Waiting for Your Call: Asian American Millennials

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Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the country, due largely to increases in its immigrant populations. (This one racial category covers people from at least 20 countries.) [1] Still, they represent just 5.7 percent of the country’s population – and are the smallest of the four largest racial/ethnic categories (white/Caucasian, black/African American, Hispanic/Latino/Spanish and Asians).

They’re also the group with the lowest percentage of voter turnout, including among Asian American millennials. This is despite the fact that in the 2016 presidential election, the racial/ethnic category had its largest upswing in new voters of all ages since the Bush/Gore race in 2000.[2] No other such group saw an increase in voters in 2016.[3]

More troubling, however, is the other half of the equation: For Asian Americans, not voting is a strong predictor of remaining uninvolved in all social issues, including causes intended to improve people’s lives.

And most troubling of all: Less than a year after Donald Trump took office, researchers at Achieve discovered that among self-identified Asian American millennials – those born 1980-2000 – this low propensity to actively work to improve society through the ballot box or social causes among Asian Americans had degraded even further.

Achieve’s findings are part of its research for Phase 2 of the 2017 Millennial Impact Report, The Power of Voice: A New Era of Cause Activation and Social Issue Adoption. Though Achieve’s sample was relatively small, Asian Americans made up 5.5 percent of the research sample, close the 5.7 percent of Asian Americans comprising the wider American population in November 2016.[4]

Asian Americans had plenty of reasons for not voting

Asian American millennials cast about twice as many votes for Hillary Clinton (54%) as Donald Trump (26%). Of those who did not vote, the top two reasons given were similar: “ineligible” (25%) and “unable to vote” (22%). This is strikingly different from the No. 1 reason for not voting given by the other three racial/ethnic categories, which was “didn’t like either candidate.” For Asian American millennials, this was just the third-highest reason for not voting (20%).

Since the difference in reasons for not voting appears to have to do with roadblocks, it begs the question: If more Asians would have been eligible or could have gotten to the polls – thereby eliminating reasons No. 1 and 2 for not voting – would they have gone to the polls and cast a vote? Or, even if those roadblocks had been eliminated, would they still not have voted because reason No. 3, candidate dislike, would have become this group’s primary reason for not voting, too?

Old-fashioned barriers to voting still exist

Only 31 states had online registration in 2016,[5] and nationally, Asian Americans were less likely than white/Caucasian or black/African American constituents to be contacted by political parties.[6] Just two years prior to the presidential election, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund received more than 340 voting-related complaints that included unlawfully being required to prove their U.S. citizenship and having their names listed incorrectly in voter registration databases (English speakers entering information from forms into databases are often uncertain which is the first name and which the last).

By 2016, there had been little evidence these problems had been remedied. Moreover, one in three Asian Americans speaks limited English, which not only makes understanding how to vote more difficult – it makes educating oneself about the issues and candidates equally so.[7]

Even if millennial Asian Americans spoke English more easily than their older relatives – which seemed to be the case with those our researchers spoke with directly – they undoubtedly have witnessed or heard of similar situations, if not experienced them firsthand.

If voting is this challenging for so many Asian Americans, is it any wonder that millennials appear to have little faith in their power to create change?

Voting behavior predicts attitudes toward social change

Since 2009, Achieve focuses its research on millennials’ attitudes and behaviors relevant to social causes. For the past year, we’ve been examining what influence, if any, a presidential election would have on these attitudes.

For Asian Americans, the effect has been to make negative perceptions worse.

When compared to the other self-identified racial/ethnic categories already mentioned (white/Caucasian, black/African American, Hispanic/Latino/Spanish), Asian American millennials who voted in the 2016 presidential election tended to:

  • be the least active in social causes (based on behavior),
  • perceive themselves to be less active than others (outside of friends and family),
  • be the least confident in organizations’ ability to bring about social change and
  • be far less confident in their own ability to create change.

No action, no change. We asked millennials to rank the behaviors they’d most typically take in relation to a social cause they were interested in. Prior to the election, Asian Americans said the action they’d take most often was, in fact, no action at all. A year later, when asked to report the degree to which their cause-related behaviors had changed since the election, this group had more answers of “no change” than any other racial/ethnic category.

Less active than others. People tend to see themselves in relation to others, so we asked millennials how active they were in social causes as compared to others. Asian millennials saw themselves as just slightly more active than family members, about as active as their friends, and less active than people they don’t know. Every other racial/ethnic group saw themselves as more active than all three of those groups.

