YW 92 – Volunteer Campaigns for Teens and Young Adults with Do Something CEO Nancy Lublin

YW 92 – Volunteer Campaigns for Teens and Young Adults with Do Something CEO Nancy Lublin

 

Jason Hartman invites Nancy Lublin to talk about her volunteer campaigns at DoSomething.org, the largest organization in the world for teens to help with social change. Nancy talks about her organization as well as Crisis Text Line, a texting hotline-equivalent for children and young adults experiencing bullying, depression, and more. Nancy shares some surprising facts about what today’s teens are going through, how Crisis Text Line works, and how Do Something originally got started.

 

Key Takeaways:
2:00 – Nancy explains a little bit about how Do Something works.
8:20 – Only about 2% of text messages that come into Crisis Text Line is about bullying.
10:45 – Mental health and homeless/poverty campaigns are two of the most popular campaigns on DoSomething.org
13:20 – Do Something was originally founded by the actor Andrew Shue
15:40 – Do Something focuses on trying to take adults (anyone over 26) out of the equation, so that young teens can feel like they’re creating a direct change in the world.
17:20 – Nancy explains how you join a Do Something campaign.
18:45 – Life is better with friends and so is social change.

 

Tweetables:
“The common thread among all our Do Something campaigns is that we never require money, an adult or a car.”

“This is not the organization that only cares about the president of the French club, we want everybody.”

“The heart of volunteerism doesn’t change. It’s just the delivery mechanism that’s a little different.”

 

Mentioned In This Episode:
DoSomething.org
@DoSomething
CrisisTextLine.Org

 

Transcript

Jason Hartman:
It’s my pleasure to welcome Nancy Lublin to the show. She is CEO Do Something, creator of Dress for Success, founder of the Crisis Text Line, and she is the author of a new book, the XYZ Factor: The DoSomething.org Guide to Culture of Impact. Nancy, welcome, how are you?

Nancy Lublin:
Great, thanks for having me.

Jason:
Good to have you. The world economic forum recently honored you, can you tell us about that?

Nancy:
Yeah, they pick about a dozen people a year and anoint them social entrepreneur of the year. It was a fantastic – it’s a lovely honor. It was nice and nice to be part of a global community.

Jason:
Where are you located today?

Nancy:
New York City.

Jason:
Fantastic, well, tell us about DoSomething.org. I mean, this seems like a great thing to get young people involved and engaged in social issues, right?

Nancy:
SO, DoSomething.org is the largest organization, member organization for young people in social change in the world. You’ve got 3.4 million members and they all take action around something they care about. We have, oh gosh, over 200 live campaigns right now and young people can pick and choose what they want to do based on how much time they have or who they want to do it with and the common thread among all our campaigns is that we never require money, an adult or a car.

Jason:
Okay, great. So, are these online-oriented volunteer actives then?

Nancy:
Some of them. There’s a campaign right now where A Real Princess campaign where we ask you to sketch what a real princess would look like, not the Disney versions where they put out there where they have, you know, the waste line of a preschooler and perfect skin and long flowing hair, but what would a real princess look like and what would her real character traits be to sort of put alternate images out there, but most of our campaigns actually happen offline. So, we use the digital power to motivate great actions offline.

Jason:
Out of this was born Crisis Text Line. Tell us about that for a moment.

Nancy:
We text about a few million people every week and it’s great. It has a great open rate and, you know, you open almost every text you get, but we had this weird side effect where people would respond to a text about a campaign like The Real Princess campaign, but they would respond with things like, “I’m being bullied and I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.” Or they would text us about cutting or substance abuse and we realized, like, we need to do something for them. They trust us. They prefer text as a means of communication. We need to build something for them, so we launched Crisis Text Line. It is now a totally separate organization. It does 15,000 text messages a day.

Jason:
Those are inbound?

Nancy:
Those are inbound and outbound, total. So, about half of them, and with no marketing. It’s really just taken off very quickly, which is both amazing and also really sad that this is needed that badly and that kids have been telling each other about it.

