Using direct action to keep youth engaged:
Why aren’t our youth members taking action? I spent a good portion of my first couple years as Manager of FACT, WI’s youth tobacco prevention program, asking myself this very question. Our training reached thousands of new youth members with facts, stats, and personal stories. However, I just couldn’t understand why they weren’t motivated to act after attending the training.
Then it hit me; our training lacked one major thing: action. We shared why and how they should take action, but never incorporated actual action into our training.
Incorporating action into your training does 5 main things:
1. Gets their blood pumping:
There’s nothing like experiencing tobacco prevention advocacy/activism first-hand for the very first time. I can’t tell you how many positive comments we’ve received after taking a new group of youth out into the community to complete an advocacy activity as a part of a training or meeting.
Keep things simple by starting with an action that’s easy to implement. Instead of testifying in front of the entire state legislature as a first action, try something low-key like using chalk on a sidewalk to share a message. When finished with the action, your youth are guaranteed to be buzzing with excitement and accomplishment.
2. Builds teamwork & comradery:
Shared experiences can really bring a group of young people together and strengthen their bond. I once was with a group of youth who hadn’t worked together before. They decided to hold a series of poster boards educating passers-by on the dangers of secondhand smoke.
While they all were standing on the sidewalk, in a row, facing a busy street, a car drove by slowly to read their message. Shortly after, the car drove by again, this time with one of the adult passengers mooning the youth. Yes, I said mooning. Those youth might not remember the message on their poster board that day, but they will always remember being mooned while working together on that action.
3. Transforms theory into practice:
You could teach your youth all there is to know about advocacy/activism until your face turns blue. But, until they experience it firsthand, they won’t fully understand what it’s like to be an activist. This is what I didn’t understand early in my career. It took the recommendation of one of our Youth Board members (don’t the best ideas always come from youth?), to help me realize youth need to be given the opportunity to immediately put what they learn into a real world setting and given the chance to act.
4. Boosts confidence:
It’s true: there’s strength in numbers. Make sure the action you incorporate into your training can be completed as a group. This will give the opportunity for everyone to have a meaningful role. Working together and successfully accomplishing the objective will not only provide real world experience, but the confidence needed to continue taking action in the future.
5. Increases retention:
Retaining new members and keeping their excitement level up can be a daunting task for an adult coordinator/advisor. When we asked some of our youth why other school-based clubs/community organizations fail, the number one reason we got was, “The group never did anything fun or meaningful, all we did was meet and talk. It was so boring.”
An action-based meeting/training will let your youth see and experience the impact they are making in their school and community firsthand. It will also keep your youth members coming back for more.
Supercharge your training
I spent too many years spinning my wheels trying to get youth to take action. Since learning this engagement strategy of incorporating action into each meeting/training, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in membership and retention because of this simple change.
If you are having trouble with keeping members motivated and active, supercharge your training today by incorporating ways for your young people to take action each time you meet.