A couple of us checked out RootsCamp last weekend – the annual new-media-organizing-networking fest put on by the New Organizing Institute. Rootscamp’s “unconference” approach lets participants propose and lead sessions; with about 2500 participants, many of whom were hot off the presidential campaign trail, you can imagine how many conversations were taking place.

We led a session on “building a youth movement mobilized for change”, in an effort to bring more youth-focused content to an agenda that was fairly dominated by discussion of new media and campaign analytics (also useful topics!). Here are a few of the insights that came out of the session:

1. Shared culture and vision fosters commitment and action. Yes! The conversation quickly touched on the perennial challenges of keeping volunteers engaged and active. At the end of the day, having a shared “sense of self” is what keeps people energized and coming back. This involves making sure all members understand the vision, and articulating it everywhere, all of the time.

2. Personal relationships keep people accountable. Another perennial challenge is getting people to follow through on commitments. Participants suggested personal relationships are the answer. If a volunteer knows someone is waiting for them, is going to personally remind them about upcoming actions, and will miss them when they’re not there, they’re doubly motivated to show up.

3. Share successes, and create space to grow. Keeping people engaged on the long-term is another important task for any network. We talked about the importance of sharing all successes, even those that seem trivial. It’s also key to create ways for volunteers to move up the ranks. Many volunteers really want to feel appreciated, and needed. They want to grow skills and get better at what they do.

4. And finally, some golden nuggets on building a *youth* movement (versus *any old* movement):

  • Be unique. We’re flooded by noise, marketing and competing causes.
  • Build momentum. People should want to be at your party, because you’re doing awesome things. Communicate that.
  • Be authentic. Ours is the most marketed-to generation in history. Be honest, transparent and inclusive.
  • Build ownership. And again, youth want to get involved, get their hands dirty, build skills and lead. Create opportunities for them to do so.

Here at AIDemocracy we’re grappling with many of these challenges, and it’s always great to share ideas and best practices for building a strong and connected community that gets stuff done! Onwards and upwards!