Jason:
I guess there is, you know, I remember, well, there are certainty still around, but in the old days, you know, suicide hotlines and things like that you’d hear about, but this is really maybe an easier sort of, there’s maybe less resistance to someone reaching out to you via text then actually having to talk to someone, right?

Nancy:
You know, there are still lots of phone hotlines and they do terrific word. We partner with lots of them and we’ve learned from lots of them, they’re great, but this generation prefers text to phone. We have not had – we’ve now handle well over a 120,000 young people have texted in to us and not once, not a single time, has someone said, “Hey, what’s your phone number? I’d love to switch this to a phone conversation.” I think a lot of older people, frankly, assumed that texts would be the first step and then they would level up to talk on the phone and that’s just, that’s not how young people live. They don’t, they don’t see it as leveling it up. They don’t use their phones that way. They use their phones for communicating different ways for games, for apps, all that kind of stuff.

Jason:
It’s hard for me to imagine text being very effective as an medium for this kind of thing. How long are those average sessions or how many, you know, how many back and froths are there?

Nancy:
It turns out text is incredibly effective for counseling, so anybody who knows a teenager knows it’s very difficult to get a teenager to speak. “How was school today?” “Fine.” “What did you do?” “Nothing.” Or “Stuff.” What’s great about text is you probably also text your teenager, “What time are you coming home from dinner?” “Six.” Very factual, objective, you don’t hear the word ‘like’, you don’t get hyperventilating or repetition or hemming and hawing or mumbling. You just get facts and so it turns out that text is incredibly effective for counseling. Also, it’s private. We actually see a spike everyday around lunch time when we know teenagers that are sitting there around other teenagers, but they’re texting with us about things, about crises and no one around them knows that they’re doing it. It’s pretty fantastic.

Jason:
Who are the volunteers? What’s their scenario? Are they just totally..

Nancy:
We have all trained crisis counselors. We’ve partnered with a lot of terrific organizations and then we’ve also trained our own crisis counselors. Yeah, they’re all there on the platform and what’s nice if you want to be a volunteer is you can do it at home in your jammies. You don’t have to go to a call center somewhere, you can do this at home for four a hour shift once a week.

Jason:
So, they are just literally where ever they are in the world and they just get a text on their phone like any other text or no?

Nancy:
Young people are texting on their phone, the counselors are looking at a platform on a desktop and so they can counsel up three or four people at a time. There’s a little chat window where they can talk to other counselors on the platform, so two counselors together could be looking at the same thread from a kid and say like, “Gosh, this is a tough one. I’m not really sure how to respond here. What do you think?” So, the counselors can be supported. We quickly, when we were designing this, realized that you think when you build this stuff that you’re designing it for the texters, but actually you’re building it for the counselors. When we were building the platform, it was really supporting the people giving the support.

Jason:
Yeah, really interesting, very interesting. So, average session length, I’d just be really curious on that.

Nancy:
You know, it depends on the issues, it varies, but it’s around 30 minutes.

Jason:
Is there a follow-up to it?

Nancy:
There can be, but we’re really, we’re not therapy. We’re not consoling, we’re really not trying to become a crutch for them. We want to get them an action plan where they can figure out how to create their own health and safety. The hope is that we’ve taken them from a hot moment to a cool moment and give them the tools to do it themselves.

Jason:
Great stuff. How big of a problem is bullying? I mean, you said your counseling is really centered around the bullying problem. That one really concerns me.

Nancy:
Right? It’s had so much media attention in the last couple of years and so many celebrities talking about being bullied as kids and it’s everywhere, right? So, what percentage of our text messages do you think are about bullying?

Jason:
I’m going to guess that it’ll be 30%. I mean, there’s a lot of other things going on too.

Nancy:
So, about 2% of our messages note bullying.

Jason:
Oh, really? Wow.

Nancy:
What do you think almost 40% of our messages are about?

Jason:
I don’t know.

Nancy:
Suicide, depression, and anxiety.

Jason:
Yeah, I was going to actually address kind of the cause not the results.

