Sierra Club Sows Young Supporter Base Through Video

sierraclub-internshipThe Sierra Club hopes web video and social media will help it sprout young supporter shoots. The 119-year-old environmental organization has an aging membership base, but its video-centric internship competition is introducing the group and its focus on preserving nature to younger people.

This week, Sierra Club announced 25 finalists for its “Best Internship on Earth” competition, which awards the winning candidate with a two-month summer internship, $2,000 worth of gear from The North Face, and a $2,500 travel stipend. Though the contest has no age limit, it’s open only to students and recent graduates.

Contestants are required to submit videos expressing why they’re right for the gig, which will involve traveling with inner city kids on outdoor getaways and producing videos of their adventures. The goal is to foster more involvement among young people and publicize the group’s youth programs “in a more fun way than perhaps we’ve been doing in the past,” said Chuck Baldwin, associate director of operations for Sierra Club.

“We want to try to bring in more younger people and get youth excited about the Sierra Club and protecting the environment,” said Baldwin, noting that the organization’s demographic has aged and many members today are between their late 50s and early 70s.

Not everyone is thrilled with the youthful focus of the effort. One gray-haired commenter on a recent Sierra Club Facebook page post regarding the internship contest stated, “Seems to me that is prejudice against old people…apparently I didn’t get the memo about the new PC standard!”

Each intern hopeful has a page on the Sierra Club site featuring their video submissions and displaying comments from their Facebook friends. “We’re trying to get those 25 finalists to spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, email, to their friends and family…to drive [people] to their individual pages,” he added.

Though this is the second year the nonprofit has run the intern contest, it attracted far fewer completed applications this year – 200 – than last year’s 800. Still, Baldwin suggested the high caliber of the video submitted by last year’s winner (see video below) could have deterred some from bothering to try out this year.

“We feel like we may have raised the bar with last years’ candidate who was actually a film student,” said Baldwin. “This time there were a lot more highly produced videos.” Last year many of the hopeful interns merely talked into their webcams.

The quality of the video production matters since Sierra Club aims for the interns to chronicle their “Building Bridges to the Outdoors” expeditions with inner city kids, as well as other trips such as the group’s “Volunteer Vacations,” which involve building trails in parks across the country. The main responsibility of the intern will be to produce a video blog.

Though Baldwin said the organization has no preset notion of what type of person will be chosen, the team is looking for someone with a “great screen presence and storytelling abilities.”

“We’re not looking to get any kind of membership bump out of this,” stressed Baldwin. “As a communications department, we’re spreading the message and driving action, but we’re not charged with bringing in membership numbers.”

The organization will measure success by comparing the number of intern related site page views and measuring Sierra Club “likes” and followers on Facebook and Twitter. To promote the contest, Sierra Club ran Facebook ads for about a month leading up till March 16, when the ad budget ran dry. The group also wants sponsors associated with the competition – including Eagles Nest Outfitters, footwear makers Acorn and Vibram Five Fingers, and Endangered Species Chocolate – to get word out about the contest in their own social presences.

The candidates themselves can help their chances by sparking engagement through Facebook comments displayed on their video submission pages. Several finalists have over 100 comments on their pages, including Margaret Distler, who has nearly 300. Though social media engagement and sharing will affect the selection, the group’s staff will determine who’s awarded the internship.

Sierra Club will narrow the pool to 10 candidates in around two weeks.

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