You've probably heard the common refrain, "Children are the leaders of tomorrow." One organization refutes that statement. They believe that children are, in fact, the leaders of today.
That organization is Do Something, a not-for-profit Internet company that works to inspire young people to get involved in their communities and in issues across the globe to make the world a better place for all of us.
Unlike other charity organizations, Do Something isn't a one-trick, one-issue pony. Instead, it wants to get young people passionate and involved in whatever cause drives them. Global warming? School violence? Teen smoking? Discrimination? Disaster preparedness? No matter what the cause, Do Something is working to inspire young people to take a stand and make a difference.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at Do Something and find out who’s involved, what the organization does and where it’s going.
It all started in 1993. Childhood friends Andrew Shue (From the TV Show "Melrose Place") and Michael Sanchez wondered: What if community service were as cool as sports and music? They imagined teams of young people tackling community problems the way they stand in line for concert tickets and dedicate themselves to school sports. Our democracy would be stronger, and the world would be a better place. So they set out to create an organization that would inspire young people to take charge of their world and become active for social change. While attending a conference as a speaker, Shue overheard President Bill Clinton say that young people should "do something" for their world. The words resonated with him and gave him the inspiration to make Do Something the organization's official name.
The goal of Do Something is to "harness the power of the internet to help young people change the world." The group wants to inspire, support, and celebrate young people who have an idea, a vision of a better world, and who get off their lazy bottoms and actually get to work to make their idea a reality. In short, they want to inspire young people to Do Something, challenge them to get involved. The organization’s tagline, "What's Your Something?" speaks to the belief that everyone has a cause; it's just a matter of finding the drive to take action.
Five Guidelines for a Better World
Do Something espouses five "guidelines to live by." These form the pillars of the organization’s philosophy.
The organization is by young people, for young people. While adult participation is welcome, it is by no means required. Do Something encourages young people to see themselves not as the leaders of tomorrow, but as the leaders of today. On the Web site, there's a section specifically for interested adults who want to get involved. It's labeled "Old People."
Do Something isn't just some organization where young people have a say; they have THE say. While another organization may be led by a seasoned activist in the ‘50s who is getting the next generation involved, Do Something IS that generation and is massively involved and dedicated. Members like to say they're pro-choice… kid-choice, that is.
Do Something is about results. Are you actually going out and making a difference? For some causes, results are easy to find. You've changed a law, helped X number of kids to get off the streets, or built a computer lab in an impoverished area. But other causes are not so simple. What if your cause is the struggle against global warming? Do you have to sit around and wait for the global temperature to drop half a degree before you know if you've accomplished anything? Of course not -- results can be measured in how many people you've spoken to or how many signatures you've collected. As long as there's some level of measurable impact, you're doing good work.
… As in no money required. No dues. No starter fees. Nothing. Social change is not something that should be limited in any way. Likewise, the organization has a "no car needed" rule. Anyone who wants to get involved should be able to do so regardless of his or her financial situation. If you have a ton of money to invest in a cause, fantastic. If not, no worries. You can still make a tremendous change in the world. All you need to bring is your enthusiasm and inspiration.
Do Something is a not-for-profit Internet company. The soul of the organization is the Web site, located at www.dosomething.org. Here, young people from all over the world gather to exchange ideas and get things moving. If it can't be done online … find a way to do it online. This is the Internet age, and Do Something is the Internet destination for social change in the world.
Taken together, these guidelines help Do Something ensure that the community action the group inspires is both empowering and accessible to the target demographic of young people.
Reaching Out to the Millennials
The Millennials are the generation of people born between 1979 and 2001. They make up 30 percent of the population of the United States, and they are more involved and active in social causes than any generation before them.
For many Millennials who aren't Doing Something, the reason is, quite simply, that nobody asked them to. Do Something is asking. But without a huge marketing campaign, without billboards and countless TV ads, getting the word out is not always easy. Luckily, the group has the best marketing campaign money can't buy: word of mouth.
It's one thing to read about an organization in the paper (or online); it's something else altogether if a friend turns you on to the organization. Word of mouth is one of the primary building blocks of Do Something. It may take a little longer, but the quality of people who find the organization through word of mouth are far and away more dedicated, more involved, and more likely to take action.
Another way Do Something finds its audience is through strategic partnerships. But the group will only enter into a partnership with a company if it makes sense. So, for example, Do Something has a series of safe-teen-driving causes that it works on in partnership with Allstate. That makes sense. A project to build homeless shelters in Latin America with an alcoholic beverage company wouldn't make as much sense.
