Promoting social causes to the new generation

Last year Caroline Mutoko spoke at a Rotary Conference about engaging the youth in humanitarian service and in her speech she emphasised that ‘what got you here, will not get you there!’ It was a powerful point for any long standing organisation that is looking to the future, and she illustrated that legacy systems tend to resist change and alienate the new generation that has a different outlook to living, influenced by technology, media and urbanisation.

In 2011, the Kenya for Kenyan’s campaign raised one billion shillings with nineteen million being raised in the first 2 days alone. This amount of money has never been gathered from the public for a national emergency in such a short period of time. It was a demonstration of the strength of social media in mobilising mass support for social causes and the effectiveness of mobile money transfer platforms for fundraising. It also illustrated that the youth are ready and willing to contribute to the national well-being and can be enlisted through communication channels that they regularly use.

However, the youth work differently from the generations before them and usually find their style in conflict with the more traditional forms of organisation. They have a bias for action and loath formal committee meetings; the communicate quickly and decisions are circulated at an instant; they want to see instant results and be recognised for their efforts promptly; they assimilate fast, connect ubiquitously and are generally quick to get on board with a good idea.

The Rotary club was formed in 1905 by four men in Chicago and today it has 1.2 million members spread across over 200 countries and territories. The baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 were the biggest contributors the Rotary’s growth. They were happy to join clubs for the sake of congeniality and thought that being together was a major factor for succeeding in life and career. The growth of the organisation reduced when Generation X became of age. Born between 1965 and 1982, they tend to be more individualistic and believe that success is the result of pulling themselves up by their own boot straps, as they are more educated than the generation before. They are less likely to join clubs for the sake of it, and most membership organisations around the world have seen a decline in growth and membership due to this.

On the other hand, Generation Y, born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s, are more likely to join groups and this is evident from their activities on social networks that have contributed to the unequivocal success of social media companies. However, they are acutely focused on ‘what’s in it for me?’ and they avoid activities where the personal benefits are not immediately evident and quickly achieved.

In order to tap into the new generation and address a stagnant membership Rotary embarked on an initiative to strengthen the humanitarian service club, by clarifying the positioning and delivering an appealing message. With an endowment fund of over one billion US dollars and multiple community projects running across the world including the global initiative to eradicate the polio disease, growth was needed to continue to have an impact and improve the lives of communities everywhere.

They hired Siegel + Gale, a global branding agency headquartered in New York to develop a campaign that would consist of visual identity revisions and developing a new voice that speaks to the current generation. The legacy of the organisation was based on the premise that good work speaks for itself and therefore minimal efforts were made to communicate to the general public, but over time this view limited the ability to attract new members.

So the campaign was aimed at increasing the visibility of Rotary and rephrasing the message, shifting it from the more technical and mundane forms of sharing information to modern ways of connecting emotionally, story-telling and selling benefits. It also used digital communication channels to promote the social causes to members of the public, potential members and donors. An online portal was established to connect the 1.2 million members into a searchable database which unlocks the power to quickly organise and implement service projects.

This campaign is among other activities aimed at strengthening Rotary and the interim results are positive with signs of growing membership and increased fundraising, and it helps to illustrate that understanding the new generation is important in marketing and promotions, and companies should review and update their communications plans accordingly.


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