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Learn From These 5 Nonprofits With Young Audiences

Posted by Andrew Littlefield on Jul 20, 2015 10:00:00 AM

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young audience nonprofits

Hang on, I know what you’re thinking.

“Ugh. Not a another nonprofit blog post about Millennials.

I’m with you. There are far too many “think pieces” about philanthropy and young people. The “hot take” so to speak. There’s nothing left to say.

But this isn’t one of those posts. Pinky promise. I’m not going to wax poetic on Gen Y or anything like that.

Today I’m just going to show you some examples of some truly stellar organizations.

Organizations that kick ass at connecting with young audiences. These 5 organizations can teach us all a thing or two about how to effectively communicate and mobilize the under 30 crowd.

I’m always singing the praises of Simply put, there’s just not anyone in the NGO world who connects with their audience like they do.’s mission is to “make the world suck less” by connecting young people with projects that don’t require a car, cash, or an adult. Essentially, things a teenager could do completely on their own that make the world a better place.

This requires a lot of creativity, and has that in spades.’s work environment is unlike any nonprofit you’ve seen. It looks more like a startup office than a philanthropy. Just check out this party they threw for the Ad Council recently!

A video posted by Andrew Littlefield (@fsuandrew) on


But the true beauty of their connection with young people is how effectively they meet them on their terms. focuses most of their communications through members through text messaging. Not emails, not social networks (though they do that extremely well too), but good ol’ texts.

They do this because the response rate is HUGE. Teens text. can reach them right in their pocket! Utilizing this channel requires messaging to be very short and on point as well (or on fleek? That’s the new thing, right?). These restrictions force them to think very hard about what they’re asking and optimize it accordingly.

An example: when Zayn left One Direction (just Google it), sprang into action and sent out a text to their supporters with a project designed to help them talk to their friends about depression.

That’s meeting them on their level.

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To Write Love on Her Arms

Born in my hometown (Melbourne, Florida, yo yo!), To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) is an organization that helps people struggling with depression and self-injury. While they don’t limit themselves to a young audience, they certainly appeal to a younger crowd.

TWLOHA started with a story written on MySpace by founder Jamie Tworkowski, who was seeking to help a friend dealing with depression, drug use, and self-harm. The story quickly went viral (not easy back in those days), and Jamie realized there was a greater need, and To Write Love on Her Arms was born.

Music played a central role in the original story of TWLOHA, and that close relationship continues to this day. The organization’s annual flagship event is an evening of music and spoken word performance called “Heavy and Light” that acts not as a benefit show, but an attempt to let people know that it’s okay to seek help.

HEAVY AND LIGHT 2015 Recap from To Write Love on Her Arms. on Vimeo.

They’ve also partnered with the popular punk rock tour, Warped Tour, to bring their message to those in need.

It’s precisely this close relationship with music that makes TWLOHA so good at connecting with their young audience. They know what resonates with their intended audience, and they target that group masterfully and authentically.


You want an unenviable task? Try being an authority figure trying to get teenagers to stop doing something that’s unhealthy. Anti-drug campaigns are notoriously difficult to pull off. It’s tough to make that messaging authentic and effective.

But the organization "truth" has pulled this off brilliantly. They’ve certainly benefited from the rise of a health conscious public, but they’ve effectively targeted a young audience, helping curb teen smoking.

How do they do it?

Through good old gross-out humor.

Ah, kids and potty humor. Some things never change.

Amazingly, truth is able to pull off a parody music video encouraging kids not to smoke. This is where their mission gets tricky; this could so easily come off as contrived and dorky. Yet they manage to pull it off by a) being funny and b) employing the help of internet celebrities who have their own following of youngin’s like YouTuber Grace Helbig. Check it out!


The Ad Council

It might seem odd to say that a 72 year-old organization connects with the kids, but when it comes to understanding a young audience, The Ad Council is a spring chick.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of an Ad Council campaign.

“Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk”

The Crash Test Dummies

“A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste”

Smokey the Bear!

They’re track record is incredible. They haven’t just created the most memorable PSA’s of all time, they’ve created the most memorable ads of all time!

And they’re still on a roll. Check out this ad for their “Love has no labels” campaign and try not to cry, I dare you (It can’t be done! I just teared up at my desk).

Ahhh! See?!

Alright, alright, pull yourself together while watching this one:

Generation Progress

Generation Progress is a less known name than our other examples, but one of their campaigns has grown to be quite well-known, at least among the intended audience.

They're the force behind the “It’s On Us” campaign, which seeks to educate young men about how to identify and stop sexual assault.

The key to the campaign’s success is all about where to place that message and who delivers it. Generation Progress enlists the help of an A-list group of celebrities that appeal to college-aged men and women alike.

But they also specifically target college football fans by partnering with athletic conferences, sports media, and athletes themselves to drive that message home to their intended audience.  So while this campaign might not be as widespread as “Love has no labels,” it’s effectively hitting the intended audience, which is far more important.

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