, they often tell me how they use stories about impact to keep their most loyal donors and supporters motivated. Typically, this involves a communication plan that uses storytelling to help donors and supporters understand how their support for the organization positively impacts the lives of the organization's constituents.

But is it the kind of impact that every donor is looking to make with his or her dollars?

When I look at the kind of change that an organization or cause is trying to create, I tend to take a more expansive view informed by two simple questions:

  1. Does the work serve those in need of assistance in the short term? or
  2. Does it support an agenda or series of action that will create longer-term change in the lives of those being served?

In other words, is the organization reacting to a problem or issue or driving an agenda and being proactive with respect to the underlying causes of the issue or problem? The reactive approach is mostly focused on the here and now; the proactive approach is focused on driving progress over the longer term.

To do or not to do (now)

So much of the social issue work happening today is driven by real-world short-term concerns — and for good reason. But the fact of their existence doesn't necessarily mean that addressing them is going to be everyone's first priority — especially when one takes into account the differences in interests, age, and income of your donors and supporters.

The one thing most of your donors and supporters share is a vision of a better future for the people served by your organization, whether that comes to pass today, tomorrow, or both. That said, not every person you are trying to engage (or have already engaged) is as interested in what your organization is doing today as in what it is doing (or hopes to do) to create longer-term solutions to the problem. For this kind of donor and supporter, enthusiasm — and engagement — often is inversely correlated to an organization's focus on short-term needs. At the same time, while the focus on root causes historically has relied on significant investments in advocacy efforts and infrastructure, those kinds of activities often are pretty far removed from the immediate engagement sought by eager marketing and fundraising teams.

The simple fact is that both approaches are necessary.

Without a major investment in donor research and prospecting, who is to say which of your donors and supporters are interested in making a difference today and which will want to see their contributions create more sustainable social change over the longer term? It's a difference in perspective that we, as marketers and fundraisers, often overlook. Instead of segmenting donors and supporters by age or income, we need to pay more attention to their motivations and views with respect to short- and long-term change.

Again, it's no surprise that research — our own as well as research conducted by others — often finds that the campaigns which generate the highest engagement do so by clearly establishing a top-level agenda for a cause or issue while leaving plenty of room for donors, supporters, and the public to determine their own action steps. And by "top level," I mean four or five goals that are relevant and achievable, along with the core beliefs that underlie action in service to the cause or issue.

Black Lives Matter is a great example. The three entities under the BLM umbrella, the BLM Global Network Foundation, BLM PAC, and BLM Grassroots, use both approaches to engage constituents in real social change. Efforts by all three to mobilize protests, register voters, and mount educational campaigns are designed to engage supporters in addressing critical immediate needs and injustices. At the same time, BLM is working hard to advance legislation, policy reforms, and changes at the corporate governance level with an eye to permanently reshaping the political and economic landscape in the United States for Black people.

This isn't an "either/or" choice; it's a "both/and" approach. We need to serve constituents today and drive a longer-term agenda — an agenda that speaks to the current moment while keeping an eye on the bigger prize.

As someone leading a cause or issue, it's your job to define and articulate how your organization can use both approaches to achieve impact. And your planning and decisions should involve both the marketing and communications team as well as program staff in identifying and targeting the motivations of existing as well as potential donors and supporters.

The bottom line: not everyone will be interested in supporting your day-to-day work on behalf of constituents. Instead of increasing your pressure on them and/or writing them off, try to get them involved in your longer-term agenda by giving them opportunities focused on eliminating some of the root causes responsible for the challenges your organizations works hard to address on a daily basis.

And remember, as you tell the stories of what you and your donors and supporters are doing to change lives today, be sure to create an inspiring vision of a future in which your efforts will no longer be needed. You may be surprised at the response.

(Photo credit: Halfpoint/GettyImages)

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

2020: A year to remember

February 03, 2021

Social-media-engagementI've spoken often about how people get involved in social causes. And despite the turmoil we experienced in 2020 and the competing demands on our attention, I believe more strongly than ever that social issue engagement begins and deepens in predictable ways.

The steps look something like this:

 

1. We hear about a social issue or cause that intrigues or moves us and get to work learning everything we can about the issue;

2. Energized by what we've learned, we take a small action to demonstrate our support for the issue or cause

3. Now fully committed to the issue or cause, we look to band with others — in the real world, virtually, or both — to pressure stakeholders, industry, and/or government officials to act.

Because they represent a natural progression from initial interest to full engagement, each step is both a destination and a link to the step that follows.

Let's take a closer look.

Social Issue Engagement

You become aware of an issue and what others are saying. The first step toward having a position on any issue is to educate oneself about the issue. Whom does it affect? What are the possible positions I could take? What are people in and outside my networks saying about the issue? Is everything people are saying accurate? Do I have enough information to form a sound opinion?

As we've seen in our Cause and Social Influence research over the years, the sources and veracity of the information young Americans use to educate themselves about an issue are changing. With the racial equity protests in 2020, for instance, Black Americans responded more to statements and calls to action from organizations they already followed online or to comments in online forums by their peers than from broadcast news or social media advertising. During the presidential election, on the other hand, young Americans reported being most influenced by social media — even though 87 percent of respondents to our survey agreed with the statement that social media platforms "often" or "very often" propagate false or misleading information and statements.

