In this episode, we chatted with Samra Brouk, Director of Business Development at dosomething.org, the largest membership organization for young people and social change in the world. Tune in to hear her thoughts on how brands can make an impact, reaching the ever-elusive Millennial and Generation Z audiences, and how to keep charitable efforts going far beyond the holidays.
You have to think critically about what can drive impact other than simply donating money
For all the things people have to say about Millenials and Gen Z today, they’re largely the same things people have said about any group when they were ages 13-25
What are your values? What’s important to your employees? Use what’s already there to create an external, consumer-facing story
Jeff: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Emma’s “Behind the Glasses,” the podcast, where we bring you the curious marketer, conversations with the latest and greatest movers and shakers, and thought leaders in our industry today. I’m Jeff Slutz, the Senior Content Writer here at Emma, and with us today is Samra Brouk, the Director of Business Development for DoSomething.org.
Samra: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Jeff: So, for folks who aren’t familiar with DoSomething.org, can you give us a little bit about your fantastic organization and the work you’re doing over there?
Samra: Sure. Dosomething.org is the largest membership organization for young people in social change. So, right now, that means we have 5.5 million members, mostly aged 13 to 25, and these are all young people who have raised their hand to wanna take action on some sort of social issue in their communities. So, our mission is to use the drive that these young people have to really create the most socially conscious, socially active generation ever. And we do that through what we call “cause campaigns.”
So, a cause campaign is a simple call to action that a young person can do anywhere they are without an adult, without a car, and without money. And each of these call to action are very simple, but they actually lead up to meaningful impacts on a specific cause. And then, just as importantly, really driving change on the young person themselves who’s actually doing that campaign.
Jeff: Nice. So, what are a couple of examples of campaigns that you guys have worked on that you’re particularly proud of? So, like, give folks an idea of some of the work you’re doing.
Samra: Yeah. So, one that is actually one of our longest-running campaigns is, again, this very simple idea that has just created tremendous impact over the past decade. So, one of these calls to action is collecting either gently used jeans or jeans from other folks in your community or your family that they’re not wearing anymore and then taking them to a local shelter, a homeless shelter in your community.
So, the huge impact there is we actually did a brief study or survey, if you will, to homeless shelters across the U.S. to find out what the number one thing that teens in shelters needed. And it was jeans because there’s something easy that you can wear a lot of times without feeling like, you know, anything is different, you know. You have to go to work. You have to go to school even though you might happen to live in a homeless shelter at the time.
So, by taking that insight, we’re able to rally our millions of members to collect jeans all over the U.S. and then deliver them to shelters. And so far, have collected enough to clothe half the homeless teen population in the U.S. So, again, very large issue of homelessness and poverty, but finding something very simple that a young person can do on their own to feel what it feels like to give back in that way, to build that habit, and then also to, obviously, drive the impact for the beneficiaries.
Jeff: That’s really cool. And you’re right because it’s so simple to do and, like, everyone has old jeans in their closet that they probably don’t wear anymore, and it’s something that, yeah, you just don’t even think about. So, it’s just really a cool idea. And along these lines, I mean, you mentioned before that this type of marketing has to go beyond raising money, especially because a lot of young people, they don’t have a ton of extra cash laying around to make big donations. So, what’s your advice, you know, for getting more young people actively involved and participating in these types of campaigns?
Samra: Yeah. And this is probably a little echoing of something that I said at the conference earlier this year, but it’s because it’s true, is, first and foremost, I think, a lot of brands just aren’t giving them anything to do other than raising money. So, to think about, critically, you know, what would actually make a difference here outside of, you know, tweeting to unlock a $10 donation or something, what can actually drive impact? And a lot of times, that’s gonna include calling on, you know, experts in this space and really getting outside opinions to figure out what is it that people can do on their own.
Other things that we think about when we’re creating these calls to action once you decide to do that is can you make it social? So, you know, we do surveys often, both general population, 13 to 25-year-olds, and our own membership just because we have so many millions of young people to just kind of learn from. And they show that 60% of them volunteer just because their friends do.
So, when you look at something like that, it’s like it’s not that you need even the best cause or even the best campaign. But if you can make it something social, that’s a really clear and easy way to get more people involved. And we have the saying that all of our campaigns, while they can be done alone, should always be better with friends. And so, you’re, kind of, like, putting that as one of those first few things in the recipe of a call to action to be successful.
