June 29, 2011; Source: New York Times | A simple text message, “Santa Cause says run a food drive in ur community 4 Tackle Hunger,” recently received a huge response from teenage volunteers and inspired a nonprofit to turn to mobile technology to reengage young people. A major foundation shared their vision and gave a significant gift to show their support.

Do Something, a national nonprofit whose mission is to involve teenagers in civic action, sent the text message. Within nine minutes, 20 percent of their audience responded. Nancy Lublin, chief of Do Something, knew this reaction was a game changer and decided the nonprofit had to go mobile. “I want us to be the AARP for the 13- to 18- year-old set,” Lublin said recently.

Do Something wants to triple its roster to over 3.8 million members by 2014. Members are encouraged to become involved in “campaigns” at the local level. Recently, teenagers ran campaigns that collected over two million books for public schools in New Orleans. Campaigns are structured so that no money, cars, or adults are required.

International nonprofits have used mobile technology extensively for agriculture, health and financial causes. “I don’t think very many social change organizations are paying nearly enough attention to the technology available for engaging support and enhancing their missions,” said Alberto Ibargüen, chief executive of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which recently gave Do Something a $1.5 million dollar grant.

Do Something members aren’t asked for dues or any background information. Organizational leaders say that phones are an essential part of a teen’s social profile and young people are more open to text message requests from organizations than adults are. Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and Do Something board member noted, “Teens receive, on average, 3,300 texts a month. I’m convinced this is the best way to move teen philanthropic action to a new level of scale and effectiveness.”

Let’s hope that many of these teen activists will become the philanthropic leaders of the next generation.—Nancy Knoche