March 1, 2016

Partnerships with America’s Future Foundation Connect State Think Tanks with Local Young Professionals

By: Roger Custer

Originally published on Monday, February 08, 2016 in SPN NEWS JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016

Why are we losing the battle for young people?

It’s a question donors, policy experts, and voters often ask. Millennials, aged 18–34, are now the largest group in the workforce. Voters in this demographic tend to embrace progressive ideas, supporting Obama 66% in 2008 and 60% in 2012.


The Left is way ahead in working with millennials. There are five progressive organizations in more than 200 cities, including Wellstone Action, Living Liberally, and New Leaders Council. They spend more than $5 million each year hosting programs that help young people become lifelong advocates for progressive ideas.


The good news? Millennials seem to be open to free-market ideas because they see the waste and inefficiency of government, according to the Reason-Rupe survey and other polls.


Unfortunately, the same polls show a majority of millennials endorsing government solutions to health care, poverty, and inequality. What is your organization doing to reach this demographic—one that could make or break your policies?

When Elizabeth Stelle moved to Pittsburgh, she was disappointed with the lack of opportunities to come together with liberty-minded young professional peers. Then a research associate with the Commonwealth Foundation, she saw an excellent opportunity to start an America’s Future Foundation (AFF) chapter to fill that gap.

It takes time and effort to manage a chapter, but Stelle found the professional benefits well worth it. “In fact, I’ve been promoted to Director of Policy Analysis at Commonwealth Foundation thanks in part to the event management and coalition building skills I’ve acquired through AFF Pittsburgh.”

AFF’s vision is to permeate the culture among millennials with a love for liberty and create a society that embraces free enterprise, limited government, and personal responsibility. Started in 1995 in Washington, D.C., AFF has expanded to 20 cities around the country. By establishing communities of young people through fun and accessible events, AFF aims to equip influential leaders to become lifelong, effective advocates for freedom. The need is evident.

Several state think tanks work successfully with AFF already. Illinois Policy Institute CEO John Tillman actively encourages his team to expand AFF Chicago and gain skills through its leadership. He notes that their partnership with AFF in Chicago has allowed IPI staff to build skills they wouldn’t otherwise, and reach new audiences with their message. Tillman joined the AFF board of directors in 2014 given his commitment to the mission.

When the Mississippi Center for Public Policy discontinued their young professional program in Jackson, AFF worked with young leaders to convert it to an AFF chapter. Today, Nic Lott, Rebekah Staples, and others bring together millennials in Jackson to learn free-market ideas and develop advocacy skills.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mackinac Center, Civitas Institute, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Pacific Research Institute, Buckeye Institute, Institute for Humane Studies, and others have partnered with AFF to inspire young professionals in the states.

Most recently, AFF has collaborated with the Washington Policy Center in Seattle to supplement their existing education and networking for young professionals through training and interactive skill-building programs.

Elizabeth was eager to learn new skills and build her network in order to improve her policy research and writing. Perhaps your staff has a young professional who wants the same opportunities Elizabeth had. AFF helped her build a Pittsburgh chapter, which has helped both her and the Commonwealth Foundation advance free-market ideas.

AFF invites your think tank to consider utilizing AFF’s comparative advantage and proven model to reach young professionals through a local chapter. You will build the free-market movement in your state, reach a new audience with your message, identify rising talent to hire and volunteer, and offer young staff an opportunity to learn and practice valuable skills.

Elizabeth reports, “Leading the Pittsburgh chapter of AFF is an invaluable opportunity and a critical component of my professional advancement in the think tank world. Through AFF, I’ve been able to meet and build personal relationships with local intellectual leaders, analysts at national think tanks, state legislative staff, and others.”

Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation. You can reach him at