Jeff: Yeah. That’s great. I mean, because, word of mouth…no matter what you’re trying to market or to get folks involved in, word of mouth is the biggest contributor to, like, just getting that spreading. Because people will…they’ll listen to their friends more than they’ll listen to a company or an organization [00:05:04] do things. So, it’s [crosstalk 00:05:05]...
Samra: A hundred percent.
Jeff: Yeah. It’s kind of positive side of peer pressure, if you [inaudible 00:05:11]
Jeff: And, I think, that’s interesting, too, because, I mean, you’re doing work with, I don’t know. Is that millennials… [inaudible 00:05:17] effect the millennial cut off or that Generation Z, who you’re working with there but, like, I think, for a lot of folks, they speak about millennials and Generation Z as if it’s like some alien species. Like, that it’s so hard to connect with, like, “How do we reach these young people?” I mean, it’s like, “You know what? Just keep it simple. Give them something to do. Make it clear. And give them a reasons to care,” and they will. They’ll participate. They’re just like anybody else. They will get involved.
Samra: A hundred percent. And, I think, it’s so funny because this is what we do for a living, right? It’s going around talking about this age group, and at the end of the day, it really is a lot simpler than I think we all think it is. And, I think, that for all the things that people have to say about millennials, and now about Gen Z, you were right, it is both of those groups in that age range, 13 to 25.
For everything we say about them and think about them are largely the same things that we said and thought about any group between the age of just 13 and 25. So, we did, kind of, stopped looking at this as like reinventing the will every time, and it’s a pretty similar playbook. It’s really just that time in your life, right, like you’re creating your identity. Your brain is literally still forming, which is part of the reason why we work in this age group, because it is the time that you can create habits. People are creating who they are and you want them to be empathetic people who care about their communities.
So, yeah, I think, there’s a lot of just like syndrome of us thinking of this black hole that no one can tap into. And obviously, we have and lots of people have. So it’s possible to just, you know, be smart and also, like, learn from your mistakes, learn from others’ mistakes, learn from all their successes. And, I think, the last piece is, like, talk to them. So, that’s a lot of what we offer, the brands that we work with, is we’re able to talk to them and actually provide you insights based on facts versus based on what a few 20 or 30-some things in an office in New York City think that the rest of the population want.
Jeff: That’s really great. So, yeah, like you mentioned, you work with brands for these particular causes that they wanna get involved there. They wanna partner with a nonprofit to do. So, say, someone’s working at a place, you know, where they don’t necessarily have a major giving-back initiative, they wanna get their company involved in something, how would you recommend that they get started? Where do they begin?
Samra: Internally at a brand, you mean?
Jeff: Yes, yes, to get their company involved.
Samra: Yeah, so…And we think about this a lot because a lot of brands do come to us not necessarily with a specific idea, they just wanna…they know cause is the right thing. So, I think, like, the first piece is it’s very different and sometimes much more difficult conversation to convince someone that cause is the right thing for them. So, like, that’s a whole another podcast to talk about of how to get people convinced that it’s the right thing.
But if you’re already sold into the fact that you know cause is the right thing, you’ve seen all the statistics, you know that’s what people are looking for, then I think it’s a lot of looking internally to see what makes sense for your brand. What are the values that you have that run through? What is your credo? What do your employees think, right? Like, what is important to them? And perhaps, what are some of the things that you’re already doing that simply don’t have a spot laid on them.
So, we talk to brands a lot where I get to know the inner workings of them because I’m working with their either corporate equity or social responsibility teams. They’re doing incredible things but no one knows about that. And so, I think, you know, a lot of times, the answer is more simple than we realized and it’s really just about putting a light on those stories that make sense to kind of, you know, bring to an external audience. And to go along with that, we do one of our recent surveys released about Gen Z, specifically, is that only 5% of them will actually seek out information about a company’s social responsibility.
So, that even gives you the more reason that it needs to be front and center with what you’re doing because no one’s going deep the way I do from my own research onto, you know, CSR page of looking all at all the amazing things you’ve done in your supply chain and your employee benefits. So, you know, it’s really thinking how do you take those same values and create an external consumer-facing story?
