June 25, 2012; Source: Fast Company

When targeting young people with important messages, it’s more effective to tell positive stories than it is to lecture. That’s the advice the founder of a fast-rising anti-drug nonprofit has for other organizations in a new Fast Company article.

Jon Sundt, founder of Natural High, knows the pressure young people face to be cool by using drugs. He lost two brothers to drugs: one overdosed in the back of a police car and the other’s suicide was related to drug addiction. As Sundt and his family looked for help for his brothers, they came to the conclusion that many drug prevention programs weren’t having a lasting impact on young people. The reason, he thought, was that youth are constantly bombarded by messages about how cool it is to do drugs from celebrities and their peers.

What if we turned that message on its head, Sundt wondered, and instead made it cool for young people to be on a natural high? And what if we used celebrities and peers to send a hip message that being on a natural high is cool? Natural High now produces and sends videos to schools across the country. The videos feature surfboarders, skateboarders, musicians, artists and other young people who are successful without using drugs. The nonprofit wants to fight cool with cool, and encourage young people to join the “I’m on a natural high” bandwagon.

It’s an interesting new approach in contrast to the Reagan-era “Just Say No” campaign, in which the First Lady stood in front of classrooms of students in a tailored suit and urged them to reject drugs. A video on Natural High’s current homepage features artist Corrine Alexandra in her studio, telling the story of how she traveled with a rock band as a photographer on a European tour. It’s two minutes into her story before she suggests that doing drugs might have distracted her from doing her job. “I wouldn’t feel as proud of what I have accomplished if I had been driven by some artificial substance,” she says. Watch the video here:

It’s a pretty powerful message to see a poised, confident, charismatic young artist talk about her “natural high.” Sundt says the message for other nonprofits working with teens is to find the people whose stories will resonate with young people and let them speak in their own language. He believes the messenger is just as important as the message. –Mary Jo Draper