Lutheran Brotherhood (LB) and Padilla Speer Beardsley (PSB) developed the RespecTeen program to build awareness and support for LB and its programs among members of Congress, while empowering young people to get involved in the political process. A social studies curriculum developed for the program encourages students to write letters to Congress on important youth issues. From more than 10,000 participants, 51 students were chosen to lobby Congress on their issues at the RespecTeen National Youth Forum in Washington, D.C. RespecTeen has earned an excellent reputation on Capitol Hill for LB and changed the lives of many young people.
As a not-for-profit, fraternal benefit society, LB offers financial products and services to more than one million Lutherans across the country. Because of its not-for-profit status, LB is tax exempt and is required to use the money that would have been paid in as taxes to give back to the community. Each year, LB contributes nearly $70 million from the sale of its products to programs benefiting its members, their communities and the Lutheran church. If its tax exempt status were to be taken away, LB would not be able to fund these beneficial community programs.
LB asked PSB to create a comprehensive strategy to help it maintain its well-deserved tax-exempt status. As a subtle lobbying effort, PSB developed RespecTeen to get Congress to understand the breadth and effectiveness of LB’s programs. The RespecTeen Speak for Yourself curriculum and National Youth Forum brings LB representatives and program beneficiaries — young people from each state — face to face with members of Congress to show firsthand the contributions LB is making in their districts and/or states.
The Speak for Yourself curriculum helps seventh- and eighth-grade students understand the democratic process and teaches them how to make a difference in the “real world.” The curriculum culminated with students writing letters to their members of Congress about issues important to them. Copies were judged by an independent panel of teachers from across the country. The panel selected a winner from each participating congressional district, then narrowed that group to 51 winners, one from each state and the District of Columbia, to attend the RespecTeen National Youth Forum in Washington, D.C. At the Forum, students, escorted by LB representatives, met one-on-one with members of Congress to discuss the issues addressed in their letters.
PSB also worked with LB to develop a RespecTeen Web site to enhance the various pieces of the program. The goal of the site was to reach a broader audience with the curriculum, help students research their issue and provide a resource for the media.
Because the primary objective of building congressional and community awareness of LB’s fraternal programs needed to be subtle, it was imperative to keep the objectives of creating a positive, educational and motivating experience for the students pure. To reach these goals, tactical objectives included: receiving a minimum of 10,000 contest entries, scheduling 153 meetings with members of Congress (three for each student), and securing at least one media story per student.
In preparation for the 2000 RespecTeen National Youth Forum, PSB and LB conducted a Yankelovich Partners telephone survey of more than 500 teenagers nationwide to get their impressions of politics and politicians, and gauge how much they, as teenagers, believe they can be involved in the political process. Survey results were used to develop an effective media angle for promoting LB and the program.
Congressional Relations: Early in the year, PSB sent postcards to Representatives to notify them of the contest and the Web site, and that as a result of it, they may receive some student letters either in the mail or online. At the conclusion of the contest, letters were written and sent to congressional offices to notify them of their state winner and request a meeting. Extensive follow-up calls and detailed grids were used to schedule a minimum of three meetings for each student with extremely busy members of Congress. Students were given additional exposure to Congress through an issue group workshop in which they reviewed four “hot” bills currently in debate on Capital Hill and discussed their pros and cons. Coming to consensus on the issue, the students presented their opinions to the member of Congress who sponsored the legislation or their staff. Following the Forum, thank you notes were written and sent to each office.
Contest Coordination and Promotion: In addition to sending the curriculum to teachers nationwide, PSB used news releases, and a state newspaper association outreach to promote it as well as the Web site. Opinion pieces from teachers who used the curriculum, and from the program director were also placed. Receiving more than 10,000 entries from students nationwide, detailed databases were kept to record participation information. Cash prizes were given to 20 randomly selected teachers to encourage continued use of Speak for Yourself.
Winner Notification: Detailed packets about LB and the National Youth Forum were developed and sent to the winners and their parents and teachers, followed by in-depth informational phone calls. Winners were also given special access to a portion of the Web site that was developed for them and their families with information specific to their upcoming trip to Washington, D.C.
Media Relations: An aggressive and very targeted local and national media effort about the program and the 51 winners was undertaken to fulfill community awareness objectives. A press kit containing news releases, fact sheets and results from the Yankelovich youth survey was developed and distributed. A media-specific portion of the new Web site increased coverage by enabling media to download all the press materials and photos of the student winners.
RespecTeen National Youth Forum: PSB and LB worked together to coordinate all the programming aspects of the Forum, including organizing educational workshops, securing speakers and providing on-site support in Washington, D.C. Daily updates were made to the Web site so classrooms and families back home could share in their state winner’s activities.
The RespecTeen program was extremely successful, meeting and often exceeding program objectives.
More than 10,000 contest entries were received.
Students met with 158 congressional offices and 73 percent of meetings were with the actual member of Congress, providing each member a chance to witness the contributions LB makes in their district and state.
Students attending the Forum learned firsthand about the legislative process and how they can make a difference. As is reflected in the many thank you notes and positive evaluation results, for many students this was a life-changing experience that provided benefits beyond the classroom.
LB and the RespecTeen program received tremendous visibility in the media with at least one, and more often three or four, stories placed per student. More than 200 print stories ran, including stories in USA Today and the Washington Post. More than 185 radio interviews reached more than 5,000 stations across the country and television coverage totaled 68 stories nationwide, including coverage on C-SPAN. The coverage mentioned Lutheran Brotherhood, thus, increasing the visibility of LB’s fraternal efforts in communities across the country.
More than 19,000 students, teachers and members of the media accessed the RespecTeen Web site during the six month duration of the program.