There are 3.8 billion social media users in the world, a number that's increasing more than 9 percent a year. Yet according to the Digital 2020 report from We Are Social, social media penetration (users per capita) is still only 49 percent. Which, fake news concerns notwithstanding, means social media as a go-to source for information is here to stay.

You take a small action because it's easy. I've said this many times: In almost any situation, our natural inclination is to do the easy thing. Even when our empathy is triggered and we feel we must do something to help, we're usually happy to settle for the small, passive action; it doesn't take much to feel good about and convince ourselves we are helping the cause.

Our research bears this out. The top three actions young Americans took in 2020 to help others were to shop locally more than they had In the past, post or share content on a social media platform, and sign a petition. By performing these small acts, many young Americans felt they'd made their voice heard.

Band with others to pressure stakeholders, industry, and/or government officials to act. Although this deeper level of engagement is not for everyone, it is an opportunity for movement leaders, community organizers, and others to bring people from different backgrounds together to actively work to advance action on an issue or cause. For folks on the front lines of an issue, this is where real change happens.

The biggest takeaway from the research we conducted last year (see Cause and Social Influence 2020 Year in Review) was this: Young Americans believe the best way to bring about social change is to vote.

We also found that a high percentage of young Americans were donating to the issues and causes they support. Indeed, the giving participation rate for this cohort, which had held steady at 9 percent from 2017-19, doubled in 2020, with especially strong support for:

  • Animals/Animal Rights                             34%
  • COVID-19                                                     26%
  • Civil Rights/Racial Discrimination         25%
  • Healthcare Reform                                     23%
  • Climate Change                                           17%

Companies are on a similar journey

Companies and brands continue to take their own steps on the road to more robust civic engagement. Our finding that young Americans increasingly expect corporations to support issues and causes they care about and to be genuine in their support is echoed by the recent Social Trends 2021 report: "Being a purpose-driven brand isn’t something you can fake.... 60% of millennials and Gen Z plan on spending more money with businesses that take care of employees during the pandemic."

In other words, companies concerned about authenticity and transparency should look first to their own internal practices. Companies that want to be credited with socially aware and environmentally responsible policies should be sure they're walking the walk before they start talking the talk on social media or in their advertising campaigns.

After so many significant moments in 2020, some marketers began 2021 with lowered expectations; others are being extra careful not to say the wrong thing or strike the wrong tone. Nothing illustrates their concerns better than the decision by many brands to pull their Super Bowl advertising. Others, including teams at Pepsi, Budweiser, Ford, Olay, Hyundai, Coca-Cola, and Little Caesars, are starting the year with more of a corporate social responsibility mindset and planning to allocate some of their advertising dollars to boosting awareness of COVID-19 prevention measures and vaccination campaigns.

The more things change, the more they remain the same

Last February, before COVID was on most Americans' radar, I wrote about the many individuals who wished we could "return to a time when people knew right from wrong and were committed to liberty and justice for all." Little did I know what the months ahead had in store for us! But even then, I noted that levels of engagement shift based on a range of factors: individual perceptions of what is (and isn't) important, our understanding of the root causes of problems, and new ways to engage with issues and each other.

A year later, having witnessed any number of shattering moments and a fair amount of intense social upheaval, we find ourselves, in many ways, in the same place. Certainly, the way people engage with issues and causes hasn't changed. And the basic question remains: What have we learned from the past and how can we apply it to the future?

Headshot_derrick_feldmannDerrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of the book The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

How Social Issues Influenced Voting by Young Americans

November 24, 2020

VotingsizedThe research team I lead at Cause and Social Influence tracks the behaviors and motivations of young Americans (ages 18-30) with respect to social issues and movements. And while plenty of issues have drawn the attention of young Americans in 2020 — not least COVID-19 — our latest research finds that one issue In particular drove young Americans to vote in the recent U.S. presidential election: racial equity for Black Americans and people of color.

We surveyed young Americans in October and then again on November 4, the day after the election. Our results — published in two waves, Influencing Young Americans to Act — 2020 Election Research Reports, Wave 1 and Wave 2 — reveal that a consistent, overriding concern about racial inequality, discrimination, and social justice, particularly though not exclusively as it impacts Black Americans, was a key factor in young Americans’ decision to vote and choice of presidential candidate.

Based on our sample, here are a couple of things we learned about young Americans' participation in the 2020 presidential election:

1. Young Americans voted for a candidate, not against one. In our first wave of election research in October, the vast majority of survey respondents had already settled on their candidate, with 64 percent saying they planned to vote for Joe Biden and 28 percent planning to vote for Donald Trump. When asked to give a reason for their choice, 58 percent said they liked and supported their chosen candidate’s stance on issues important to them, while 25 percent said they neither liked nor supported the other candidate’s stance on issues important to them. In other words, a majority of young Americans responding to our survey said that support for, rather than opposition to, a candidate and his positions was a key motivating factor in their choice of candidate.

By the time Election Day (November 3) rolled around, nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of young Americans had already voted or planned to vote for Biden for president, while about a quarter (28 percent) had already voted or planned to vote for Donald Trump.

