Social Change Through Spit and Thumb Socks

Aria Finger is COO of, a nonprofit empowering youth to engage in community service. (Jennifer Weisbord, BFA ’92)

Enter the lobby of’s ­Manhattan office, and you can’t miss the bold lettering on the wall that declares, “Because Apathy Sucks.” Then, meet the youth-oriented organization’s passionate chief operating officer, Aria Finger, AB ’05 — who favors words like “fantastic,” “fabulous” and “amazing” — and it’s clear apathy doesn’t stand a chance around her.

Finger knew when she graduated with a double major in economics and political science that she wanted to work for a socially conscious nonprofit in New York, near her family and friends.

“We make it really easy and fun and sexy and entertaining and social to get involved,” Finger says. Her favorite campaign, “Give a Spit About Cancer,” has found 80 bone marrow matches for those needing transplants.

“I came across this listing for,” she recalls. “I had never heard of it. It was a tiny organization, with just six employees, and they empower young people to take action on every issue under the sun. To me, that sounded so fabulous, in addition to their sort of cheeky, fun, exciting vibe.”

Hired as an associate, Finger contributed to every part of the organization, from running campaigns and business development to forging strategic partnerships and writing web content. Eight years and four promotions later, she has helped build into a powerhouse of youth engagement, with 45 employees, 2.1 million members and a projected $6 million from corporate sponsors, including retailer ­Aéropostale, Sprint and H&R Block.

Finger’s favorite campaign at is “Give a Spit About Cancer,” an initiative to help the six out of 10 leukemia and blood cancer patients who need bone marrow transplants but can’t find a match in their own families. “It turns out that college-aged students have the best bone marrow,” Finger says. “All you have to do is swab your cheek, and you’re on the registry for life.” enlisted actors Chris Pratt and Aziz Ansari, from the TV show Parks & Recreation, to tape a humorous public-service announcement on the process. About 10,000 people signed up for the registry, resulting in 80 matches and 20 bone marrow transplants to date — among them, a 5-year-old girl with leukemia in Texas who was matched with a cheerleader from Chico State (in California). “It’s our smallest campaign, but our most impactful,” Finger says.

Finger is also fond of Thumb Wars, a campaign that urged teens to stop texting while driving. Rather than use fear tactics, which research shows fall deaf on teen ears, employed humor and peer-to-peer communication. “We literally manufactured thumb socks to put over your thumbs. You give them out to your friends if you want them to stop texting,” Finger says. Thus far, has given away more than 80,000 pairs of thumb socks and interacted with more than 220,000 teens in the process.

“We make it really easy and fun and sexy and entertaining and social to get involved,” Finger says.

Building on that considerable expertise in the youth market, launched a new subsidiary, TMI, in June, with Finger as its president. The nonprofit agency consults with corporate brands and nonprofits on youth, social change and technology. Finger plans to split her time 50-50 between and TMI, a tongue-in-cheek reference to “too much information.”

“We run 25 cause campaigns a year, and how many issues are out there: a bazillion?” Finger says. TMI, she says, will enable them to work on so many more causes while providing another steady revenue stream for

Outside of the office, Finger advocates for criminal justice reform, teaches a class at NYU on nonprofit business administration, and loves to hang out with the people she’s close to. On July 4, Finger got married in Brooklyn to Christopher Beattie, who coordinates AIDS/HIV research, at a hot dogs-and-hamburgers celebration for 140 people.

“I have the most amazing group of friends and family here,” Finger says.

Robin Schatz is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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