Working with companies and organizations across the country to study cause engagement, one thing I’ve noticed (and that surprised me at first) is how people tend to help those that they don’t necessarily know personally. They may be reacting to a story, a symbol and or an issue they feel needs addressed. People participate in movements because those who can’t stand up for themselves need the voice of strangers to be there for them. Social movements are at the core of who we are as a society.

The “social movements for good” concept is based on raising the awareness of an issue to generate support for the benefit of an aggrieved group. This concept is also rooted in the idea of a group of people combining resources to make an issue more apparent and noteworthy. Social movements for good provide an opportunity for philanthropists and the public to organize around the issue, volunteer in local communities where that issue may be prevalent, and draw upon their own resources to affect change.

Social movements for good take a substantial amount of human capital to generate interest.


As a nonprofit pro, you need to focus on the four phases of social movements for good:

  1. Building and Gathering a Group of Believers

Typically, the most successful social movements for good begin to develop a starter audience or group of early adopters. This initial group of believers represents those already affected, small groups already organized for the cause, and immediate circles of influence represented by close friends, family and peers. A 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. 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 the issue. Fundraisers need to move individuals from talking to acting, which is why it’s important for an organization to have a grassroots network of supporters.

  1. Letting the People Take Action with One Another

Signing a petition, fundraising and volunteering allow those who are involved with the movement to get organized. These actions allow the grassroots organizers to take the crucial step to generate awareness and solicit the support of their peers. The philanthropic power only happens when the individual believes enough to go out and ask friends to give an asset they find valuable. 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.

  1. The Pinnacle Action

Although momentum for the issue or cause is growing, a notable awareness builder along with meaningful action is still necessary to draw in the vast majority of the general public. Highly relevant issues that snowball into movements often tie in to some event taking place in the news. Leveraging public discourse is crucial for generating a movement that piques and keeps public interest.

  1. Sustaining the Movement

Activism and fundraising are platforms that movement builders create to ensure that the social movement for good moves from one-time actions to consistent actions for the population served. 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 activism 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 entirely to generate the resources to create social change. Leaders need to move the individual from talking to acting in some way and give them the tools they need to make that transition. The only way for a movement to change is when philanthropy is conducted by the people who believe in the issue, make that issue their own and go out and raise the resources necessary to create social change.

Derrick Feldmann

Derrick Feldmann is a sought-after speaker, researcher and advisor for cause engagement. He is the author of the recently released Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change and the lead researcher and creator of the Millennial Impact Project, an oft-cited, multi-year study of how the next generation supports causes, and the producer of MCON, a national annual conference of more than 15,000 viewers that explores whether and how organizations are taking advantage of today’s heightened interest in causes to create movements. Derrick is the President of Achieve, a research and campaigns agency for causes and companies. He regularly contributes to Philanthropy News Digest and Huffington Post.