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Modernizing Your Mentality: Advocacy and Superheroes

Updated: Mar 30

A common motif in pop culture today is that of the superhero. Growing up, comic books were coveted by my peers, and today, many of those stories have been adapted into books, TV shows, and films. In recent years, the Marvel Universe and DC Comics have produced countless films whose storylines center around heroes. These characters have abilities beyond those of ordinary people and use those powers to enact positive change. They are the ultimate advocates for a cause.

When it comes to your association, who are the heroes at the center of your story? It may come as a surprise, your NextGen members can be your greatest superpower. They have the potential to be your most powerful advocates by garnering support for the causes most important to your organization.

Much of my work centers around young people.

In my work with Gen X and Gen Zers via think tanks, surveys, focus groups, and interviews, a “hero mentality” presents itself consistently. Young people today believe that they have a personal responsibility to make meaningful change and an impact on the world. This hasn’t always been the case – so what’s changed?

Thanks to 24/7 news coverage and the advent of social media, young people are highly aware of the world’s injustices. If you work with (or are currently raising) adolescents, you likely know that the childhood experience has been forever changed by technology and the constant access to information it provides.

The last two decades have been some of the most disruptive in our nation’s history. Those who grew up in this era experienced a host of radical changes, including an economic recession, the war on terror, climate change, a pandemic, and human rights issues – to name a few. As a result, they’ve become global thinkers and are well educated about the issues we are facing. They feel compelled and inspired to influence positive change. In recent years, we’ve seen more young people than ever participate in protests and campaigns, using social media as a platform to advocate for a host of causes to build momentum.

With the power of their voice, they are assuming the roles of real-life, modern-day heroes.

As an association leader, you’re likely thinking, how do I leverage this resource? Young people have the potential to be the greatest advocates for your community. However, we must recognize that traditional advocacy efforts may no longer be effective. We can all agree that advocacy is valuable. Many organizations have seen incredible results from their advocacy efforts. Historically, advocacy has been a strategic investment for many organizations, with hired lobbyists acting on their behalf in government offices and on Capitol Hill. Interestingly enough, research has shown that young people do not think that government is the only solution for the world’s issues. They approach problems as social entrepreneurs, and seek out grassroots movements in which they can get involved.

Traditional advocacy efforts tend to gather large amounts of research and information that can be presented in an argument for change. They aim to educate their audience (typically government officials) with compelling evidence that ultimately sway their support of a given bill. In contrast to the momentum we’re seeing amongst grassroots movements, advocacy and government relations are actually declining. Young people feel largely powerless to influence government and that their participation won’t make a meaningful difference so instead, they’re using a different strategy – social organizing. So what can we learn from this?

  1. Social organizing is action-based. Whether it’s through rallies, protests, or other campaigns, social entrepreneurs are promoting their cause with action (in addition to research!)

  2. Social organizing is on a continuum. There are opportunities to meet regularly to discuss, create, and collaborate on problem-solving.

  3. Social organizing is purpose-driven. It allows for the participation of the masses and thrives on the ideas of new people and communities.

In essence, social activism builds a following; advocacy builds awareness.

To modernize your association’s advocacy efforts, you should not only focus on pushing information out – you should also be gathering people behind a cause or purpose. Recent studies have shown that Gen Y and Gen Zers are more likely to take a pay cut if they feel like their employer is making a positive change in the world. They are considerably more likely to donate their services, time and money to a cause that they are passionate about and 85% will make a purchasing decision based on a company’s commitment to a cause.

It is important that we engage our younger members when problem-solving. Many associations unknowingly exclude young people in their advocacy efforts. By shutting out new ideas and voices, you risk marginalizing one of your greatest assets. It’s time to buy into the hero mentality – how will you start to use your advocacy superpowers?

Ready to learn more strategies to engage your younger members? We’ve got you. Reach out to us today for tailored strategies to get your membership base involved!


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