2. Racial equity was a key factor in the way young Americans voted. When asked in October to name the specific issues or causes driving their choice of candidate, 60 percent of respondents said Black Lives Matter (i.e., racial inequity, discrimination, and injustice related to Black Americans), while 39 percent mentioned civil rights/racial discrimination/social injustice related to groups other than Black Americans.

Respondents' reasons for supporting a candidate remained more or less unchanged for those who voted on November 3, with our second wave survey finding that nearly two-thirds (59 percent) of all respondents said the biggest factor in their choice of candidate was Black Lives Matter (racial inequity, discrimination, and injustice related to Black Americans), while 42 percent mentioned civil rights/racial discrimination/social injustice related to groups other than Black Americans.

The other top issues cited as reasons to back a certain candidate were COVID-19 (44 percent), the budget and economy (43 percent), and healthcare reform (38 percent).

3. Young Americans trust social movements and local government the most. Given the proliferation of false and misleading information in the months leading up to the 2020 election — New York Times' reporters tracked 1.1 million election-related "falsehoods" in September and October alone — we asked young Americans how much they trusted specific individuals and entities to do what was right to ensure a fair election. Social movements (65 percent) and local government (65 percent) scored highest, followed by Joe Biden (58 percent) and nonprofit organizations (5 percent).

The list of "I do not trust them at all" responses among our sample was topped by Donald Trump (42 percent), followed by Republican members of Congress (30 percent), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (27 percent), corporations (26 percent), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (25 percent).

Bright Spots

During what surely was one of the most divisive elections in my lifetime, one response stood out for me and actually made me hopeful. About half of our sample said their voting experience was good because, "I had a voice in the 2020 presidential election. I think my vote matters this year." Another hopeful response: 64 percent said the results of the election won’t affect their charitable giving plans.

Our research underscores the importance of social issues to young Americans — something we will talk more about in the coming weeks. At the same time, the high levels of activity and engagement surrounding the election speak directly to the opportunity nonprofits and for-profit companies have to promote greater civic engagement and participation among young Americans through the causes they themselves support. If anyone is looking for reasons to be hopeful as we try to get a handle on the coronavirus and keep ourselves and our families safe over the next few months, that seems like a good place to start.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of the new book, The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

The role of offline and online behavior in advancing social causes

October 15, 2020

In May, when George Floyd, a Black man, was killed while in police custody, igniting protests across the country decrying police brutality against African Americans, the research team I lead at Cause and Social Influence was already tracking the response of young Americans to COVID-19. As spring turned into summer and the two issues merged into a nationwide movement centered around demands for racial justice, our researchers were able to observe in real time the forces that motivated individuals, nonprofits, companies, and allied causes to take action.

Indeed, it was an unprecedented opportunity for us to study how online and offline behavior feed off each other to create and drive a movement. And while we aren't claiming to show definitively that one kind of activity led to another, we were able to identify a number of patterns and connections among certain kinds of online and offline actions.

Looking more closely at the response to the virus and the protests sparked by George Floyd’s death, we noticed some commonalities:

The power of corporate influence. Our research revealed that 80 percent of young Americans believe corporations can influence attitudes toward the virus through their actions*, while 75 percent believe they can have a "great deal" or "some" influence on mitigating racial inequality‡. As we were fielding our survey, for example, Nike’s "Play for the World" campaign was encouraging Americans to stay indoors and social distance; by the time Nike ended the campaign, it had generated 732,000 likes on Instagram and a total of about 900,000 social media engagements (Instagram, Twitter).

Lack of trust. Our research revealed that, in June, nearly 50 percent of young Americans thought President Trump was addressing racial issues "not well at all," with only 12 percent of respondents overall (and 16 percent of white respondents) saying he was handling the issue "moderately well." The same month, messages out of the White House or from Trump related to racial inequality or the pandemic were followed by spikes in social media activity*‡. An interview the president gave to FOX News' Chris Wallace that zeroed in on the administration’s response to COVID generated millions of tweets and retweets on Twitter. Tweets put out by the president calling an elderly protester "an antifa provocateur" generated a combined 531,000 responses; similarly, a Twitter announcement of a Trump campaign rally in Tulsa, the site of a notorious race riot in 1921, generated 3.6 million tweets.

Fig1.1_Trump Perf on Racial Issues

Our analysis also revealed some differences in activism around the two issues:

Social media played a larger role as an information source for racial justice activists than as a source of information about COVID-19. According to our research, young people initially relied on local government (37 percent) and family members (30 percent) for information on COVID-19*, while 76 percent said they turned to social media "often" as a source for news and information related to racial equity‡. At about the same time, the first week of June, the hashtags #BLM and #BlackLivesMatter generated more than 1 million tweets, while across all social media platforms hundreds of thousands of individuals shared updates containing references to Black Americans who had died in police custody.

Young Americans are more likely to turn to celebrities and online influencers for information about racial equity than for information about COVID-19. Our research revealed that in the first month of the pandemic, 40 percent of young Americans said they took some kind of action related to the pandemic because of something a celebrity or online influencer said or did, while in the  month following George Floyd's death, 52 percent of all respondents (and 58 percent of Black respondents) said they took action because of something a celebrity or online influencer said or did. In early June, a Black Lives Matter special featuring comedian Dave Chappelle garnered 22 million YouTube views. Later in June,  #ObamaDayJune14 generated more than 500,000 tweets, while a tweet by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stating that "The United States of America should not have secret police" generated nearly 500,000 likes and was the #3 trending tweet that day.

