A movement is a group of people working together for a common social, political, or cultural goal. At times, the movement’s focus can be an injustice, an opportunity for change, and even a promotion of a theory or concept. The movement requires a key element to make it move from an idea of a few to an idea of many: people. People play an important role in the movement building of today. People are needed to spread the word of the movement’s success, recruit others to create a larger group, and build the infrastructure to maintain the movement over a period of time.
But that is where the movement begins to either grow into social movement status or wither. If you look at the most successful movements, the movement builders (leaders who are masterminds behind social organizing) create a movement that builds in importance for the public at large, a narrative of belief for the general public, and an onset of relevant and timely stories for the media to pay attention to. The unsuccessful movements of our time lack the relevancy for the general public to care, a broader story of challenge, a need to overcome that the media can report beyond a niche community facing struggle, and, most importantly, the felt need that the time for change is now. Therefore, the movement, while important, doesn’t reach the mass scale of other social movements and will eventually fade as the impassioned organizers begin to see little traction beyond the initial phases of organization.
Why Do Social Movements for Good Matter?
Social movements for good establish a mass platform of action for a population. The social movement for good platform for an issue helps inform and cultivate the awareness necessary to help prevent an issue from affecting more people. Social movements for good have the power to generate awareness to produce results in areas such as public policy and healthcare. The social movement for good space is necessary to drive the preventable measures that help the general population live longer, productive, happier lives
For example, movements on drug prevention, cancer screenings, or tobacco cessation all provide a sense of preventable measures that the general public, once aware, can overcome. Taken in the form of public service announcements (PSAs), media engagement, and small personal actions, this type of social movement is based on individual awareness and personal action—potentially toward themselves or people close to them.
Social movements for good support the interests of a community whose lives are affected by an issue. This group of people is often unable to overcome this issue without the additional support of dedicated community activists and donors. These social movements bring attention to an issue because it concerns a mass of people so great they are hard to ignore. These people need support systems and resources they are unable to provide by themselves and have therefore created institutions built through public support.
Four Phases of Social Movements for Good
Phase 1: Building and Gathering a Group of Believers
The first step in social good movement building is about creating a group of believers. This initial group of believers typically represents the following groups: early adopters, those already affected, small groups already organized for the cause, and immediate circles of influence represented by close friends, family, and peers. The social movement for good in the early phase is essentially a shell and structure for the already converted to convene for a common theme and concept of action.
At times, this phase can be very challenging for the movement builder. If various groups are being convened, they may represent common yet disparate views on the issue. The movement builder creates a major concept and theme, but must understand the smaller issues that niche audiences may have a particular interest in exploiting.
Phase 2: Letting the People Take Action with One Another
In this phase, movement builders have developed the tools and resources needed to help those who are involved with the movement to get organized. Through actions like signing a petition, fundraising, and volunteering, the populace of the movement can take the crucial step to generate awareness and solicit the support of their peers.
At this phase, we begin to see small-group organizing take shape. Small groups begin to form geographically and through shared connections to the issue. In addition, 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 supporting the various groups forming around the issue. They will provide institutional and organizational support to each small group, become a bridge for the movement builder, and craft the localized message or approach for the movement in the niche group they represent.
Phase 3: The Pinnacle Action
After gathering like-minded individuals, people close to and affected by the issue as well as movement builders create a pinnacle action to draw viral participation by the general public. Although momentum for the issue is growing, a notable awareness builder along with meaningful action is still necessary to draw in the vast majority of the general public that has yet to hear or understand the issue.
The pinnacle action is a concerted action taken by the mass public to show support for the social movement for good. This action, either done personally or in concert with others, allows networks to share in the expression all while delivering an educational sign to others that the issue matters to them and should be of the utmost importance to those around them.
The pinnacle action can take many forms. These forms can represent symbols, actions, activities, and events. Each one, in and of itself, helps the community become aware of the issue. 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. Whether it is wearing a shirt, changing a profile image in social media, or deciding to grow facial hair, all actions are outwardly focused to networks and groups of people in an effort to drive attention to the outlier.
