NPO 030: Taking Multiple Approaches and Sharing Lessons (Liz Ryan, Youth First Initiative)


Today's Guest: Liz Ryan 
Liz Ryan, a campaign strategist and youth justice expert, directs Youth First. In her capacity, she manages the overall initiative. She is the founder and former CEO of the nationally recognized Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), which leads the national effort to end the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth in the adult criminal justice system.  Since CFYJ was launched in 2004, nearly half the states have reduced the prosecution of youth in adult court.  Liz has worked on many campaigns, including spearheading the launch of the Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign (Act4JJ) to overhaul the main federal law on youth justice, the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), and the No More Oak Hills campaign to successfully close the notorious Oak Hill Youth Detention Center for DC’s youth. An author of numerous opinion editorials, articles and reports, Liz frequently serves as an expert resource to reporters and national media outlets.

Nonprofit Spotlight: Youth First Initiative
Youth First is a national advocacy campaign to end the incarceration of youth by closing youth prisons and investing in community-based alternatives to incarceration and programs for youth.  To meet this crisis head on, the Youth First Initiative is:
- Elevating awareness about the negative impacts of incarcerating youth.
- Creating a national dialogue about the need to invest in alternatives, not incarceration for youth.
- Working with youth, families and allies on the local and national level to build a critical mass of Americans calling for change.

Lessons Learned:
In our conversation, Liz shared great stories about the Youth First Initiative and some of the key lessons learned are outlined below:

  1. Measuring Progress
    The Youth First Initiative has a big bold goal, which is great, but it's important to measure progress along the way since big bold goals can take a long time to achieve. Here are some of the questions that Youth First asks to measure their progress:

    1. Have we created an advocacy model that is flexible, replicable and successful?

    2. Are we centering youth in our work? Are we supporting their leadership?

    3. Are policy makers responding? How?

  2. Sharing Lessons Learned
    The Youth First Initiative has done research and contacted the key people who have been working to end youth incarceration in America in the past as well as connecting with the key current advocates. One way that Youth First supports the state leaders is by sharing this information with them so that they can learn from past experiences. They have found the following formats to share this knowledge:

    1. A report that shares what has happened in certain states as well as highlights the lessons learned.

    2. Social media

    3. A forum for people to gather in person to share the lessons that have been learned.

    4. Using Facebook Live to stream the above forum for those that could not attend in person.

    5. They also keep records of all of these on file so that others can peruse these resources in the future.

  3. Approaching Issues from Multiple Angles

    1. Youth First shares information in multiple ways so that it can reach and impact people differently.

      1. Research-- Sharing the data and statistics can be a persuasive way to share the message.

      2. Using art or media (video, photos, etc) to share the story of people who are impacted by youth incarceration has been a powerful way to get people engaged.

      3. Reaching out through existing groups that have online communities can be an effective tool as well.

    2. Youth First also encourages different groups to engage in their campaigns from all different walks of life.

      1. Lobbyists and legal advocates

      2. Youth who have experienced incarceration

      3. Families who have been impacted by incarceration

      4. Mothers groups

      5. Justice groups

      6. Artists

Find Youth First online:


Consultation Offer!

Have you ever thought about having a podcast for your nonprofit? Are you not sure if you have the right topic, mission, or resources for it? Are you wondering how to get started and how much it will cost? Click the link below to learn more!