Nancy:
There’s a huge, huge mental heath crisis going on out there. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even realize it when I got into this. I got into this, again, because we were just triaging those messages coming in to Do Something. I was never, even me being like a causey person my whole life didn’t really understand what was going on or not going on in the mental health space. It’s an epidemic. You’ll say, “Oh, someone was diagnosed with cancer.” And then people say, “Oh, how can I help? Can I bring over a casserole.” They’re like, “What can I do?” No one talks about diagnosed with depression or that someone, you know, you don’t know what to do when someone says that. It’s really, we don’t really have a way of talking about. It’s not a real priority and yet, it’s so prevalent, it’s everywhere.

Jason:
It sure is, wow. Okay, so let’s go back to Do Something. How many campaigns or I guess causes are there on the Do Something platform?

Nancy:
So, I looked up while we were talking here and I thought you might ask me that question and so right now as of this moment there are 226 live campaign on the Do Something site.

Jason:
So, do your members start a campaign and also volunteer or does Do Something come up with campaign and then people volunteer? How does that work?

Nancy:
We love member-created campaigns. It’s hard to come up with the idea for a campaign and it’s only really certain kinds of kids and we’re not really shooting for those kids. This is not the organization that only cares about, you know, the honor student who is the president of the French club, we want everybody. We’re really more of, anybody can do this kind of social change stuff and you don’t have to be a leader and you don’t have to be exceptional, we think everybody can do this. So, while we love people who send us campaign ideas, that’s great, most of this stuff is for people to join and to make it happen.

Jason:
Right, fantastic. So, give us some examples of the different kinds of causes.

Nancy:
So, I will tell you some of the most popular causes, I mean, no surprise given what we were just talking about a few minutes ago, in the last 12 months, we have seen mental health campaigns become some of our most popular campaigns. That’s been really interesting to watch. Homelessness and poverty campaigns are always very popular among young people and we think that those two are because young people can understand them. It’s very hard to understand climate change when you’re a young person. It doesn’t seem like it’s something that affects you directly.

It seems like, “Well, that’s the polar bears out there and maybe the scientists will solve this or maybe big companies can fix this, but does it really matter if I do these little things?” It does matter if you do these little things, so we have some successful campaign in this space, but they’re the most popular and instead a lot of our poverty and homelessness and also these mental health campaigns are very, very popular, because I think kids see these things happening right there in their home town, in their school, in their street.

Jason:
You have about 3.5 million members and I assume that’s global, right? It’s not just in the states or..?

Nancy:
It’s primarily in the United States, but we now have 25 countries with more than 500 members each. I think the one I’m most excited about is we apparently have 100 members in Iran, which is just so exciting to me, you know, if this generation can do these social change projects together and can take responsibility for making the world better, anything is possible, right? If we’re all in this together, I have huge hope that this next generation is kind of better than my own and that they will fix thing. So, I came to do something in 2003, I had just left Dress for Success, so I’ve always been a social entrepreneur.

Do Something was founded by the actor Andrew Shue while he was on Melrose Place and it was such a beautiful, generous exciting idea to take his celebrity and take his fame and push it into a charity. This was before celebrities did that. I mean, he was really the first. So, while he was, while the show was on the air and he was, you know, on Leno a bunch of times a year and magazine, the New York Post, and things like that. The organization was really hot, but when I got here, the show had been off the air and his fame had fallen and I came in to turn it around in 2003 and I said, you know, it’s called the internet and it’s not a passing fad, it’s here to stay. I think this is the way to go. So, we moved everything online and it was rough for a little while there. You know, turned around at any company is hard, but it turned out to be a bet that paid off.

Jason:
What was the landscape out there in terms of engagement and getting young people involved in things before Do Something.