Less confident in organizations and themselves. Asian Americans were not nearly as confident in the actions of organizations to bring about change as were other groups. But confidence in their own abilities turned out to be the measure in which cultural influences may be most apparent.

Asian Americans were almost evenly split in confidence in their own actions to bring about social change: 51 percent had some level of confidence that their actions would lead to improvements, while 49 percent did not.

Digging deeper, though, Achieve researchers offered three positive rankings of self-confidence: Very confident, somewhat confident and confident. While the majority of Asian Americans expressed some confidence in themselves (28% were “somewhat confident” and 41% were “confident”), only 9 percent were willing to apply the highest ranking of “very confident.”

That final figure may have skewed the total results: When combining all positive levels of confidence (somewhat confident + confident + very confident), Asians ended up at the bottom of the racial/ethnic categories in their confidence they could create social change: black/African Americans 84%, white/Caucasian 81%, Hispanic/Latino/Spanish 80%, Asian 78%. One Asian American millennial said the unwillingness to admit to a high level of confidence could be the inculcation of modesty by older generations.

Areas of concern consistent with age

The concerns of Asian American millennials more closely matched the those of millennials of all races/ethnicities than of Asian Americans nationally – particularly employment and racial discrimination.

In Achieve’s research, millennials of all races were most concerned with civil rights/racial discrimination, employment/job creation and healthcare; Asian American millennials were most concerned with climate change, employment/job creation and civil rights/racial discrimination. Within the adult Asian American community nationally, the NAAS survey[8] found the top issues of serious concern to be college affordability, cost of medical care and elderly care.

Hope (and opportunity) for the future?

Further research is needed to see if Asian Americans will continue to turn out more new voters each year, and what age group they come from. The very youngest millennials will be 20 years old in the next presidential election (2020), which means the entire generation will be of voting age – the largest living generation in American history. Those who would treat millennials as a monolithic bloc are in danger of falling far behind in knowing what this group can do for their cause or issue.

If the trend toward more highly educated Asian American voters continues, if perceived or actual racial discrimination at the polls declines, and if political parties and cause organizers realize they have the opportunity to galvanize a well-educated segment of the population who by and large is just waiting for attention … then the power of Asian American millennials to influence candidate selection and raise specific cause issues into the national consciousness could grow into a force for good.

A word about racial categories in research
Achieve researchers seek to match the subsets of a population we study as closely to the larger population’s demographics as possible. For race/ethnicity, we ask participants to self-identify or select from two other options: Other and Prefer Not to Answer.

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/08/key-facts-about-asian-americans/

[2] naasurvey.com/2016-record-asian-american-voting/

[3] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/08/key-facts-about-asian-americans/

[4] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/08/key-facts-about-asian-americans/

[5] usa.gov/register-to-vote

[6] naasurvey.com/2016-record-asian-american-voting/

[7] https://votingwars.news21.com/asian-american-population-increases-but-voter-turnout-still-lags/#culturalissues

[8] naasurvey.com/2016-record-asian-american-voting/

(ghostwritten and published first for client)
Photo by Steven Wang on Unsplash


3 Reasons a Copywriter Should Tell Your Nonprofit’s Stories

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Your nonprofit’s communications and development teams are excitedly brainstorming approaches to your nonprofit’s next campaign. Fueled by collaboration and multicolored markers, they’re filling big Post-It wall pads with phrases and sketches, reconfigured and brand-new ideas. Then someone (usually in development) chimes in with, “Why don’t we ask one of our clients or donors to write the appeal this year? I know the perfect person to do it!”

You can feel the room almost physically divide as co-workers retreat into their departmental territories. To development staff, the idea makes a lot of sense: People become donors to help solve a problem. What could be better than hearing directly from someone whose life they helped change? You might even be able to involve a donor you’re trying to cultivate for a larger gift.

Meanwhile, communications staff feel a definite chill. They thought development was finally getting it: credibility, consistent messaging and all the rest of the principles they build their outreach on. Instead, they fear they’re about to be left out in the cold.

I couldn’t agree more with the development staff: Nothing’s better than hearing from someone whose life a donor helped change. I also couldn’t disagree more with your co-worker’s suggestion for executing this idea.

Here are my three top reasons why a copywriter, not a client or board member, should tell a client’s story in your nonprofit’s appeal:

1. Most people aren’t strong writers.

By asking someone to write a coherent, cohesive story about a crucial interaction with your organization, you’re asking them to use a skill most won’t possess. What do you do when their story needs significant editing at best or, at worst, is dull? Do you grit your teeth and use the story because development can’t afford to offend the writer?

