I get asked frequently from students on campuses around the country how to make a difference after graduation.
After being elected at age 22 as the youngest public official ever in Caroline NY over a decade ago, I’ve observed a lot.
Having experienced everything from leading countywide campaigns to drafting my state’s climate plan to traveling to U.N. talks on five continents to meeting President Barack Obama to helping ban fracking in New York State, I’ve developed strong opinions about:
– What makes change and what hinders it
– What open doors and what closes them
– What builds grassroots movements and what stops them
The post is intended to answer all the most common questions I get about how to become a changemaker and make a difference in the world, locally to globally. I compile the best resources that I’ve come across in over a decade working for change in elected office and beyond.
It’s the toolkit I wish I had when I graduated.
My tips are grouped into sections, all including resource links. Here are the sections in this toolbox:
- Campus Organizing
- Run for Office (yes, I mean you)
- Find Your Dream Team
Is a must-see resource missing? Please leave a reply in the comments below. Enjoy!
Get Strategic | TOOLKITS
My teacher and friend Rob Young, who took on the mafia to create a composting business and later a Republican governor to create New Jersey’s first department of sustainability, said, “never cede the territory of the possible.” Good advice.
Did you ever wish you had a step-by-step guide to change the world? Here are the best and most comprehensive toolkits I’ve seen for strategy, planning, resourcing, and coalition building for leaders who want to bring change to their communities and beyond:
- To start, for inspiration after the election, my longtime friend Brian Stillwell, educator with the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), wrote How to Take Meaningful Action in the Age of Trump. You’ll wake up, freak out and change minds.
- Campaigners Toolkit by The Change Agency is a powerhouse of more than 1,000 activist resources, including team guides, articles, and worksheets. Political vision and critical path to victory? See Strategy. Corporate engagement, problem tree, and power mapping? See Political Analysis. You can even build your own toolkit.
- Spitfire Strategies lives up to its name with tools for communications, campaigns, and training, including the Planning to Win guide that hundreds of organizations use. Other tools include Smart Chart 3.0 and Discovering the Activation Point.
- The comprehensive Community Tool Box from the University of Kansas offers thousands of detailed tips and checklists for taking action, from creating partnerships to assessing community needs to building leadership to writing a grant application for funding. It’s a juggernaut.
- If you are looking for a Swiss army knife, check out Butterfly Toolkit. It’s a compact toolkit inspired by Kenya’s ‘Building Bridges’ peace campaign.
- Want to agitate? Greenpeace’s Mobilization Lab is a resource hub for Training, Tools & Resources, Insights, and more.
- Want a simple summary in eight easy steps? The Leadership Conference’s Grassroots Tool Kit helps to set goals and a strategy, plan, and mobilize. It has must-see checklists for Communicating Effectively with the Media and Educating and Engaging Public Officials. Don’t enter the halls of power without them.
Get Savvy | BOOKS
What if you could condense 60 years of life experience and wisdom into a few hours? That’s the power of books. Every changemaker needs a personal library. Even in his prison cell, Nelson Mandela built one. When I moved to Freiburg, in my suitcases I carried these books:
- Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, which I read the summer I went door-to-door in Brooklyn housing projects to elect Bill de Blasio to NYC council
- How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, because what exists must be possible
- A People’s History of the United States, because you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from
- Don’t Think of An Elephant and The Political Brain are the most important political books I know — absolute must reads
- Unite and Conquer: How to Build Coalitions That Win and Last by Arizona State Senator Kyrsten Sinema offers great insight and is highly entertaining
- Getting to Yes and Getting Past No, because everything in life is negotiable
- The Energy of Money: A Spiritual Guide to Financial and Personal Fulfillment for goal and coaching practices that I use every day — ever have “monkey mind” talk you out of your dreams? Read this.
- Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse for the big picture, because we are agents in history
- Ishmael, which I read on a solitary retreat in an icy winter in a backpacking tent in a state forest
- Death of Environmentalism, because strategy needs to adapt to reality
- The Elements of Style, because the revolution will be written — to summarize, “omit needless words.”
- Getting the Love You Want, because I’ve seen no better guide for understanding and strengthening the relationships that matter most in our lives (you’ll thank me)
- If Life is a Game, These are the Rules: Ten Rules for Being Human. Any questions?
A few more must-reads:
- Beautiful Trouble, your all-in-one grassroots manual from the Yes Men and Billionaires for Bush, because now is a moment to shake things up
- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate because if you haven’t read this, you need to stop everything and block off your next two days until you finish it
- Awakening the Giant Within by Tony Robbins, who unlocks the science of achievement and art of fulfillment, because “most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in a decade.”