Different immediate responses. Our research also found that, initially, young people were inclined to shop locally as the best way to help out with the pandemic, and that only 25 percent said they were sharing COVID-19 information via their social media channels*. In the week after George Floyd's death, however, the top actions taken by young people in response to his death were posting on social media and signing petitions,‡ including 2 million social engagements featuring a #BLM or #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and 1.6 million using the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday.

Our conclusion: Social media tends to bring together both like-minded people and people with polarizing views across all types of divides — including income level, geography, age, education, work experience, etc. — for "conversations" that unfold in real time. The impacts of the COVID pandemic and calls for racial justice will continue to overlap in the lead up to the election in November; what happens after that is anyone's guess. But by examining offline actions and online engagements and conversations, we can begin to understand the interplay of dramatic events and social movements in real time and how each contributes to, and reinforces, action to advance a cause.

To see all the research and sources referenced in this article, visit: causeandsocialinfluence.com/ActionsAndOnlineDiscourse.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of the new book, The Corporate Social Mind. Read more by Derrick here.

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* Influencing Young America to Act, Special COVID-19 Research Report - Spring 2020, causeandsocialinfluence.com/2020research.

Influencing Young America to Act, Special Report - June 2020, causeandsocialinfluence.com/2020research-june.

Nonprofits: it’s time to redefine your corporate relationships

August 11, 2020

Rethink your corporate relationshipsNonprofits are looking at one of the best opportunities in decades to redefine their corporate partnerships for the betterment of their constituents.

The public's expectations with respect to the role business should play in addressing social inequities has shifted dramatically over recent years. In this moment, how corporations decide to meet these expectations has enormous implications for nonprofit leaders. Our latest research, The Corporate Social Mind Research Report, includes two findings that argue strongly for a rethink of the nonprofit-corporate funder relationship: 1) these days, Americans expect companies to have an opinion on pressing social issues; and 2) companies actually do influence how individuals act in support of particular causes.

It is our view that both findings create an opportunity, even a responsibility, for nonprofits to help companies successfully engage customers, employees, and stakeholders in taking action on social issues.

Large segments of the American public are hungry for accurate information about the issues they care about and are looking for ways to meaningfully engage in change. And these days they have added publicly owned companies to their list of go-to sources for such information. If your nonprofit hasn’t already redefined its relationships with its corporate funders, it's time to get started.

Here are a couple of things you can do:

Reposition your nonprofit as a subject-matter expert. Nearly half (46 percent) of consumers we surveyed expect a company to know how its products or services are impacting society. This represents a golden opportunity for nonprofits to step up as subject-matter experts. Many nonprofits are well-positioned to provide information about corporate impact at every level of a corporation’s operations, from product design, to supply chain management, to branding and marketing.

In our survey, almost 60 percent of respondents said they believe companies should make clear where they stand on racial equity, social justice, and discrimination, while almost half want the same for the environment/climate change. Again, nonprofits, in their role as experts, can help companies define their positions and craft messaging around their issue. Companies know their business and customers, but a nonprofit is more likely to understand who is (and isn't) affected by an issue and how a business might be impacting its constituents. In other words, nonprofits can educate, inform, and help companies build knowledge about an issue and bring a more authentic, public-focused perspective to its internal conversations.

Partners in change. When we asked, "What actions have you (as a consumer) taken in the last three weeks because a company asked you to get involved in a social issue?" we learned that:

  • 25 percent of those who responded to the survey posted or shared something related to an issue;
  • 21 percent started to or increased their purchases of local products and/or services;
  • 20 percent said they had made an in-kind donation to a charity; and
  • 20 percent said they had made a cash donation to a cause or charity.

In addition, a quarter (26 percent) of respondents think companies should engage their employees in fundraising or volunteering for a social cause or issue. Many nonprofits are well positioned to offer easy and customized access to such opportunities, educating employees about their issue and the company’s role in creating impact while underscoring its commitment to the issue.

Our survey results illustrate the potential of authentically engaged companies to make a difference. Viewed holistically, social issues cut across all segments of society, from companies, to donors, to voters and policy makers, to beneficiaries, consumers, and investors. Social change happens when all of these groups ignore their traditional roles and organizational boundaries and join forces to advance solutions to an issue.

The two most prominent issues in 2020, COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, are causing many companies to rethink their role in advancing social change. Matching the level of engagement of their customers is likely to be a challenge for many of them, but one well worth the effort. Nonprofits are well-positioned to support companies and help inform their decisions and actions. As companies work to develop more effective and meaningful approaches to urgent social issues, nonprofits have a unique opportunity to redefine the corporate-nonprofit relationship by significantly enhancing the value they bring to it.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of the new book, The Corporate Social Mind. You can read more by Derrick here.

