Rise to the occasion: What aspiring collegiate leaders need to know about championing a cause they care about
February 28, 2020
As a college student, one of the best ways to develop and strengthen your leadership skills is to tie them to a social cause you’re passionate about.
Integrating the leadership skills and talents you’re developing in school with a greater cause makes your work relevant, interesting, and engaging. Not only does it help you grow professionally, but it helps deepen your understanding of your life’s purpose, direction, and connection with the greater world. As we get ready for our Rise Leadership Experience, we want to offer six action steps to help collegiate leaders like you identify the cause you want to champion, narrow down your options and get to work.
Pinpoint what stirs you up
The first thing you need to do is ask yourself, “what stirs me up?”
Think about the times you’ve watched the news, read stories on your newsfeed, or witnessed something that seems unjust on tv, in your neighborhood, or on your college campus. What makes you upset and question, “What can be done to solve this?”
Jot down the top one or two issues that come to mind and break down your own individual feelings towards them. What are your individual beliefs and initial feelings about this issue? What do you currently know about it and what do you want to know more about it? How do you currently talk about this issue?
This exercise allows you to identify your working knowledge of the topic, spotlight any potential biases you may have, and leaves room to fill in the gaps with information that can help you to look at the issue from a more objective and factual standpoint.
Educate yourself on the topic
Before you dive into finding a solution, do some initial research. Look up information about how the issue came about. What’s its origin? How has the cause developed or shifted over time? What has been society’s sentiment towards it over the years?
Research past and current movements leading change for this cause. Bookmark leading publications and news sources that are actively sharing objective information about the issue you’re interested in.
Using this information will help you enhance and push beyond your knowledge and current critiques. This will give you the opportunity to have more informed conversations when you’re talking and working with other champions of this cause.
Identify leaders in the space
Now that you’ve done some research on your cause, it’s time to identify the key players. Key players are major organizations, platforms, or conferences advocates usually look to for general information, direction, and leadership in regards to the cause.
To start, look into different national and state-wide organizations and platforms. Sign up for their newsletters, attend an event or two and get familiar with the agenda, language, and the different ways other advocates are addressing the issue at hand.
Find out who’s doing the work
Many times, national and state-wide organizations have city-wide and collegiate chapters where you can get involved. Find out what they’re doing, what initiatives they’re pushing, and how active they are in the community. It’s also useful to understand what they’re not addressing and why. Chapters might distribute different initiatives among various chapters, so you’ll want to join the one that’s working on issues that most resonate with you.
Once you find an organization that aligns with your interests, identify the areas where you want to help. Take the time for introspection and determine how you want to deploy your time, resources skills, and talents. Do you want to develop new leadership skills or do you want to build on the strengths you currently have? Do you want to get involved in new experiences or do you want to take on activities that you’re familiar with doing? Thinking these things through prior to reaching out to the organization can help you better articulate how you’ll be an asset to the cause and vice versa.
Reach out and introduce yourself
Community organizers and volunteer coordinators are great people to reach out to when you’re looking to join an organization. If you’re looking into an organization on campus, contact the student life office could help direct you to the point person over membership. You can also ask friends or classmates in the organization and ask them about the best way to get involved.
So, you’ve established the cause that stirs you up, educated yourself on the topic, identified leaders in the space and who’s doing the ground-work. After you’ve reached out to your organization of choice and introduced yourself, it’s time to take action!
Here are some practical ways to immerse yourself in the work and put those amazing leadership skills to work:
Organize: You don’t have to be at the forefront of the work. Organizations need people to plan, strategize, and coordinate people, events, and initiatives to keep the momentum going.
Show solidarity: When you see something unjust happening, speak up. Use your voice to advocate, especially in places where marginalized voices are not typically present or appreciated.
Hone your allyship: Get familiar and stay updated on the language and priorities of the cause you’re championing. Remember to listen to the people you’re aiming to lend your voice to. Be humble, learn, be vigilant about being a student to the cause as much as you want to be a leader.
Recognize intersectionality: Understand and acknowledge that there will be various people from different backgrounds, viewpoints, and experiences who are also championing this cause with you. Be ready to collaborate with others in order to maintain and grow an inclusive environment.
Asset mapping for action: Many of these organizations cannot run without resources. Mapping out potential sponsors, donors, charities, partners, and funders who are willing to give money to your cause is essential to continuing the work you’re doing. For national organizations, tap into your members from state or city-wide chapters for guidance and people to reach out to.
Pay attention to policy: When causes are tied to government regulation, it is crucial that you and your organization keep tabs on the most current policy changes. One new piece of legislation can drastically hinder or aid your efforts in economic, social, or political ways. Staying updated on policy changes, keeping track of your municipal, city and state representatives’ voting record, attending town halls and city council meetings all help your organization make informed decisions when planning advocacy initiatives.
Share your story: Your voice is just as important as the issue you’re speaking for. Let people know why you got involved, how you started, why you continue to use your skills and talents to advance your cause and how others can do the same.
Show Up: There’s power in numbers. When you show up to events where collective support is needed, you’re sending a strong message that your organization and outside onlookers that your issue is important and strongly supported.
Continue to educate yourself & commune with other change agents: It’s imperative to surround yourself with people who are eager to learn and are energized about your shared values, issues and beliefs. Finding conferences to attend help you expand your knowledge, your network and your love for passion.
We wish you the best of luck in finding a cause that challenges and sparks a fire in you! If you are a driven and energetic leader seeking to drive large scale change across our nation, we invite you to apply to Rise, an all-expenses-paid leadership experience.