- Active Hope, because we need to face the pain of the world with clear eyes and an open heart
- Long Walk to Freedom where Nelson Mandela shares his inspiring story of commiting his life to principle and his vision against all odds, because we need stories and wisdom more than ever
Ground Yourself | INSPIRATION
Life is a spiritual journey of growth and contribution. On that journey, we need practices to transform our inner world, for only then can we transform our outer world. We need stories for our lives and our generation, for these stories move us and others to rise together and go for our dreams.
- Joanna Macy has been one of the greatest of teachers in my life. Her work deeply inspired me. For an introduction, see her moving talk at Bioneers. Joanna’s life work is The Work that Reconnects, drawing on deep ecology, systems thinking, and spiritual traditions. Want the cliff notes? Look at the spiral of despair and hope and model of the Great Turning. If you have the opportunity to do an in-person training with Joanna, who is now 80, you will never see the world the same again.
- Generation Waking Up shares a story about our generation that gives me hope, which has inspired and empowered thousands of young people to see our role in history and strength within ourselves. Facilitate a Wake Up workshop and check out their Wake Up facilitation guide.
- Gen Up is modeled on Awakening the Dreamer, a transformative program exploring the challenges facing humanity at this critical moment in time and the opportunities we as a human family have to create a new future. Check out their events and resources.
- Van Jones’ Power Shift 2009 keynote was a defining moment for me and gives me goosebumps.
- The most successful people all have personal success coaches. Why not you? I was introduced to coaching in 2008 by the founder of Coaching for Social Change, now a part of the Academy for Coaching Excellence, and it has transformed my professional and personal life. Sign up for a FREE strategy session now.
- Tony Robbins is the world’s top success coach and has been a huge source of learning for me. Start with New Year – New Life, Hour of Power, and graduate to the Power of Influence.
Get Trained | TRAINING
The world’s top climbers train rigorously before attempting an epic accent. Isn’t changing the entire world more challenging than climbing a mountain? Let’s train with the best:
- Momentum is a fantastic training institute and movement incubator giving organizers the tools to build social movements. See their training webinars, social movement ecology trainings, or watch this training sample.
- Generation Progress (formerly Campus Progress) offers trainings & communications support to student and young organizers. Get plugged into a wide range progressive issues from climate change to civic democracy.
- The Wildfire Project trains, supports, and links front-line grassroots groups for political, economic, and ecological justice across the country.
- YES! (Youth for Environmental Sanity) hosts YesJams, week-long convenings of young leaders ages 15-35 to spark creativity and collaboration. Check out their resources on student activism, moving money, and fundraising.
- Many organizations listed elsewhere in this guide offer world-class training.
Change Your Campus | CAMPUS ORGANIZING
Do you ever think, “as a student I have no power?” The world disagrees: this month, institutions with assets worth over $5.2 Trillion (with a T) have divested from fossil fuels that are threatening life on Earth, all because students at Swarthmore started organizing to divest their campus of coal. All actions, taken with clear intention, send out ripple effects that can change the world.
Supercharge your campus organizing for sustainability by using your biggest points of leverage:
- Responsible Endowments Coalition promotes ecologically sane investment at colleges and universities. Check out their resources for phasing out fossil fuels from your endowment.
- Energy Action Coalition, convener of the epic Power Shift summit of 12,000 students in D.C., unites young people to fight for and win clean energy and climate policies on their campuses and beyond.
- Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) is the student-run arm of the Sierra Club and offers support, training, and fellowships for college and university students. Check out the Club’s Beyond (Fracked) Gas, Beyond Coal, and Beyond Oil campaigns
- Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), is a long-time presence for environment and and communities with in-the-trenches organizing. Apply to become an intern or start a chapter.
- National Wildlife Federation’s Eco Leaders Program works with students and faculty at hundreds campuses on a range of sustainability projects.
- Greenpeace has used peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions for a generation. Get plugged into campaigns ranging from keeping fossil fuels in the ground to defending democracy. Plus, why not become a ship captain?
- UCapture offers internships opportunities for colleges and universities to offset their greenhouse gas emissions for free. Interested candidates can contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your resume.
- Put a Price On It is a critical campaign to put a price on carbon and greenhouse gases. See their student toolkit.
- CampusActivism.org offers an extensive hub student-shared powerful resources, email lists, publicized events on a huge range of issues
- Sustainability Degrees offers an impressive Get Involved, Change the World guide
- AASHE offers an array of student sustainability action resources
Make Headlines | MEDIA
Stories change the world. Stories are how we share and remember. Stories are what the best communicators use to influence and enroll people for action. What’s yours?
- Center for Story-based Strategy helps activists harness the power of narrative for social change. Their tools are fantastic, as are their trainings. This alone could win your next campaign.