2. They know their story, not your message.

A woman who escaped years of abuse with the help of a nonprofit shared her story with me in a two-hour phone interview. If she’d written the appeal, the message would have been lost in the details of what happened to her. My job as a copywriter was to share her story (her real, authentic story) in a way that also showed how the nonprofit helps change the lives of women just like her – and needs gifts to keep doing it.

3. You lose the advantage an interview gives you.

When you’re actively listening to someone, you can guide the direction of the story with your questions. You can gently move them along if they get off track, ask for details about a particular aspect to make it more vivid, or explore a comment they gloss over but you know could drive the point home. As the writer, you know what you need to end up with – so you can make sure you get there.

One argument I hear often is this: “But we have videos of our clients talking about what happened to them, and people love them!”

Videos can be powerful motivators. However, here’s a question: Were those videos edited – a few minutes cut out here and there, a sentence from near the end moved to the beginning, on-screen graphics or text added, etc.? Or did you post the raw footage, start to finish, on your website so you wouldn’t offend anyone?

A talented copywriter can take the best of a client’s story and put it into context: This story is possible because your nonprofit was there to help, thanks to donors. The end result will be a powerfully persuasive appeal designed to elicit audience behaviors that will move your organization toward its goals.

(first published on LinkedIn)

Austin woman’s childhood abuse fuels her commitment to help others

Dena Dupuie, Austin Angels volunteer

[See original post at GivingCity Austin here]

Dena Dupuie of Austin wound her way through piles of trash filling the small mobile home. Though she’d been in many foster care homes, this was one of the worst.

“I was taken aback. I could hardly walk through the house,” she said. “You know why? Because they couldn’t afford $45 a month for trash pickup.”

Continue reading “Austin woman’s childhood abuse fuels her commitment to help others”

Show, Don’t Tell, You’re Making a Difference

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Is your organization “making a difference?”

If so, can you find a new way to say it?

One of my most meaningful jobs was at a fundraising organization for a children’s hospital. If supporting a place that rescues kids from the brink of death isn’t “making a difference,” I don’t know what is. But my much-smarter supervisor refused to let us use that phrase.

“Every nonprofit says that,” she’d (accurately) point out. “We need to show how we’re making that difference.”

She was right then, and she’s still right.

A nonprofit mailer I just received invited me to join all the people “who are making a difference in the fight against premature births.”

twin babies

Wouldn’t a statement such as, “Become one of the millions who are making sure babies are born healthy” resonate more and reinforce the mission? Backed up by the story of a real baby born healthy because of the nonprofit’s intervention, this mailer will plant an immediate picture in my head: Babies are dying. I can help.

By seizing every opportunity to paint a picture or tell a story, you’ll do more than “make a difference.” You’ll grab someone’s attention long enough to communicate your message and inspire them to action.

Writer Makes You See What’s No Longer There

I’ve never wanted to go to Alabama. Until now.

I started reading “A march into history” by Scott Vogel of The Washington Post because of the subhead, believe it or not:

“Alabama women who lived it help give a 21st-century spirit to the civil rights struggle.”

The black-and-white photo showed only males, but because of the writing, I was intrigued by the idea of a story about strong women previously unrecognized by history. In several strokes of genius in what could be a primer on storytelling, Vogel aims to get an emotional reaction from his readers.

This is much more than an article about why you should visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute museum and research center.

Continue reading “Writer Makes You See What’s No Longer There”


university donor

“It’s About Time.”

That’s how Patricia Brennan See ’74 reacted when she heard that Butler’s vision for its Arts Center is to become Central Indiana’s arts and culture destination.

“Butler has had a stellar—and I mean stellar—arts program for decades, and it’s been under wraps. Now, we’re coming into our own,” said this alum and member of the Jordan College of the Arts (JCA) Board of Visitors. “It’s time to get out there and show ourselves as the fantastic school we are.”

See generously supports ArtsFest and the Butler Community Arts School. And though she wasn’t an arts major, her family tree is as firmly rooted in the arts as it is in Butler.

Read full donor profile

(Photo: Brent Smith)

The Psychology Behind Storytelling

campfire story time

As a nonprofit professional, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you know that storytelling – sharing the real stories of real people whose lives were enriched by your help – is the best way to reach potential donors.

More and more, causes are using stories in their solicitations. So why do they sometimes not work?

Let’s first examine the psychological context to see why (when done well) real stories do work.

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