Want To Engage Young Adults? Don’t Forget To Serve

It's not all about you To those who engage with high school, college or young adult age communities, it’s no secret that the past 5-10 years have seen a dramatic shift in how they approach the world. And not just in terms of technology and communication, though that of course is a massive shift. One of the most marked characteristics of these communities is the desire, and in some cases, demand, that acts of service or social justice be integrated into all areas of life.

Within faith communities, this is expressed as a means of acting out the beliefs that young people are developing, refining and working to articulate. In other words, it’s walking the talk. Of course it’s not restricted just to faith communities, as young people across all strata are eager to find meaning in all aspects of life. The past two years I’ve had the honor of being a part of the BOOST Conference, a place of training and equipping professionals who work with kids in before and after school programs: Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, school district programs and many more. I’m floored by their energy, enthusiasm and intellect in helping to guide, challenge and develop kids of all ages in their character and drive to become passionate, engaged people.

No doubt many of these people could be earning more, doing more prominent things in their communities, speaking to big crowds and other more culturally prominent activities. But their common desire is to serve. They believe that their lives are best spent in the service of others, and it’s humbling to spend time with them.

Last week I was in a conversation with a company that works to develop travel experiences in partnership with colleges and universities. It’s a way to engage alumni in great experiences that are connected to their schools. One of the challenges, of course, is finding younger alums to take these trips. Sure, there are cost considerations, questions about group travel and so forth. But one thing that this company expressed was that a common request from younger potential travelers is that the trips have a service component. These younger alumni want to integrate service into everything, including their vacations!

So if you’re designing an engagement strategy to reach out to college / young adult communities, ask what’s in it for them not just in a general value proposition, but in terms of their experiential value. Does it connect to someone’s deep need or passion to serve others? Is there a broader, even loftier goal to help others in a tangible way? Does the engagement give them an experience that they can’t buy, or that requires a certain knowledge and expertise to arrange?

We know that young adults desire a sense of purpose and meaning to be integrated into their lives. Service is no longer an afterthought, but a core value for an entire new generation. What’s more, today’s tech-savvy young adults are able to share their passions and experiences with their friends in ways that were unimaginable even a decade ago. So consider how serving others might fit into your strategy to engage. You may find that it alters your world as much as it does someone else’s.