Young Americans, racial equity, and the pandemic

June 29, 2020

2020-06-07T082928Z_1842925027_MT1AFL127122807_RTRMADP3_BLM_RALLY_IN_RESPONSE_TO_DEATH_OF_GEORGE-FLOYDRecent events have galvanized tens of thousands of young Americans of all races into becoming active and vocal supporters of Black Lives Matter — a vigorous, positive, can’t-be-ignored movement rooted in the efforts of countless others who have worked hard over decades to address and eliminate racial inequality in American society. The fact that the protests erupted in the midst of a public health crisis that required people to physically distance themselves from others has merely served to reinforce the shared experience of the protestors and made many feel as if they are part of an unstoppable global movement. Most young Americans (ages 18-30) now believe real change is at hand and inevitable.

The research initiative I lead under the Cause and Social Influence banner has been tracking the actions of this cohort in real time since the pandemic began, so when the first protests broke out after the killing of George Floyd, we were able to quickly add research questions specific to the issue of racial inequality. The result is four Influencing Young Americans to Act 2020 reports that reveal the kinds of actions young people have taken since Floyd’s death, as well as some of the other factors that have influenced young people since March.

Here are five key takeaways from the reports:

1. Charitable giving by young Americans is up. At the end of 2019, we asked young Americans what action they preferred to make when they supported social issues; only 9 percent said making a charitable gift. That number had inched up to 10 percent by the time a pandemic was declared in March, and ticked up again, to 12 percent in April, where it stayed in May. We expected this number to continue to tick up as social distancing guidelines remained in place in populated urban areas. Instead, as the protests sparked by George Floyd’s death grew in intensity in late May and early June, we began to see proof of what we have long believed and shared with our readers: passion drives participation. Indeed, during the first week of the protests, one-fifth (20 percent) of survey respondents who self-identified as either white, black, or a person of color made a charitable gift. And the passion we are seeing around the issue has sparked support beyond financial donations, including higher levels of volunteerism and advocacy.

2. Interest in online influencers is up. In the initial stages of the pandemic, family and friends were the major influencers in terms of how young Americans perceived and responded to the public health threat. By mid-April, young Americans were more likely to take their cues from local government, while 60 percent of members of this cohort said they were not looking to celebrities or online influencers/content creators for virus-related information. That started to change in mid-May, by which time the percentage of respondents who aid they were not relying on celebrities or online influencers/content creators for COVID information had fallen to 48 percent. The Black Lives Matter protests drove that number down further, especially among young Black Americans. During the first week of June, the percentage of respondents who said they weren’t turning to online influencers/content creators for information had fallen to 33 percent; broken down by racial group, we found that 43 percent of white respondents and 58 percent of young black respondents were looking to social influencers for news about race-based discrimination, racial inequality, and social injustice.

3. Young Americans trust nonprofits and distrust Donald Trump. As the protests were spreading in earnest in early June, nearly 50 percent of young Americans said they felt President Trump was not addressing racial issues “well at all,” with only 16 percent of white/Caucasian respondents saying he was handling the situation “moderately well.” Majorities of both white and black respondents also said they trust social movements and nonprofits more than the president or government to do what’s right with respect to racial inequality, race-based discrimination, and social injustice — a change from the early days of the pandemic, when local government and nonprofits garnered the highest trust rankings.

4. Purchases and companies can influence change. Over a decade of research, we have watched young Americans use their purchasing power to influence companies and brands to support the causes and social issues they care about. But how and where this cohort spends its money became much more obviously intentional after the 2016 presidential election. In the weeks after the election, we found that more than a third (37 percent) of young Americans had shifted their purchasing patterns in significant ways to align more with their positions on social issues. By 2018, a majority of this group believed their purchasing decisions represented a powerful form of activism, and by this spring, as shutdowns and stay-at-home orders became the rule, young Americans were focused on the economic sustainability of local businesses and the things they could do to help business owners. At the same time, eight out of ten (80 percent) young Americans believe companies can influence public attitudes with respect to behaviors that can help limit the spread of the virus. The same belief is reflected in our June survey, with 74 percent of respondent saying companies can have “a great deal” or “some” influence in addressing race-based discrimination, racial inequality, and social injustice.

5. Young Americans are creating new channels of influence. Younger millennials and Gen Z are the most educated young Americans the country has ever seen, and thanks to technology they have the kind of reach that activists in the past could only dream about. With those tools, we see them working to bring about change by petitioning political representatives, mounting advocacy campaigns, and turning out like-minded voters. They also are supporting brands that embody their values, calling out brands that only give lip service to those values, and directing more money to local and small-business owners. And they are giving to the causes they are passionate about.

The coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd are showing us how rapidly a fundraising and marketing strategy can be turned upside down. How well nonprofits respond in the months to come will depend on their familiarity with and connection to their audiences and their willingness to adjust their fundraising tactics and appeals to meet the moment.

(Credit: Keiko Hiromi/AFLO)

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence. You can read more by Derrick here.

The Reinvention of the Nonprofit

May 14, 2020

Communications_treeLike many of you, I've learned new ways of doing things over the last month and half. For instance, I have:

  • participated in a virtual board meeting with a nonprofit that, pre-pandemic, would not allow board members to call in to board meetings — a significant obstacle to participation for me and many of my fellow board members;
  • attended a virtual event for a nonprofit I support;
  • toured a museum gallery (virtually, of course); and
  • designed a new movement strategy with a tech team for an organization seeking to move in-person engagements to a virtual model. 