The One-Stop Shop for Causes
In many ways, Do Something is like a huge shopping mall of social causes. It’s always open, even on holidays and weekends, and you can find just about anything you want inside. Feel like doing something for the environment? Take the escalator up to the environmental-causes section. More worried about school violence? Turn left past the food court into the school-violence section to find out how you can make your school safer. With so many options, you WILL find a cause that "fits" you perfectly in the Do Something mall. And if you've never volunteered before, that’s no problem. The people at Do Something are experts at welcoming newcomers into the fold. They'll hold your hand and give you tips, things to consider, and questions to ask the group that peaks your interest.
Conversely, if you have a youth organization doing good work and you need volunteers, there's no better place to find them than at Do Something. Just post information online or on the message boards, and you'll find folks coming out of the woodwork to help.
The reason Do Something seems to highlight every cause you could want is that the causes are, in fact, chosen by you. Remember, guideline number two is "kids decide." Young people are a huge source of inspiration and information for the organization. There's a lot of action on the Do Something message boards, and the action on the boards often translates into action on the ground. Do Something is always expanding its list of causes, staying relevant in its goal to be the complete resource for the next generation of do-ers.
So, Do Something features your cause of choice and helps you find an organization or group in your area working on that issue. What else does it do?
Do Something gives out tons of grants all year long to groups and organizations on the ground, having an impact. But as it’s a one-stop shop for causes, it also features links to other funding resources, including information on a ton of nationwide youth service awards, with eligibility requirements, application dates, and links to the awards in question.
The Web Site
Everything Do Something does, it does online. The Web site, located at http://www.dosomething.org, is the "one-stop shop" for young people passionate about changing the world. Each section is its own "cause kit" with over 20 pages of information, including news articles, statistics, fundraising ideas, and more. Each month, different causes are featured prominently on the Web site with PSAs and front-page exposure. But Do Something uses its Web site for more than just posting information. It wants to get young people involved.
First and foremost are the forums -- message boards dedicated to specific issues such as global poverty, teen homelessness, and drug abuse. These forums are places where informed and interested young people trade stories and ideas and receive inspiration and information. The truth is, some of these issues are so massive it can be hard to wrap your head around them. Did you know that more than one billion people in the world live on less than $1 a day? And a cup of coffee at Starbucks costs $2. How do you even begin to get a handle on that type of disparity? You may not know the answer, but it's a good bet that people have some great ideas waiting for you in the Do Something forums.
An important aspect of the Web site is its ability to match up volunteers with the organizations that need them. The site breaks down the issues into a series of causes. Find a cause you like, drill down into that section, and you'll often find links to organizations that are looking for people like you to donate their time and energy. Or you can simply browse through a list of current projects to find something happening right now that you can get involved in. And if Do Something doesn't have the information you seek, odds are it'll point you to the people who do.
Another highlighted feature on the site is the game Karma Tycoon. This is a simulation where you run a not-for-profit organization dedicated to a cause of your choosing. You try to help as many people as possible, apply for grants, enhance your organization, and keep a monthly budget. Do well, and your karma will rise until you're a true Karma Tycoon.
Do Something Clubs
Do Something Clubs are groups of young people who have joined together to work toward changing the world. Put simply, they are clubs that Do Something.
They grew out of countless e-mails Do Something received from kids all over the country who complained that the local community service clubs in their areas and at their schools weren't cutting it. They were boring. They were filled with red tape. They didn't do anything.
The Do Something Clubs will never be accused of not doing anything. Anyone who wants to can start one at his or her school for free. Just get a group of five or more young people together (no adults required by Do Something, though the school might require one), plan to tackle at least two long-term projects over the course of the school year, and let Do Something know what the club has accomplished and what measurable impact it has had on the community. There are no fees, dues, deadlines, uniforms, or anything else. The clubs belong to the people who create them, not to Do Something. But Do Something helps out the clubs with ideas, simple supplies, and other support. Clubs are also eligible for $500 grants to help fund the cause.
Do Something Clubs have done all sorts of amazing things. A club in Boston held a "Kick Butts" day to help motivate teens to do something about teen smoking. A club in Kansas held a toy drive for underserved children in their area. In New Jersey, a Do Something Club held a canned food drive over Thanksgiving. There are clubs all over the country, helping people and making an impact.