Jeff: That’s interesting. So then, on the flipside of things though, say, you’re at a nonprofit and whether you’re lacking, you know, that’s money or resources or reach, what’s your advice for folks who are on that side of the fence to get a company’s attention to collaborate them on a cause?
Samra: So, I have lots of feelings about this which might be why you asked. But if I may say something, butt I don’t know if many nonprofits would be on board with, but it’s what I believe, is that as nonprofits, we need to think less about giving and fundraising and donation, and more about selling, because at the end of the day, corporations and most humans are not altruistic. There has to be a story. There has to be a value proposition in there for them and it has to be more than just cause is good for you, right? I need to give you more than three data points as to how cause is good for you.
So, I think, if you look at it from that angle, it’s really identifying what’s the value that you can bring, and perhaps, where are the gaps or the holes in the current giving for that brand. And so, that’s largely where I start, isn’t, you know, what brand is doing amazing things already. Because, sure, they might wanna do a few more amazing things, but what brand might be not quite hitting the mark and there’s an expertise you can bring or there’s something you can do to bring value there.
Jeff: That’s interesting. So, then, in regards to the actual, like, nuts and bolts, so how do you then make that approach? Say, I’ve identified that brand. They would be great to partner with. What do I do next?
Samra: I think the next thing is if you’re really doing nuts and bolts, is you gotta find your internal champion. And so, sometimes that connection. So, as long as you’ve identified that there’s something of value that you’re bringing outside of the impact that you’re driving, right? There’s a value that you’re gonna bring to this brand. Then, it’s identifying, you know, is the person you need to get the first conversation with, is it someone who is already connected to your cause? Because that someone, that can, you know, hold your hand and steward you through the company to find the right person, the decision maker, right, the person with the dollars to spend?
So, that’s something, I think, a lot of nonprofits do already. So, I think that’s, like, a great starting point to get in. And then, obviously, continuing to tell that story of the value that you’re bringing. And again, like, amazing that there’s impact to be driven, like, amazing that it’s making the world a better place, but if that story doesn’t include, “Here’s what’s in it for you, brand,” I just don’t see how that can be successful.
Jeff: Right, exactly. Because if you want a brand to devote time and resources to it, then yes, it’s a little bit of, “What’s in it for me?” As much as it’s good, just put your name on something, right, there has to be that other side of it. Because they are gonna be…because, you know, it’s simple, time is money and so they’re gonna want that piece of the pie. So that’s very interesting you brought that up.
Samra: Yeah, definitely.
Jeff: So, this, it’s not a coincidence that we’re talking to you. We are, as we’re about to enter the season of giving and this podcast, actually, will be airing right after Thanksgiving, right around the giving Tuesday and all that, so…
Samra: Oh, yeah.
Jeff: ...we know people, this is the time of the year people are primed. They’re ready to give back. They’re ready to participate. And that people do and droves, but how can nonprofits take that energy they get around the holidays and, kind of, bottle that and keep people participating in giving throughout the rest of the year?
Samra: Yeah. So, everything I just said about how to get corporations involved, I’m gonna say the opposite for individuals. Because here we are, it’s complicated. That’s why this work is…it’s good work but it’s hard work. I think, here, you actually are looking to how can you create connections and engage your donors, right? So, we’re talking much more individual level. And here, I think, the story that needs to be told is much more about, you know, what is it that you’re doing and how do you drive, like, this emotional connection between the donor and your organization.
And, I think, we’re at two places where you can, kind of, fall short and miss the opportunity for a year-long engagement are one in making it transactional. So, you, you know, send out your tweets or whatever it is, #givingtuesday, send out your email, you do your email blast, whatever it is, someone donates their $5 or $10, or $50, and they get a thank you email, and that’s it.
It’s very transactional. And to be honest, as someone who donates to tons of organizations, I couldn’t even tell you who I’m donating to right now. So, it’s not something that stays top of mind because my major touchpoint with them has been money. And it’s not something that I have an emotional attachment to necessarily. It’s just something that I do. And even the feeling good part of it lasts. Maybe once a month when I see if it’s withdrawn from my credit card, I’m like, “Oh, great. Good for me.” But other than that, I have not engaged at all and nor am I willing to give more, so, putting the transactional piece.
