How philanthropists can help social movements for good


Derrick Feldmann


As I’ve worked with causes and organizations, I’ve noticed the willingness of people help those that they don’t necessarily know personally. They react to a story, a symbol and a dream of what life could be. People participate in movements to help others: because those who can’t stand up for themselves need the voice of strangers to be there for them. Social movements – the gathering of people and groups to advance a specific cause – are at the core of who we are as a society.

The social movements for good concept is rooted in the idea of people combining resources to make an issue more apparent and noteworthy. Whilst less known to institutional philanthropy, they provide an opportunity for citizens to organize around an issue, volunteer in local communities, and draw upon their own resources to affect change. Social movements take a substantial amount of human capital to generate interest. Institutional philanthropy is well-placed to build on and contribute to that human capital. Here’s my guide to supporting social movements for good:

Build and Gather a Group of Believers
Typically, the most successful social movements develop a starter audience or group of early adopters. This initial group of believers represent those affected and already organized for a cause as well as immediate circles of influence of close friends, family and peers. A social movement for good in the early phase is essentially a structure for the converted to convene for action around a common theme. This phase can be very challenging for the movement builder because if various groups are being convened, they may represent common yet disparate views on an issue.

Encourage People to Take Action Together
Signing a petition, fundraising and volunteering allow those involved with the movement to organize. These actions allow grassroots organizers to take the crucial step to generate awareness and solicit the support of their peers. At this phase, we begin to see the formations of leadership take shape within communities. These leaders, whether through formal or informal roles, begin to focus their energy on creating easily identifiable and achievable actions. Individuals begin to help spread the word through advocacy efforts and online tools like Twitter and Facebook. Through organized activities, local groups and organizers help the unconverted understand how the issue affects them personally, draw that attention to take an action, and spread the message.

The Pinnacle Action
Although momentum for the issue or cause is growing, a meaningful action is still necessary to draw in a larger majority of the general public. This is what is referred to as a pinnacle action. This action can take many forms. It can represent symbols, actions, activities and events. The social movements for good that have built a viral audience tend to rally around a symbol or activity that is performed by oneself so as to stand out from the crowd. Examples include: wearing a shirt, changing a profile image in social media, or deciding to grow facial hair. This is the peak of the movement and what generates the general public’s interest.

Sustaining the Movement
Activist platforms created by movement builders can help a social movement move from one-time actions to consistent actions. These leaders should create steps for activism to convert ‘cause enthusiasts’ to sustained ‘cause supporters’. The steps can range from online support such as “liking” and sharing to offline engagements like organizing local events and meeting with local leaders and stakeholders. Each step gets the individual closer and closer to the issue while making them feel the movement is closer to achieving its said goal.

It’s one thing to generate awareness. However, it’s another thing to generate the resources to create social change. Philanthropists can help move a cause from talking to action and by helping to supply the tools they need to make that transition. The best way for a movement to change is when philanthropy comes together with people who believe in an issue, make that issue their own and go out and generate the resources necessary to create social change.

Derrick Feldmann is a researcher and advisor on cause engagement. He is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change

Comments (1)

mwadhini Myanza

There is a need to create an organized and sustainable Philanthropy global centre that can bring lasting change to communities as well as provide a platform for networking, learning and knowledge exchange, a source that can bring together philanthropy practitioners from various backgrounds including grant makers, community foundations, fund managers and others who encounter philanthropy in their day to day business. We need to praise good works done by philanthropists in the world as it is the true and natural life of human beings.

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