Dems Aren't Selling What Kids Want

This past weekend, I read that young people don't have the money to be engaged in the current campaign finance system. I also read that the University of Virginia Class of 2007 presented their school with a gift of $3.4 Million. The conventional wisdom that young people don't have money to donate to political campaigns is simply wrong. College students represent over $120 billion in spending power.

The private sector has understood this for generations - just consider the marketing revolution that is MTV. Young Americans have considerable purchasing power. The problem is, Democrats simply aren't selling anything young people want to buy. In order to tap into this crucial market, Democrats need to engage young people in such a way that students feel they are getting something for their contributions - that they are not just giving their money away, but buying something.

Here's where most people bristle - at the idea of mixing buying and politics. As good liberals, we're supposed to talk in terms of investment. Your contribution is an investment in the future. On a personal level, I agree 100 percent. But selling promises of future progress is not attracting young donors, neither are threats of imminent Republican disasters. Young buyers want something for their money now, not a vague promise of something good in the distant future.

The question is, what is it that young Democrats want now?

I went to a well-known liberal school where conservative students were a definite minority. There was a distinct difference between the way conservative and liberal students approached money in politics that I think is fairly common. Liberal students treat money in politics as something inherently corrupting. These students are much more likely than their conservative peers to be regularly engaged in activism, but hold a fundraising party for a liberal candidate and you'll probably have a lonely night.

The Obama dinner auction is an interesting way of generating new donations, but let's face it - it still only offers a chance of engagement to a small group of the population. This offer may appeal to some, but Obama is still missing the chance to engage and foster a real relationship with the broader population of young Democrats.

What if candidates held fundraiser meet-and-greets only open to young Democrats? What if candidates addressed issues of immediate concern to students, issues like financial aid? What if the Democratic party and progressive organizations offered concrete career development opportunities by broadening access to  internships and networking with leaders in the business and non-profit communities?

Democrats don't need to sell gimmicks, they need to find a way to get young people to buy in to the Democratic Party. The only way to do that, of course, is to ask young people directly what they want, to really open a sincere dialogue with young Democrats to find out not only what their issues are, but what sorts of events and engagement they're looking for.

For those of you under 30, what do you want?

Tags: Democrats, donors, Fundraising, youth, Youth Outreach (all tags)

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