Social Networking for Change
A young intern at Do Something was griping to her co-workers about the bureaucracy involved in getting a project off the ground for her school's community-service club. She complained that if she were on Facebook, she could post an idea and have a ton of feedback within minutes.
Do Something was listening.
The concept of social networking over the Internet is nothing new, but harnessing that energy for social good is a relatively new endeavor. Do Something began promoting Do Something clubs on Facebook and MySpace, and within months, it had spawned 56 different Do Something clubs across the nation. Today, Do Something is the official charity of Facebook.
Do Something understands the value of these social-networking sites. People are more inclined to get involved in a project if they hear about it from someone they know -- or in this case, from someone they know online. Since users organically clump together with other users who share their interests, it gives the recommendation more weight than it might have coming from someone outside the group.
Challenges, Curricula, and More
Do Something has many other resources to help young people lead community change and impact the world.
Do Something Challenges
Sometimes, people need a push. Do Something is always there to give that push and turn it into action. It has introduced a series of Do Something Challenges to young people across the country -- specific issues with specific goals to get young people motivated. Past challenges include the Second Hand This! Challenge, which educates kids about the dangers of smoking and challenges them to convince one person they love to quit the habit; the Thanks/Giving Challenge, where kids are challenged to "work for food," which they then distribute to those in need; the Fitness Challenge, where young people learn about health and fitness and are challenged to walk, run, hike, or bike a mile a day for two weeks; and the Green Challenge, where young people are challenged to turn something brown into something green by planting a garden, cleaning a park, or scrubbing a public memorial clean.
While most of the Do Something Challenges are announced to coincide with a specific time or event, the challenges themselves are timeless and serve as constant motivators for those who dare to try.
Do Something Curricula
Do Something knows that there is no better influence on a child than a motivated and involved teacher. To that end, it offers a wide range of free curricula with easy-to-follow lesson plans that teachers can download from the Web site. It also offers tips and ideas specifically designed for teachers to help them get their students inspired to take action.
Do Something publishes the only magazine for teens who are changing the world. Build magazine is teen content with a social-responsibility twist. It features celebrities who are changing the world, articles on how to take action and get involved, profiles of teens from around the world who are making an impact, and more.
The magazine sends out 400,000 copies of each issue to middle schools and high schools across the country. It has proven to be so popular, it's often requested by the schools themselves. The idea is to be cool, fun, and hip, without seeming to preach or bore the children. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and the magazine is growing.
The BRICK Awards
Each year, Do Something sponsors the BRICK Awards, honoring some of the most incredible young people in North America. Over a thousand young people applied for the 2007 awards, and 12 truly amazing winners were selected. Each will receive at least $10,000 in grant money or a scholarship, and will be celebrated at a star-studded awards gala in New York. The show will then be broadcast on the CW on April 12, 2007.
After all is said and done, the effectiveness of Do Something should be judged by its own guidelines. Is it having a measurable impact on the young people it seeks to inspire?
In past years, Do Something has contracted Brandeis University's Center for Youth and Communities to conduct an independent evaluation of Do Something's impact. Educators assessed their students' growth on leadership, citizenship, and character skills, alongside academic-skill development, through assessment tools provided by Do Something. The results, collected and analyzed by Brandeis University, document the impact:
91 percent of young people involved in Do Something become more self-confident.
87 percent say that Do Something events increase student and staff morale.
77 percent say Do Something increases parental and community involvement at school.
61 percent see an increase in academic performance and a reduction in school discipline problems.
So Do Something is obviously doing something right. It’s really inspiring young people to step up and lead, not just paying lip service to "youth leadership" and then training teachers and other adults. It has stayed true to Guideline number one: Kids Lead.
Do Something has come a long way from its initial founding in the early 1990s. A decade ago, it had offices all around the country, held meetings and trained people to go out and reach young people. But the Internet changed everything. The group was able to streamline its operations, become a true not-for-profit Internet company, and go online to motivate young people to take action offline.
Moving forward, Do Something is about to explode. It is reaching more and more young people, generating more and more interest, unleashing more and more creative ideas for community change. It wants to create a new type of celebrity, someone who is honored for what he or she does instead of what he or she wears. It’s creating rock stars of social change and getting these people in front of a larger audience, where their stories and achievements can inspire a whole new generation of do-ers.
Because young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, they are the leaders of today.
For more information on Do Something, check out the helpful links on the following page.