Nancy Lublin was sitting in her office in Manhattan one evening last December when she noticed her staff outside giving one another high fives, pumping their fists and generally engaged in raucous celebration.
Never one to miss a party, Ms. Lublin stepped outside to learn that minutes earlier, the staff had sent a simple text message to 500 teenagers — “Santa Cause says run a food drive in ur community 4 Tackle Hunger” — an annual food collection that benefits the network of local food pantries affiliated with Feeding America.
The messages went to teenagers who were more or less “defunct,” meaning that her organization, Do Something, had not heard from them in some time. For this appeal via text, some 20 percent returned to the fold in nine minutes. “It was nuts,” Ms. Lublin said.
Right then and there, she decided Do Something, a national nonprofit group that works to involve teenagers in civic activities, had to go mobile. No longer could it rely on its Web site to motivate young people to take part in social activism. Instead, it would rely on mobile technology in the hopes of substantially increasing its reach and impact.
“I want us to be the AARP for the 13- to 18-year-old set,” she said recently.
The goal is to use mobile technology to sign up 3.8 million members by 2014, up from 1.2 million in 2010 who were involved in at least one of the more than 50 “campaigns” Do Something runs each year. Recently, for instance, teenagers ran drives that collected roughly two million books that are being donated to public schools in New Orleans. “It has to be things that don’t require money, an adult or a car,” Ms. Lublin said.