New research shows nonprofits can influence young adults

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New study on influence in social issues reveals what moves 20-somethings to support a cause, and why now is the time for nonprofits to join the social media conversation.

Civil rights/racial discrimination is the social issue of most concern to young adult Americans, according to a new research study released last month – and they trust nonprofits to correct the injustices.

The Influencing Young America to Act study explores what influences Americans aged 18-30 to take action on social issues and movements. Derrick Feldmann of INFLUENCE|SG led the research as part of the Cause and Social Influence initiative sponsored by the Case Foundation.

Based on a nationally representative sample surveyed in August, the research report provides intriguing insights into the lives and thinking of this generation, including the key role TV news plays in alerting them to social issues, their high intention to vote in the November elections, and their feelings about the state of the country.

The study reveals that young adults are unhappy with President Donald Trump’s leadership in general and, in particular, his approach to addressing the social issues they care most about. In fact, they overwhelmingly are dissatisfied with the direction in which the country is moving (48% negative vs. 27% positive) and distrust business and government to make things right, pinning their hopes on themselves/their peers and then nonprofits.

Feldmann, who has studied the millennial generation for more than a decade, said nonprofits have an opportunity to directly reach those most active and influential in their area of interest – if they do it right.

“Nonprofits need to be part of the conversation surrounding their issue, but they can’t dominate it. They don’t always have to lead,” Feldmann said. “Young Americans are going to change the world with or without us, so we should be acting more like a resource than someone who wants to take charge. They already care about the cause, so nonprofits have to figure out how to add value to what they’re already doing.”

He encourages nonprofits to listen to the digital dialogue about their issue – on social media, in online forums, in comments to news articles, etc. – and to contribute accurate information and helpful links so that people who care about the issue come to see the nonprofit as a thought leader.

Although social media and opinions of friends are cited among the most common influences in the lives of young people, survey results indicate that TV news, in fact, plays the most important role in initially making young adults aware of social issues. Once an issue reaches the major movement stage (such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter), social media becomes the information resource of choice.

The survey also revealed strong feelings about voting. First, 66% stated that they intend to vote in November. Second, a majority across all racial demographics said they believe voting for representatives who share their values is the most effective way to create change (reported by 77% of Hispanics, 73% of Asians, 69% of whites and 55% of African Americans).

Access the full report causeandsocialinfluence.com.

Cindy Dashnaw is a nonprofit storyteller who helps organizations create compelling content. See her portfolio and contact her at cdashnaw@indyice.net.

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