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While Young Involved Philadelphia president Nick Marzano can’t put an exact number on attendance for this year’s State of Young Philly week of events, he’s nearly certain the attendance is record-breaking. One concrete differentiator for SOYP 2014: More events and partnerships than ever before.
Young Involved Philadelphia, a nonprofit that aims to connect civically-engaged young people, coordinates the State of Young Philly conference each year as its hallmark week of programming meant to bring together young professionals, elected officials and organizational leaders. This year’s event wrapped on Nov. 22.
Billy Penn caught up with Marzano after the holiday weekend:
Billy Penn: So YiP says 2014 was a record-breaking year for the State of Young Philly conference. What contributed to that?
Marzano: The model is the biggest difference from years past. We had eight partnering organizations last year, and six events over eight days. We decided after that to bring in other partners and recognize that all the great events and the sort of events that are representative of what’s important to young people right now, that those are not all sitting in the minds of the board.
Starting in January we lined up a timeline, and we hit the ground running with our new board… The model was similar to Philly Tech Week. We had 20 host partners and 22 events, including three YIP showcase events, but 19 were hosted by partners. So everybody had a stake in it. That’s the way it should be; that’s why it became a movement instead of just YIP events.
BP: What went well? Anything that really surprised you?
NM: The commitment and the collaboration, and the buy-in from partner organizations. There was a risk (when) we put this plan in place, and at each stage of the game we got a little bit more excited about the contributions coming in. We had 35 organizations apply, we curated the schedule and combined ideas where we could. There were a lot of points where that could have failed, or people could have said YIP isn’t sharing the spotlight, but we didn’t see that at all. We saw fantastic collaboration. My anecdotal evidence is that partners saw a ton of traffic, a lot of press and it really got the message out about their unique opportunity to get involved.
BP: We noticed the Millennial Mouth-off event was a new one for this year. Where’d that idea come from, and how do you think that went?
NM: That really came out of some discussions that I had and an idea I had back in January to try to take this model that we’ve had of the unconference, which has been successful… and try to adapt that, where the conversation is continuously evolving, and so that we can learn from each other. The focus isn’t about the solution or the answer, the answer is encouraging each other to go out on a limb.
We saw a lot of that at the mouth-off and the ideas themselves were great, but for me the more exciting part was the connections, both of the ideas and the dialogue that happened. We tackled three really large topics (education, city planning and economic growth) and I think that was perfect for a showcase-like event for the State of Young Philly to promote a robust dialogue. We may use that as a format in the future as more of a hackathon if we drill into specific topics, maybe like ideas to get millennials to turn out for the election. As a way to really promote dialogue we’re very excited with both the ways that the event turned out and the participation of the more established leaders. It was a pretty electric energy.
4. BP: You said a couple times during the week that you saw a lot of new faces. How’s YIP trying to engage young people in the city who aren’t the usual suspects?
NM: Something we think about a lot is we think about folks we serve in a couple of buckets. We try to connect our partners and people who care about the city. We do think about how to promote the people who are involved and highlight their achievements and push them and create a pipeline to leadership. But with that sort of category of person who is looking for the place to start, I really relate to that person… It took me a while to figure out how to get involved in Philly, and I think we do that by meeting them where they’re at.
We do that by tone, in terms of our newsletter, but we also have an unofficial on-boarding type of event, like the YIP run club. It’s a low barrier to entry, but we’re going to make sure there’s some education there. Or the happy hour, we’re going to have specific asks to volunteer. Those events are intentionally low-barrier, but it goes all the way up to board training and help for people who want to become elected officials.
5. BP: What are you hoping to change about State of Young Philly moving forward, and how do you see it growing?
NM: There are probably processes we can hone, but if we go back to the same playbook next year, we have the processes in place, and we can look at opportunities to do a little bit more. One of the things that strikes me as an opportunity is with all of these partners that we have to be able to engage. I think there’s more room for more “state of the union” and talking about collective movements and opinions of millennials, whether that’s hours volunteered or a membership survey.
The opportunity we have with State of Young Philly is to speak with a collective voice. We’re an umbrella organization serving a number of partners, so there’s an opportunity to do some creative things around sharing data and sharing opinions when State of Young Philly 2015 rolls around.
The one thing that will help us do more next year that we hope will take root a bit more is hopefully we’ve built up the brand where we’re able to get sponsorships next year that will help us bring in staff to help this all-volunteer board build on that showcase model and move it to an even higher level.