And then, the second is it’s been shown time and again that when you give people another touchpoint outside of giving money, they actually carry that relationship closer. There’s more emotion tied to it and they are more excited and willing to do more, whether that’s give more or give more of their time in the future. And so, how do you identify those people…or how do you just even put the ask out of, “Listen, you gave this much. Great. We’re gonna do great things with your money. How about this? Like you have expertise we like. Can we invite you to sit in,” you know, if it’s the youth development organization, to sit in on a class? Or what else can you do with these people outside of the money?
Because those are things…Again, right? We go back to the social. That’s the thing that they’re gonna wanna tell people about. That’s the thing that they’re gonna say, “Oh, now I can visualize where my money’s going. Let me up my, you know, donation for next year or what have you.” So, I think, like, identifying other things to do is what’s gonna create those lifelong donors.
Jeff: And, I think, the other side of that, too, is that when you do donate money, a lot of times, you don’t see the results of what you gave. Like, you might realize, “Okay, there’s a problem,” or “This is something. This is the cause I wanna give to which I recognize that as something I wanna support.” And then, you get that thank you for your donation, and then that’s it.
There’s no continuation of the story of even if it’s not…I know it’s not realistic necessarily to say specifically what your $50, whatever that…what particular project that went to, but even just telling some of those success stories are so important for nonprofits because that’s what’s gonna drive that emotional investment where it’s like, “Hey, I donated that and I see the impact of what those dollars did. I didn’t…” you know, it’s like when you give to, you know…and you should be giving to, like, hurricane relief or something like that, then that’s it. You don’t actually see what happened after that. Where’s the fruits of labor? Because people are so, you know…they wanna have so much money to go around and they wanna know that the organization they’re giving to is being respectful and doing the right things with their dollars. So, it’s…
Samra: Oh, yeah.
Jeff: So, I think, that’s a huge piece of it, too.
Samra: Yeah, definitely. And I’ll just add, if, you know, folks are looking for more great examples, I think, Charity Water and donorschoose.org do a phenomenal job of kinda closing that loop and showing the impact. So, there’s two golden children, if you will.
Jeff: I’m glad you mentioned Charity Water. They’re actually an Emma customer and we love how they communicate with folks. Like, their marketing is genius. They do a great job of telling their story and keeping people engaged yearlong, so it’s really neat the kind of things they do.
So, in terms of like generating that buzz on social and you said you really focus on getting, you know, word of mouth spread and people knowing what their friends are doing. I know a lot of the brands listening to this are saying, “What channels are most effective for this Gen Z-millennial-type audience?” Where do you see the most reaction?
Samra: So, I mean, I think you’re a miss if you’re not doing kind of the basic social. Like, that’s just the given, right? So, it’s the Instagram, the Facebook, the Twitter, the Tumblr. But, actually, where we see much more growth is with messaging apps. And so, we’re finding that young people are actually much more active on the channels that we use that are, kind of, like a one-to-one or a one-to-a few versus one-to-many like you would on a social channel.
So, when you look at things like Kik Afterschool, which is essentially, if anyone was around when Facebook first came out in 2004, when it was just college students and we thought we were the coolest ever, and then they let our moms and our little brothers on and it changed forever.
Jeff: All went downhill.
Samra: Yeah, right. So, Afterschool has created a community like that but for high schoolers. And so, most people thought…I haven’t heard of it, but I urge you, check your kids’ phones if they’re of that age because I guarantee that they’re likely on it. And so, I think, finding those kind of more intimate ways of being involved with young people is probably the answer. And so that’s what we do a lot of. And as a nonprofit, it’s great. We actually get, you know, in and a lot of these platforms before they have opened them up to corporations. But, I think ,that’s a great one.
And then, the other one that we have to use sparingly. Well, for for-profit brands, I would urge you to use it sparingly. But we use SMS which, again, is like the epitome of messaging, right, outside of an app, and that’s where we find our highest engagement with our members. Of the 5.5 million, a little over 4 million of them choose to talk to us mostly via text.
Jeff: Gotcha. It’s fascinating stuff. And you’re right, for for-profit brands, you gotta be very respectful of that channel because that’s, yes, people will receive your message, but it’s also the most intrusive, so…
Samra: Yes, exactly. Exactly. So, I mean, it’s kinda one of those, like, “We’re using it. It’s great. But sorry, I don’t know if that’s really gonna help for us just a brand pushing your products necessarily.