Phase 4: Sustaining the Movement
After the pinnacle action and the story in the media is beginning to dwindle, the movement builders focus on the sustained importance of the social movement for good. This means the movement needs to move from one-time actions to consistent actions for the population served. Movement builders at this phase create platforms to move from initial action taken in the pinnacle action phase to ongoing sustained support. This is done through a series of various activism and fundraising approaches.
Movement builders will create steps for activism to convert cause enthusiasts to sustained cause supporters. These steps increase in intensity but offer the individual a chance to elevate their knowledge while also taking actions for the betterment of the population served. The steps can range from taking online activist support such as “liking” and sharing to offline engagements like organizing local events and meeting with local leaders and stakeholders. Each activism step gets the individual closer and closer to the issue while making them feel the movement is closer to achieving its said goal.
A Call to Action
Movements can’t be created just because an organization wants to. This is hard for so many to understand, especially if you exist in marketing or fundraising where the expectation by so many boards and executive leaders is that you will create awareness and, optimally, a viral awareness about the cause and organization. In reality, that can’t be manufactured alone or without the interest of the people you represent.
If you are an organization or leader seeking to be part of or even lead a movement, rather than trying to create one ad hoc, you should consider performing the following…
Be with the people you represent in the issue.
This is an opportunity for you to go out and listen, feel, and witness what the people you serve are dealing with. Find commonality among them all. They are the ones who need to come together through you and not for you. Discover the prominent issues they are dealing with that you can’t yet overcome without some public assistance. Those are the issue concepts that you can use to create the movement you desire. The best part is that it is real, based on the issues and challenges they face regularly—which will ultimately help you better tell the story of the movement.
Challenge yourself to remove your organization’s name.
This could be one of the hardest tasks you will ever find from being a movement builder. The work you are to perform is not about your name, your brand, or the staff or board that you are a part of. Work with the people who need your organization to be a conduit for them to gain public traction and make your organization secondary. This is about the people and the issue, not about the organization. As you create materials, assets, and other external opportunities for public engagement in the movement, help them understand the purpose and act that will tilt the narrative in a new direction. That is your goal. Your work and your organization’s name will shine through if you help the individual, the movement participant, play an active role in making the narrative change. They will find value in what you stand for rather than the name and brand you represent.
Social movements need an end outcome—awareness is not one of them.
The best social movements need an actual outcome to point toward. They need to be defined in order to bring people together. Without an end outcome in sight, a common goal that can be achieved, a particular policy, benefit, offering, skill, talent, or opportunity to bring about, the people are likely to lose interest. A faulty social movement focuses on the awareness of the entity rather than an outcome for the people. Helping people come together is not by itself an outcome. Because once together, they need a common goal and output all can rally behind and be a part of.
Ignore technology first—use it as a tool.
This sounds funny given the environment of today’s social activist. But for all the movements that have been successful, they have all used technology as a tool and not as an outcome of the movement. They didn’t create a viral video just because they wanted to. They created a viral video after they determined what the people of the movement needed to bring them together around the concept and to show the real individuals affected. Technology is a great tool and resource, but it can sometimes crowd our thinking before we can even define what a proper movement is. If you find your board, staff, friends, and family saying to you, “We need to create a viral video,” challenge them to talk about the story first and why it is important to the people who will care and join in. Sharing a viral video is a step in a movement to show support; it is not the result of the effort.
Social movement leaders know that social issues require believers to make people act.
In the time spent with social movement builders, the need to find people who can help participants act became apparent. The talent and staff of the organization are great at bringing people together online and in person. The team as a whole is what supports the movement, and every team member has a role in making someone feel as if the movement belongs to them. From the way they answer the phone, to the email they send to a constituent, the movement doesn’t belong to the staff but to the people, and the people need the support of the staff in order to make their coming together a reality. Without someone willing and able to support the community and tell their social movement builder or leader that the community won’t like this, the movement will fall apart.