Some of these innovations had been on the back burner for some time at the organizations in question. But they hadn't been operationalized because nothing at the organization or in its operating environment was forcing a change in the organizational mindset. Even when pitched by bright, forward-thinking staff, innovative ideas were often shelved in favor of more pressing  programmatic needs and strategies. 

Then COVID-19 happened, and, like that, everything changed. Ideas that sounded good but didn't seem necessary a year or two ago were suddenly thrust to the forefront. Almost overnight, the attitude of nonprofits shifted from "Let's not rock the boat" to "What can we do to keep ourselves afloat and/or make a difference, and how fast can we do it?"  

While there is never a bright side to a pandemic, it's true what many pundit-types have said: crises tend to accelerate trends that were already in place, and things that seem new and innovative today are likely to be widely embraced and taken for granted before you know it. 

That said, let me add a note of caution: nonprofits' embrace of innovation and technology should not merely be focused on substitution — Zoom events for in-person events, for instance — but should aim instead to develop entirely new experiences. They should expand the engagement we already have with our constituents and supporters, giving them more ways to be a part of our work and to keep that work relevant and impactful for even more people. 

I was reminded of that recently by three conversations I had with funders about a virtual conference I created ten years ago. MCON, the Millennial Impact Conference, was a day-long virtual event sponsored by the Case Foundation to bring together individuals in the nonprofit sector who were starting to focus their engagement efforts on the huge, rising millennial cohort. The convening was the signature event of a larger initiative, the Millennial Impact Project, a decade-long research effort designed to help nonprofits, causes, and companies engage what was then America's largest and youngest adult generation.

People signed on to that first event in 2010 not really knowing what to expect — and neither did we. As it turned out, some twenty-five hundred people attended (virtually), an astonishing number as far as we were concerned, having no benchmarks against which to measure. And when it was over, we heard from dozens, if not hundreds, of attendees who, while they might have had a hard time articulating why, simply loved it. "I don't know…you just had to experience it," was a common refrain. In the years that followed, attendance at MCON continued to build, peaking at twenty thousand for the 2018 event, at which point we sunsetted the initiative and the event.

What the three funders I spoke to wanted to know was how we managed to create a virtual conference before people really knew what a virtual conference was. And my answer was simple: when we created MCON, we didn't try to replicate something that already existed. We came up with a model for what we hoped to achieve, and then refined it. It was never intended to replace an in-person gathering; instead, we created a standalone experience through which guest speakers from across the country and many different industries and disciplines could share their research and knowledge and, crucially, interact with attendees in new and different ways. 

Virtual events shouldn't be about forcing grantees, constituents, or supporters to make a choice between engaging virtually or in-person. They should be about creating something new. In my experience, that means they should be shorter and move more quickly, be peppered with stimulating visuals, and feature plenty of opportunities to engage with both presenters and other attendees in short bursts. Don't expect see a lot of backroom networking, as you would at an offline event. And don't worry, that's okay! Use the opportunity to ask the most creative members on your staff to create something special that serves not as a replacement for the event that would've been but as a unique complement to your usual communications/fundraising/marketing efforts. 

Of course, every cause and nonprofit will have to decide for itself how to do that. That  said, here are some things for you to keep in mind as you look to innovate and start to plan to bring back your in-person events/programs:

  • A virtual event is just a new way to move constituents and supporters from point A to point B.
  • Your event should focus on new and different opportunities for constituents and supporters to engage with your organization or cause.
  • Adopt a digital perspective focused on delivering experiences and helping attendees learn things, in real time, that wouldn't be possible in an offline setting.
  • Think "small," and use the tools at your disposal to let your virtual attendees drive the bus. 
  • Create small breakout groups for each main content block to make it easier for attendees to compare notes, share ideas, and meet new people.

I urge causes and nonprofits to refrain from returning to business as usual after this crisis is over (and who knows when that might be). What you are learning and doing today to reach constituents and supporters absolutely must inform your future communications/fundraising/marketing efforts. As a wise person once said, never let a crisis go to waste. Good luck and stay safe!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

Creating Symbiosis Between Marketing and Advocacy

March 26, 2020

Stickers-yin-yang-sphereHow many times have you had to make a strategic decision designed to generate (or replace) critical support for your organization or cause? Maybe you lost the support of a key funder, or something happened in your issue area that required a decisive response.

Let's face it: even when things are calm, your organization is competing with dozens of other organizations and causes for public mindshare. Which is why I'm sure you've tried all sorts of traditional and digital methods designed to amplify your organization's message so that it stands out from all the "noise." 

Of course, generating any kind of action in our over-saturated media environment requires the efforts of two of your most critical teams: marketing and advocacy. It’s the job of marketing to acquire and recruit people to your cause, while advocacy works at the other end of the spectrum to activate those who are most likely to support — or are already involved at high levels with — your cause.

How do organizations achieve that happy state?

Successful cause leaders have discovered that the secret is to create a mutually beneficial relationship between your marketing and advocacy teams.

Finding the Sweet Spot

Often, when I sit down with cause leaders and ask about an upcoming event or campaign, I'm told (in so many words) that the organization is trying to expend as little of its limited resources as possible — and doing so in a siloed way. Sometimes, the marketing team will say, "Oh, it’s the advocacy team’s job to create passionate supporters and fight the good fight on the policy front," while the advocacy team members will say, "It's not our job to fill the room or make sure our message is getting to the right people. That’s marketing's job."