Jeff: Exactly. So, take a step back. This is something that I like to ask everyone who appears on the podcast just because, I think, it’s interesting. Marketers love themselves some industry buzzword and some trends, and we love talking about it and throws around. So, what is your least favorite buzzword or trend that you’re hearing about right now?
Samra: I have been saying this for the past two years, and I will keep saying it until I hear people stop using it, the word “authentic.” I am so sick of it. I’m sick of authenticity. I’m sick of authentic. And the major reason why is because it’s one of those things where you see when people use it, they clearly don’t understand it or aren’t, right? And so, that’s why I am pushing people, instead of using that, define what it is you’re trying to say.
So, are you trying to say it needs to make sense? Are you saying that a brand, when they do something, it needs to make sense? Are you saying that it’s representing the brand, you know, inside and out? All of those questions, I think, we are better asked than then asking if something is authentic or someone, kind of, branding themselves as authentic. So, I will probably say that next year if you ask me to, until I hear it stop.
Jeff: I’m racking my brain to see if or to remember if I had mentioned it while I was talking about marketing to millennials. I hope not. So…
Samra: We’ll have to roll the tape. We have to find out.
Jeff: Yeah. It’s a good thing about record, we can just strike it from the records since we’re recording this. So, anyway, my least favorite, I think, right now is “hacking.” “Ten Hacks to Do This.” And I’m like, “You know what? If you’re doing something right, you don’t need to hack anything or like trick anything. Just do marketing correctly and do a good job, and you don’t need to fake it.” So…
Samra: Yeah. That’s a good one, although I am a…like, I am a sucker for all of those hacking things.
Jeff: Oh. It’s totally clickbaity. I’ll click on it, too, and then I…
Samra: Yeah. You have to read it.
Jeff: And then, I kinda hate myself. But then…but, you know, I still click on it, but…so…
Samra: It’s so funny.
Jeff: Yeah. So, we were fortunate enough to have you join us at Marketing United this past year. It’s our annual marketing conference here in Nashville. And let me just tell you, you were one of our most well-received speakers. The survey we did afterward, you totally crushed it. So, we’re…
Samra: Oh, awesome. Thanks.
Jeff: We are very excited to announce that you will be back for 2018.
Samra: All right.
Jeff: So, let’s give folks a little sneak peek, if you don’t mind. What can folks expect from your presentation?
Samra: We’ll, really…I mean, a lot, of course. I have to be, like, up the ante now. There’s so much pressure. But few things that have kind of come to mind is, one, just that…I mean, we really do strongly think it did something and it’s the beauty of being, right, a nonprofit. It doesn’t have to compete with other corporations necessarily. That what we learned, we think makes the space better and as a whole. So, literally, whatever I learned this year, you will learn this year, so, just bringing in more hacks, if you will.
And then, I think, the other thing that we’ve seen come up a lot is how do brands play with cause in a more politicized world. So that’s something that has really become part of the job now working with brands, is counseling them into how to mitigate risk while still, you know, staying strong about things that you’ve either been strong for in the past or that you wanna start promoting in terms of social good now. So, figuring out what that balance is and how you still serve your consumer and, you know, tell a story that’s true to you, but also realizing that the world is a little different and, you know, things are taken differently. So, stay tuned for more.
Jeff: I’m sold. I’ll be there. I’ll come check that one out. That sounds fascinating. That’s awesome.
Samra: All right.
Jeff: Thanks so much, Samra. This was all great stuff. We really appreciate your time today and this is really, really a fascinating conversation. So, thanks so much for joining us.
Samra: Yeah, definitely. Thank you. Bye.
Jeff: If you wanna check out some of the amazing work that Samra and her crew are doing, or if you wanna get involved yourself, please visit DoSomething.org. That’s DoSmething.org, to learn more. And if you’d like to hear that amazing presentation that she so skillfully tease at the end of the podcast, head to marketingunited.com. That’s marketingunited.com. Super early bird tickets are currently on sale for the conference. It’s an amazing deal and you don’t wanna miss it. You’ll learn a ton.
And if you wanna listen to more “Behind the Glasses” including conversations with Jay Baer and Colby Cavanaugh and a whole lot more, be sure to look us up on iTunes and stay tuned for our future episodes. Thanks so much for listening.