Let’s say you have a really great idea. And not just any great idea – one that’s not only revolutionary to your industry, but one that also has the potential to create broader positive change. So how do you start? What do you do? How do you turn your idea into a social movement for good?
You probably come up with a name for your idea and you put together some messaging, like a mission statement or a tagline. Then you start talking to your friends and family, who tell you to create a logo and a brand guide. You develop a website, create some social media accounts and a hashtag, and start telling other people about your great idea and how much good you’re going to do, if only they’ll join up with you.
But then your idea fizzles.
Why? Maybe your great idea wasn’t actually that great. Or maybe you simply needed to take a different approach to building and creating the momentum that would propel your truly great idea into a long-term, effective social movement for good.
What is a social movement for good?
In its plainest form, a movement is a group of people working together for a common social, political or cultural goal. Movements can focus on an injustice, an opportunity for change or the promotion of a theory or concept. Whatever the focus, all movements require one key element to be transformed from an idea of a few to an idea of many: people.
A movement becomes a social movement when it requires collective power beyond small-group organizing to build and sustain long-term change. Social movements for good take this process one step further as they are based on generating support for the benefit of an aggrieved group. So while social movements typically strive to generate policy or cultural change, social movements for good work to generate awareness and enact change for an underserved issue or population.
Social movements for good establish a mass platform of action, which helps cultivate awareness in order to prevent an issue from affecting more people. True social movements for good have the power to generate awareness that produces tangible results and helps improves quality of life.
How does one person’s idea become a social movement for good?
Social movements for good begin with a leader or social movement builder and then require a substantial amount of human capital to generate interest or mobilize people who share established common interests. Typically, these movements begin to develop a starter audience or group of early adopters. This group inspires additional followers to join the movement in fighting for an issue, generating awareness and/or helping the targeted population. From there, the group begins to accelerate by using public tools that build mass awareness and drive viral participation in an action or activity. This is the peak of the movement and what generates the general public’s interest.
Ideally, once the public’s interest is piqued, the movement maintains its position and sustains ongoing actions through awareness, messaging and activities that detail the ever-growing success of the movement. This helps create a cycle of generating and building interest, heightened participation and sustained long-term growth. Over time, the movement continues to progress and becomes a long-term solution.
What makes a good social movement leader?
In my many discussions with the leaders and builders of today’s most successful social movements for good, I’ve noticed a number of qualities these leaders share. All of the effective leaders I’ve spoken with understand the importance of the following characteristics and actions.
1. Have a proposed outcome.
Before you start talking to and recruiting supporters, know where you’re going. Is your goal to provide clean water to those in need? If so, how are you going to get water to those in need? To truly distinguish your cause as a social movement for good, outline a clear path to tangible results.
2. Be with the people.
Being a leader doesn’t mean sitting behind a desk; it’s important to be out among the people—both those who are working to create change and the beneficiaries of the movement. Make an effort to understand how your supporters want to generate awareness and create change, as well as what is actually needed to enact change in the population you’re trying to serve.
3. Don’t rely on technology.
A hashtag doesn’t equal a social movement. Technology can help spur conversations in the digital sphere, but how does that actually make an impact on the ground? Find others whose interests align with yours by talking to them in person and growing support before taking things online. Always view technology—even social media, a website or digital ads—as a tool to enhance your offline presence rather than the only driver of your cause.
4. Connect via empathy.
As humans, we have an innate instinct to help others whose welfare may be at risk. Don’t just talk about your cause with others, show them the faces and tell them the stories that will help them connect with the issue.
5. Build believers.
Fundraisers and organizations often think the most important thing they can do to grow their movement is to get people to join or “belong” to it, which typically means only those who are able to donate time or money. However, if you build a movement in this manner, the participants will not be personally tied to your cause. Today’s social activists, supporters and donors want to be a part of causes they believe in, If you create opportunities for supporters to talk, share and express their beliefs, they will be more likely to take tangible actions.
6. Be authentic.
People can tell when movement builders are inauthentic. The successful development of a movement for good hinges on the leader’s ability to genuinely connect with the challenges people are going through. Authenticity builds the foundation of social movements for good.
7. Remove yourself.
Your social movement for good isn’t about you. While it may have been your great idea, a movement becomes successful when the supporter feels directly connected to those he or she is helping. Your cause is the conduit, not the middle man.
8. Make it about others.
If your social movement for good is truly successful, there will likely be a point where your vision no longer really matters. What will matter are the various visions and actions of your movement’s followers. Movements are what you make of them, and those who come together for the success of a common purpose should be considered a win.
Whether you create a movement in your neighborhood with 20 people or with 20,000, the social movements you create—no matter how big or how small—can change the world for the better. Social movement building is an exciting opportunity for anyone who believes they can help bring people together for a common good. Leaders of social movements for good should unite people with common interests and then help them acquire the tools needed to create meaningful change.