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How To Convince Gen Y To Believe In Your Cause And Your Company

Gen Y notoriously rallies for movements and startups they love. Here's how to get on their radar and stay there for good, from Fuck Cancer founder Yael Cohen, one of Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in Business.

I'm kind of obsessed with my friends. Not in the "You always tell me my hair looks nice" kind of way, but in the "Holy shit, you're going to change the world and I can't wait to watch you do it," kind of way.

It's safe to say I'm passionate about today's youth. We're revolutionary in a way never before imaginable. I know, every generation thinks they're going to change the world—and they do. They change their world.

But my generation is changing the world. For the first time in history, we can spread a message around the world in a matter of minutes, with a few clicks of a mouse. We have instant access to information and the reach to share it. It's remarkable how the youth today are uniquely positioned to change the world. There, I said it.

Yes, every kid thinks they know more than their parents, but for the first time in history, we just might. We are at an interesting place in history where the traditional roles of parent and child have been blurred. Traditionally, parents care for their children, and later in life when parents are unable to care for themselves, the roles reverse. But now that switch is happening decades earlier. My generation teaches their parents more than any generation ever has.

Thanks to Twitter, I can tell my mom that there was an earthquake six minutes ago in another country, whereas she would have had to wait for the 6 o'clock news. We teach our parents how to use their BlackBerrys (maybe iPhones, if they're cool), how to program their TVs, and what a Kardashian is—so why don't we teach them something that can actually save their lives?

I'm particularly interested in youth engagement and cancer. Too few conversations are had with youth about cancer, because we're not in the highest-risk demographic and we're certainly not the largest donors. To me, this is a huge mistake. No one asks for our help here, but because of our relationship to information and the digital space, we're the only ones who can create a real change in the cancer space. We can create a paradigm shift, and change cancer from something that we wait to get and pray there's a cure for, to something we're actively looking for so we can find it in stage one.

Generation Y has an unprecedented sense of responsibility to teach our parents because we think we know more. And in all honesty, due to the exponential growth in technology, education, and sharing via social media that's occurred in our lifetimes, we just might. Fuck Cancer harnesses that sense of arrogance and responsibility to galvanize positive change by inspiring Gen Y to educate our parents, and teach them how to look for cancer instead of just find it. That's my goal—personally and professionally.

You too can engage today's youth to change the world. Whether you're a charity or startup, what you do should make people's lives easier, better, and more enjoyable. Here's how to recruit Gen Y to your side:

1. Define your space: You're never going to please everyone, so don't waste your time and resources trying. Build for a specific demographic and build remarkably for them. When you try to please the masses, you risk diluting your message or mission to the point that you're unable to please anyone. Be proud of what you do, and it'll show.

2. Be completely authentic: I'm often asked how we were able to build a "youth brand" so well. The answer is simple: We're committed to authenticity. We build and create to fill needs and help people. As long as you're being honest and truthful, the demographic that you resonate with will find you. Besides, our generation knows how to find a fraudulent needle in a digital haystack, so stay true to your space and the audience you intend to serve.

3. Ask for action: Having people see what you do is cool, but it won't get you far enough. Particularly in the pro-social world, what you really want is action. So how do you go from online impressions to real-life action? Ask! If your campaign, movement, or organization doesn't have a call to action, how can you expect a response? Impressions are wasted without a call to action. Even if it's a simple "Read More" or "Go Here," you need to have a goal with every interaction.

To those who say we're the lazy generation, the entitled generation, the arrogant generation, you're right. We're "lazy" because we work smarter. We're entitled because this is the world that we're changing, the world that's being left to us. We're the arrogant "kids" who will change the world for the better, who will start fixing the world instead of just breaking it, who will streamline banalities, and who will exploit joy.

Related: Yael Cohen, The 100 Most Creative People In Business

Yael founded Fuck Cancer in 2009 after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Determined to make a real impact within the cancer space, she created an organization that activates Generation Y to engage with their parents about early detection, and teaches supporters how to look for cancer instead of just find it.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.

[Image: Flickr user Glenn Halog]

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  • Superagent G

    Selling t-shirts and other paraphernalia emblazoned with a 'Fuck Cancer' logo, ostensibly to encourage early detection of the disease, is a pretty good marketing ploy with which to target the under-25 crowd with. You've got 'Fuck' (risque!, edgy!), cancer (taps into fear of death, hope, compassion and who can argue with telling cancer to go fuck itself?), social media (wide reaching, hip, young, trendy), a true story about a mother's winning battle with cancer (empathy, compassion, happy ending, adds an air of authenticity), a plausible sounding, if cliched, spiel about doing good things delivered by a bubbly, photogenic young woman (it's not what you say, but how you say it). There you have it. A formula for success. 

    Of course some hopelessly out of touch killjoys might come along and say using a cancer "charity", that basically does nothing except sell a slogan, to make a buck is about as cynical as it gets. But wrap it up in a warm, cozy blanket of sincere sounding bullshit and enough people will buy into the "authenticity" and "humanity" of it all. 

    Pander to young people's egos and claim today's youth knows more than their parents (about what? everything? cancer detection? bullshitting?) and thus have a duty to help their elders. Make it seem hip, cool AND socially responsible to sport a t-shirt or a nipple ring with the chosen slogan. But at the end of the day it's just another marketing savvy "charity" hoping to cash in on people's base emotions, good intentions and ignorance of modern marketing techniques.

  • SN

    I'm still left as clueless about how to work with this generation than before, and I don't think the reasons given for the behavioral generalities of this generation are logical or reasonable at all. 

    Instead of giving me insight, this article made me more angry by the generation's behavior. I agree with the rest of the respondents here

  • Andrew C. Tecson

    Yo, man! that was a moutful; frothing, fouling, and fleeting. Sure'd like to be taught by the GenY brats, go slow on the blame game tho, coz your snarl, growl, and angst against us plodding elders are showing.
    I'm buying your 3 points, just let go off that 4 letter word already flooding the porn side of your techie world!

  • F Delano Rivera

    I subscribe to Fast Company and for the first time, I will not be Tweeting or Posting or Pinning a story...Wait, did my Gen Y kid teach me this? No.  "Change the world instead of messing it up?"  I didn't know that Steve and Bill were Gen Y'ers!  The generation that made it possible for Cohen to check her Twitter or write this story on her computer.  

    Great cause for cancer because my mother is a breast cancer survivor.  Nonetheless, every generation has changed the world, irregardless of the medium. Every generation has messed up the world in one way or another.  Let's think about texting and driving, or the inability of many Gen Y'ers, not all, to communicate effectively, face to face or even distantly( I am thinking this article as an example). 

    The 3 points are helpful and could have been conveyed without all of the "this generation or that generation chip-on-my-shoulder hoopla".  I guarantee, without that, this article would have spread like wildfire much more, because we "ignorant folks" that are attempting to understand, manage and mentor the Gen Y'ers would have found this information helpful. Good article Cohen, but next time, leave the pride at home.

  • Clegg

    "Yes, every kid thinks they know more than their parents, but for the first time in history, we just might...Thanks to Twitter, I can tell my mom that there was an earthquake six minutes ago in another country."

    Cohen confuses information with wisdom