- Center for Media Justice uses strategic communications and media activism to support social change, from talking with with journalists to press events. Check out their resource library or request a workshop
- If you have never listened to Democracy Now!, I encourage you to start. With award-winning journalist Amy Goodman, DN! is the largest community media collaboration in America. Get involved today, and check out the intern and fellowship opportunities.
- Organizing for Power, Organizing for Change complies nonviolent strategies and tactics from more than 35 years of grassroots organizing. Want to connect with past social movements? See their movement history page.
- Ruckus Society offers tools, training, and support with a focus on non-violent direct action. Want to know 198 methods of direct action? See action strategy guide
- Speak Out offers trainings to support grassroots organizing in schools, colleges, and communities nationwide
- See it, Film it, Change it: Creating a Video Advocacy Plan shares 20 years of experience on using video to create social change. If you read nothing else, read 10 questions to answer before filming.
- The SocialBrite Social Advocacy Toolkit is a digital-ninja training toolkit for activists. Check out the 10 top digital tools for campaigns to the top 10 mobile apps for social good.
- The Video Project is a hub for videos on the fate of the planet, with Oscar and Emmy award-winners from over hundreds of filmmakers worldwide.
Raise the Roof (and Funds) | FUNDING
As Maria Nemeth writes in the Energy of Money, money is a form of energy. Your relationship with it, and all of life’s energies, determines your success and ease in your life. And in life, the more you share energy, the more it flows back to you. Energize your work:
- AASHE’s Raise the Funds: Campus Action Toolkit is a savvy guide for on campus sustainability fundraising. See their decision-making chart (page 5)
- Achieving Excellence in Fundraising by Hank Rosso
- Clinton Global Initiative University gives grants from $2,000 $10,000 annually to a dozen projects on energy, climate, or other global issues.
- Earth Island Institute offers fiscal sponsorship and fundraising support to environmental projects, incubating more than a hundred projects
- Foundation Center is a searchable databank of U.S. grantmakers and offers training and resources for improving your fundraising skills.
- Lynne Twist is author of Soul of Money and founder of Soul of Money Institute, whose workshops and coaching on empowering and freeing their relationship with money are fantastic.
- Successful Fundraising: A Complete Handbook for Volunteers and Professionals by Joan Flanagan
- Youth Service America (YSA) gives hundreds of micro grants per year for service-learning initiatives, particularly focused on Global Youth Service Day in April.
Run For Office | GET ELECTED
Have you thought about running for office? Think “I’m too young” or “someone else is more qualified” or “I don’t have what it takes”? So did I. I was asked to forgo the Peace Corps and serve my community in public office when I was 21 years old, and I’m here to say you are capable of more than you can dream of. Take the step, your community, nation, and world needs leaders — I’m asking you to consider running.
- Front Line Leaders Academy is a premier national candidate and campaign management training program for young progressive leaders, for which am honored to be a past trainer and see people I trained be elected.
- Democracy for America offers excellent in person and online trainings for candidates and campaign leaders across the country.
- Wellstone offers fantastic candidate training programs by experienced elected officials and campaign professionals. Check out their events and tools list.
- New Organizing Institute (now a part of Wellstone) produced one of the most comprehensive campaign and election guides available.
- Victory Fund offers endorsements and trainings for LGBTQ candidates.
- Young People For offers fellowships and a great resource library and toolkits
Other resources for changing politics:
- Represent.us is building a grassroots campaign for the “American Anti-Corruption Acts” state-by-state.
- Brand New Congress was launched by key people from Bernie Sanders campaign, and has an innovative election strategies for progressive change we need in 2018 and 2020. Get involved and volunteer. Check out Bernie’s Our Revolution as well.
- More democracy reform groups: Common Cause, Mayday, 99Rise, ShiftSpark, and Wolfpac
Find Your Dream Team | ORGANIZATIONS
Get plugged into the top teams working for change. Here are some of the top organizations in the environmental and sustainability space. For an even more extensive list, see:
- Top 50+ Progressive Environmental organizations.
- See also the extensive list of organizations sustainability, social justice, economic fairness, and political infrastructure organizations.
In addition to all the organizations I’ve shared listed above, here are a few organizations that have influenced my life:
- SustainUS organizes US youth delegations to UN talks for sustainable development and climate change. They opened my eyes to our interconnected world and the arena of global policy negotiations.
- The Climate Reality Project gave me the opportunity to learn from former Vice President Al Gore to communicate the climate crisis.
- Want to earn an MBA to make a difference in sustainability or social change? Net Impact is a community of more than 100,000 enterprising students and young professionals transforming their passions into world-changing action. Check out their webinar series archive or start a chapter.
Did you enjoy this post? Any favorite parts or things missing? Do you have your own resources and tips about making change beyond campus? Please let me know in the comments!
I look forward to continuing the conversation — there is so much more to share and I’d be happy to arrange a talk on your campus or event.