Motivating Fellow Students to Take Action

Campus Reform Reporter

Your fellow students are very often apathetic. We Regional Field Coordinators hear this often from student leaders whom we assist (and discovered it for ourselves when were in college). But a good leader can overcome apathy to inspire and motivate, and to create and develop new leaders.

First thing to keep in mind, the student leader sets the standard of dedication for the student group. Don't expect members to put in more time and effort into the group than you, the leader of the group.

There are many ways to recruit and motivate students to be more politically active and become future leaders for your group:

  1. Create loyal friendships. Successful groups have members who are loyal friends to each other, not just loyal to the cause. Get to know, eat with, and socialize with your members. Become good friends without compromising the mission of your group or turning it into a purely social group that doesn't do activism.
  2. Make your activities fun and creative. The thrill of working for a worthy cause will hopefully be enough for your core membership. But some activism ideas are more entertaining than others (my advice? you can never go wrong with a costume). Satire is a powerful weapon that amuses your side, infuriates and disarms the left, and cuts sharply to the point for those in the mushy middle -- use it whenever possible! You can even turn more laborious tasks into a competition or host social events after the job is done.
  3. Find their hot button issue. Like many Americans, most students are not public policy junkies with an opinion on everything (nor are they strictly philosophically consistent). But many have at least one particular issue that fires them up!

    Don't be afraid to ask individual students questions about their background and beliefs. A person may have a hot button issue without even knowing it. Get to know the membership of your group, especially if it is a general conservative group. It's easy to motivate people when you know what they care about and why, especially if the reasons are very personal to them.
  4. Seize the moral high ground and show moral outrage. Your opposition is very good at doing this. They create or find victims of real or perceived injustice and rally students to take action to supposedly set things right. Of course, we know that their policies do nothing but create even more victims.

    Make sure your members especially (as well as everyone else) know who these victims of leftist abuse, bias, and policy are. Challenge your fellow activists to fight on their behalf! As Morton Blackwell says, "Moral outrage is the most powerful motivating force in politics." Students will react powerfully to what they perceive as unfair.
  5. Use the opposition as a foil. Tell your members what the other side is doing and what they are accomplishing. Tell them, "We can't let them get away with this. If we don't provide opposition, no one will!"

    Another way to motivate members is to have them experience the opposition for themselves. Have them recruit publicly. Send them to opposition meetings or events. Have them talk with the most hardcore opposition.
  6. Create a sense of urgency. You may have found a person's hot button issue and stirred up moral outrage, but you're competing with the student's other responsibilities and interests (e.g. schoolwork, boyfriend/girlfriend, and gym time). If you let them, students will procrastinate doing the necessary legwork and preparation for activism to occur. Emphasize the natural urgency of your situation or create a timetable that will create a sense of urgency.
  7. Give your membership a sense of historical perspective. Your membership will be more dedicated if they understand that they fit into a broader movement that has been at work for the past century. This knowledge will create a sense of urgency over the long-term.
  8. Teach and train them how to take action. Your membership may be ready to take on the world without delay, but they may quickly become hesistant if they don't know what to do and how to do it. Provide a plan of action and teach them to execute their parts in it. People feel confident and motivated when they know what they're doing. Organize and host Leadership Institute trainings on your campus to teach your group members how to win.
  9. Show and tell them the benefits and success stories. Help them to see or imagine what their activism will accomplish for the movement and themselves personally. Inspiration comes from others doing what was once thought impossible. You must develop a winning psychology among your fellow students, and inspiring them with the feats of other student activists, past and present, is the way to do it. The Reformer's Blog and your Regional Field Coordinator are a treasure trove of success stories.

    Invite your membership to join! Be sure to explain to your members the many benefits of activism for them and the group in general.
  10. Say thank you. Gratitude and appreciation, both publicly and privately, go a long way to maintaining motivation. Always give credit where credit is due. Thank each person at least as much as they deserve.
  11. Use rewards and self-interest. Reward those who work hard with praise and other creative perks (e.g. dinner or time with a speaker you are hosting). When all else fails, appeal to students' interest in fame, fortune, and future opportunities. Some students enjoy attention and being in the media spotlight; let them bask in it without hurting your cause. Some students need to know how activism will impact their future; tell them that activism leads to a good resume, networkinginternships, summer jobs, and a job after college.

With these tips and insights, you should be able to attract a following and achieve great things on your campus!