Best Practices for Youth Campaigns

1. Cross-discipline support. The first step in planning a campaign is to discuss goals and strategies with the cultural organization’s staff. It is best if a healthy cross-section of staff from different disciplines attends this workshop, even if they will not be heavily involved in campaign activities. This helps to garner buy-in and support from the entire organization. And it does serve to motivate potential future mentors.

2. Recruit student participants who are already literate on the subject. Research shows and personal experience confirms that students who are already knowledgeable on the subject matter will become more involved and at a faster rate. So if you want to do a campaign related to conservation, it absolutely helps if the youth have already learned about conservation issues and lingo. If the students are not yet literate on the subject matter, the cultural organization can get them up to speed before beginning the campaign.

3. Work with a critical mass of youth participants. In order to have a successful campaign, it really helps to have a robust number of youth participants. Having that critical mass keeps the teens motivated and also accounts for the few who will not remain involved in the long-term. There isn’t an exact right number, but certainly more than 10 are needed.

4. Structure the time and place of campaign work. Youth participants will accomplish far more if they work in a moderately structured environment. Dedicated staff and mentors can structure time by setting results to be accomplished at each meeting and helping teens follow through. The youth participants should also be able to meet in a place with enough space and  with access to tools for them to accomplish planned results. 

5. Allow students and staff to brainstorm and make decisions. Youth campaigns are a two-way street between students and staff, so goals and decisions should be made in tandem. It’s essential for the cultural organization’s staff to discuss institutional mission and goals, but it is equally important for youth participants to follow their interests and determine their campaign. The interests of staff and students always line up, but it’s key that both groups go through the brainstorming and decision process.

6. Trust them by turning over some control to the youth. All partner organizations have found that giving a little control to their youth participants goes a long way. When given room to be open and creative, students have presented great ideas and tried new things, while always remaining true to the cultural organization’s overall message and values.

7. Appoint a dedicated staff member to champion the campaign. Youth campaigns work best when a staff member takes the lead in overseeing the campaign. The role of that staff member is to support the teens, look out for the campaign’s best interests, and help drive buy-in among other staff members. Finally, when the organization is ready for YouthMuse and The Ocean Project to begin to step back from the campaign, the champion helps ensure ongoing success.

8. Create a schedule for check-ins. After YouthMuse and The Ocean Project facilitate the start of a youth campaign, the cultural organization transitions into taking the lead in continuing the project. Periodic check-ins with YM/TOP are a great tool for lasting success, and can be done via email, phone and Skype. In these check-ins, YM/TOP can help cultural organizations meet their ongoing goals, handle any bumps in the road, and offer advice or additional support. 

9. Allow the students to volunteer to participate. Don’t make campaign participation part of the students’ program requirements. The students who are motivated to make a difference will get on board and recruit others.

10. Make it geographically easy to attend. Hold some of the meetings at a neutral location (be sensitive that a school may not be a neutral location) closer to the youth, if they can’t get to your facility. If you can, provide transportation support. Hold meetings in conjunction with other activities (volunteer shifts, program efforts) that bring the students to your location anyway.

11. Keep in touch. Try to have at least monthly meetings. Students get distracted and the relationship must be rebuilt if you don’t engage them on a regular basis.

12. Give service learning hours. Or volunteer points or whatever reward system you have in place for student participation in campaign activities. These students work hard on the campaign; show them it’s important.

While participating in a work study program at Shedd Aquarium and an internship at Lincoln Park Zoo, I wished to start my own project which aimed towards creating environmental public awareness and solving urban environmental issues. One With Nature (OWN) has presented me with the opportunity to create my vision of the project that I have strived for. The ability to communicate with such a diverse group of teens from across the city and join together to achieve a common goal is amazing. Debra Kerr has been a great mentor to my peers and me in guiding us in developing OWN.
— Victor Lau, Youth Volunteer for OWN: One With Nature