Nancy:
You had to rely on an adult. So, there were teachers, parents, allies, troop leaders, you always had to rely on an adult and in the 50-60s and even the 70s, I guess that was okay because you had parents who had the time and you had parents who weren’t working. You had a lot of stay-at-home moms who were excited to do this, but now pretty much every family is a two-income family, at least, right? So, you had a need for shifting how youth organizing happened and you also had an opportunity, thanks to the internet, you no longer had to go through these other mediums. You no longer had to go through these other challenges, but you go directly to young people and mobile has been most exciting that way. So, we have a direct and geniune relationship with young people. They like us a lot more when they hear about us from their friends then when they hear about us from their principle, so we really prefer to go through friends. There’s actually a button on the footnote, on the bottom, on the footer of the website DoSomething.Org, you’ll see a button that says, “Old People.” It’s there on purpose. We’re trying to alienate people who are 26 and over.

Jason:
You’re trying to alienate people.

Nancy:
We kind of say like, what are you doing here? We’re trying to show young people we’re authentic, we really do believe in them, there’s not a curricular hidden there under that button and there’s not like a, okay, teachers, here’s are the standards that all of our website campaigns, you know, apply to. We’re just trying genuinely develop a relationship with young people and have them trust us.

Jason:
It’s really interesting, because what you’ve done here, it’s really pretty revolutionary if you think about this. What you’ve done here is this same way, you know, Amazon democratized book publishing, podcasting democratized audio and video content, blogging democratized text content. You know, anybody can get their message out there to the world nowadays and what you’ve done here is by taking the parents out of the equation, you know, kids can really feel like, not necessarily completely kids either, young adults, can really feel like they’re in charge of this, they’re steering the ship. They have that pride of authorship. It’s a really phenomenal thing. Congratulations, yeah.

Nancy:
Thank you. You kind of made my day comparing it to Amazon. I mean, yeah, I think where DoSomething.org is concerned we try to bring the modern spin to volunteerism and how that direct relationship with young people like you said and make it easy for them and on their phones they could do more social change and with Crisis Text Line, we’re sort of running that same play again.

How do we bring crisis counseling into this century and make it just easier for young people to access? I think that’s what technology and social change is that the heart of what was always there, the heart of volunteerism, the heart of crisis counseling, that doesn’t change. It’s just the delivery mechanism that’s a little different and technology can make us faster, technology can allow us to test more quickly and pivot more quickly, which usually lends to an improvement in quality and technology after the initial capital costs, technology typically makes us cheaper, so faster, better, and cheaper, that’s just good math.

Jason:
So, just to expand a little bit more on Do Something as we wrap up here. What do people actually do? For example, I’m at the site now. I clicked on, since we’re talking about it, bullying and violence as a pick. What will I do if I wanted to volunteer for this cause? What are the types of actions?

Nancy:
I think there’s about a dozen campaigns there that you can do that are no-bullying campaigns or anti-bullying campaigns and some of the campaigns might be take a stand type campaigns where you’re taking a stand on an issue, maybe putting posters up in your school or convincing your school to change policies on something. Some of the campaigns might be host an event type of campaigns, so maybe you’ll having a rally somewhere about bullying or an event where people talk to each other about different, you know, mediation things that should be put in place at school to alleviate the situation or maybe it’s the kind of, it’s a collection campaign where you’re collecting something that can then be distributed. So, we have tried to bring science to social change, most of the times people just think about categorize social change by cause, so like, bullying or poverty or education or environment, we’re also thinking about it by type, so as I just said, take a stand, events, collecting things, sharing things. So, it’s search-able both ways on the site.

Jason:
Are these things all done solo or are they done in groups? I mean, this generation definitely likes working in groups.

Nancy:
So, we’ve built campaign both ways. You can do these things alone, but the way we like to say it is they’re better with friends and if you talk to young people, they’ll tell you, life is better with friends and so is social change, so we always keep that in mind.

Jason:
Good stuff, good stuff. So, the website is DoSomething.org. Are there any other websites or Twitter accounts that you want to give out?

Nancy:
Sure, you can follow us on Twitter @DoSomething and I’m actually the one, the CEO actually tweets for Do Something and if you want to become a volunteered, if you want to be trained as a volunteer for Crisis Text Line, you can learn more about that at CrisisTextLine.Org

Jason:
Good stuff, Nancy, thank you so much for joining us today. Very interesting.

Nancy:
Thanks.

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