As anyone responsible for building a movement or a brand tied to a cause or issue knows, however, the sweet spot for any organization — the place where all its resources are used so as to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts — requires everyone, on every team, to work together.

Where am I going with this?

Continue reading »

Nostalgia and Social Change

January 29, 2020

Time-machineRecently, I put my finger on a social sector trend that's been lodged in my brain but that I was having a hard time articulating: call it nostalgia.

Let me give you an example.

In many of the conversations I've had over the last year or two, people usually express a clear interest in changing how we engage with social issues and causes. They want to see Americans give more, volunteer more, vote more, or otherwise be more civically engaged, and they have certain expectations about what that looks like and how it should happen.

In many of these conversations, the person I’m speaking with often "benchmarks" the change they'd like to see, and that benchmark often references the past, as in "Derrick, Americans used to give more," or "Derrick, Americans used to know more about the way our political system works." They often cite statistics to back up their point and then will say, in so many words, "We need to return to…" and will launch into a narrative about a time when "we were less polarized as a country," when "people were more willing to help a stranger in need," when there was no "us and them, only we."

Now, it's not my job to argue with people and point out where they might need to rethink some of their ways of looking at things, and I'm not going to do that here.

Instead, I'll share what I often say at this point in those conversations:

Continue reading »

Brand Awareness and Your Nonprofit

December 19, 2019

BRAND-AWARENESSIn 2018, Smithsonian Magazine called March for Our Lives, a student-led mass demonstration against gun violence that took place In Washington, D.C., "the most powerful American youth movement in decades." In 2019, March for Our Lives and the movement it catalyzed could not be found among the top five movements of interest to young Americans in a nationally representative sample of eighteen- to thirty-year-olds (Influencing Young America to Act 2019).

The lesson? Never assume others know about your cause or the work you are trying to promote.

Why is awareness important?

As I often tell organizations, the challenge for cause and movement leaders is not to get constituents to regurgitate a brand statement that reinforces work they're already engaged in; it's to connect a cause to the "zeitgeist" in a way that makes it impossible to forget.

Put another way, the fundamental challenge for any cause leader is to help people understand why it's critical they pay attention to your issue — and to keep them paying attention.

The importance of awareness

It's often the case that our messaging doesn't bring new people to our organization or cause but instead builds loyalty among those who already support it. To bring new supporters to the cause, on the other hand, awareness of the issue is imperative.

Needless to say, the fact that the people with whom we work or who support our cause tend to be passionate about our issue can give us a false sense of its importance to the public. In addition, most of us live in filter bubbles that limit our information consumption to items we completely (or mostly) agree with and/or that are relevant to our work. Which is why we're often surprised when others don’t exhibit the same level of awareness of our issue as we think they should.

It makes sense, therefore, that awareness campaigns are at the top of most organizations' communications wish lists — and why so many organizations get "false positives" when they attempt to measure awareness of their issue or cause.

Continue reading »

New Report: What Influences Young Americans to Support Social Causes

October 25, 2019

Take-actionClimate change is the number-one issue of concern among young Americans. That's one of seven major findings in the new Influencing Young America to Act 2019 report my colleagues and I released earlier today.

The second report in the Cause and Social Influence initiative I lead examines how the oldest members of Generation Z and the youngest millennials ("young America"), those Americans between the ages of 18 and 30, are influenced by and influence others to take intentional action on social issues and analyzes how those actions coalesce to form a community of support for specific social movements.

Social Issues of Interest

In our research, we define a social issue as an existing situation recognized as being counter to a generally accepted social value that can be mitigated through people working together to deploy community resources to change the situation.

The top five issues of interest to the young America (and the percentage that selected them) are climate change (30 percent), civil rights/racial discrimination (25 percent), immigration (21 percent), healthcare reform (20 percent) and mental health/social services (16 percent).

Social Movements of Interest

In our research, we define a social movement as a group of people working together to support the interests of a community whose lives are affected by a specific issue; the group often is unable to address the issue and achieve a satisfactory resolution without the support of dedicated community activists and constituents.

The top five movements of interest to young America are #MeToo (26 percent), #BlackLivesMatter (26 percent), #AllLivesMatter (24 percent), #HumanRights (24 percent ) and #MedicareForAll (23 percent). (Note that although climate change was the number-one social issue, it did not appear among the top five movements.)

Continue reading »

Which Messages Will Get Out the Vote — A Generational Perspective

October 08, 2019

Vote_counts_830_0In a little over a year, America could see the unthinkable: the highest level of voter participation in living memory. And based on insights gleaned from recent research, voter messaging focused on issues and empowerment is likely to be key to the turnout.

Two factors are driving what could be a record turnout in 2020. First, while only about half of the U.S. voting-age population cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, turnout in 2018 was the highest for a midterm election in nearly a century. Second, as the 2020 election cycle draws closer, we're seeing a continuing generational shift in the electorate. As noted by the Pew Research Center earlier this year, boomers and older cohorts accounted for 7 in 10 eligible voters in 2000, but in 2020 will account for fewer than 3 in 10.

For the many groups trying to get out the vote as a way to create change in society, the type of messaging they use in their campaigns can make a critical difference in who wins and who loses at the ballot box.

As most of you know, however, messaging is more art than science.

For example, which of these approaches is likely to prove most effective in getting people off their couches and into the voting booth in 2020?

"We want change!" (March For Our Lives/)

"You must speak to be heard." (HeadCount)

"We Make Change Happen" (Hip Hop Caucus)

"Skip the lines. Vote early!" (various)

It's hard to say, because the variables that figure into any person's decision to vote are so numerous and fluid. Some people are motivated by a particular issue or issues, others by a passion (or dislike) for a particular candidate. People's changing circumstances — marriage, divorce, having children, losing a job, relocating for a job, etc. — also play a role.

To learn more about what drives people to vote, I led a new research study with the Ad Council, in partnership with Democracy Works, designed to:

  • uncover Americans' attitudes toward and perceptions of voting;
  • explore messages and narratives that have influenced those perceptions and attitudes in the past;
  • understand reactions to specific message frames among boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and members of Gen Z;
  • determine which message frames, for each generational cohort, are likely to be most effective in driving voter participation; and
  • identify the most compelling messages.

We recently published our findings in a report, Driving Voter Turnout in 2020: Research on Effective Messaging Strategies for Each Generation. And while our research was limited to the five frames within which most current messaging around voting falls — issue, empowerment, identity, companionship, and ease — we consistently found empowerment to be a critical driver of voting across all generations.

People who feel they have the power, the right, and/or the authority to do something are exponentially more likely to exercise that power/right/authority than people who do not feel empowered. (Note: this is just as true for giving and volunteering as it is for voting.)

Below is a brief summary of our findings, as well as some recommendations for empowering your supporters via your messaging.

Voting is valued. Members of all generational cohorts generally are excited to vote and view it as a civic duty. To reinforce this belief and attitude, consider a messaging campaign that encourages people to feel good about voting and reminds them that their vote gives them the power to affect issues they care about.

Generational differences come into play with second-tier messaging. Regardless of generation, the majority of respondents were most inspired by issue-focused messaging and found it to be the most appealing, believable, relevant, and inspiring frame. However, generations differ in their responses to second-tier messaging (i.e., messaging that reinforces the big campaign slogan/call to action). Which means you need to think about how to craft your communications based on the preferences of the generation that is being targeted.

Messages of empowerment and identity are the most effective (after issue). Our surveys showed that once you've hooked your audience with issue-related messaging, all generations respond best to messages of empowerment and identity (though Gen Z responded less favorably to identity-related messaging than other cohorts). For example, targeting members of younger cohorts with positive, inspirational messages (and images) helps them think about the bigger picture — and reminds them that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, older generations are more likely to respond to straightforward messaging and acknowledgements of their already established identities as members of the voting public.

Although the majority of Gen Zers have not yet voted, they are just as excited about and engaged in voting activities as older generations — if not more so. Members of Gen Z view messages that speak to issues and empowerment as appealing, relevant, shareable, believable, and inspirational. (Think about campaigns such as March For Our Lives, which highlights the power of the individual.) Gen Z cares deeply, passionately, and openly about issues. Its members take their role in our democratic society seriously and believe that every person and vote counts. To inspire them, craft messages based on issue and empowerment frames.

Voting is essential to a well-functioning democracy. Today, with the political divide in the country as wide as it has been in half a century and the 2020 election looming, communicators have the power — and responsibility — to use all the tools at their disposal to influence voters, of all ages, to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed right and make their voices heard at the polls.

We know that in order to influence how anyone views your issue, you first must influence how he or she views it in relation to themselves. The good news? You're starting with a significant advantage: today's younger generations already believe they can create change, whether or not institutions formally offer them the chance to do so.

Regardless of whether you're a marketer/communicator for a brand, a cause, or a candidate, your first and most important task is to empower your constituents to believe in that brand/cause/candidate. Help them feel like they're an important part of the social-change solution. And while you're at it, empower younger Americans to believe they hold the future in their hands.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

Ten Years of Millennial Research: What I'd Do Differently

August 16, 2019

MillennialsIt's finally here — the final Millennial Impact Report, the culmination of a decade of research conducted by the Case Foundation and research teams I led into cause behaviors of the generation born between 1980 and 2000.

Any project of that magnitude — we interviewed more than 150,000 millennials, held hours and hours of focus groups, compiled and analyzed reams of data, and wrote volumes of narrative — begs the question: Would we do it all over again?

Absolutely — albeit with some tweaks based on what we've learned.

When we launched the project in 2008 — and over most of the next ten years — making assumptions about millennials seemed to be a favorite pastime of many of the people we interviewed or spoke to. We heard that millennials were lazy and more entitled than any  generation before them. They believed they deserved big salaries right out of college, and when reality hit they moved into their parents' basement (still the most enduring cliché about young Americans in this age group).

Put it all together and you got the biggest assumption of all: there was no way millennials would want to get actively involved in causes.

When we set out to learn about millennials, it wasn't to prove (or disprove) our own assumptions; it was to better understand their real motivations and behaviors. So we designed the research process to be an ongoing journey of discovery. I wouldn't change a thing about that.

But in looking back at our journey, there are some things I wish we had explored further:

Continue reading »

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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