If you work for a charity, chances are your organisation started as one. Take a look at your origin story and you might be surprised. Macmillan was run entirely by passionate volunteers for 20 years. Save the Children’s founder gathered a rally in the Albert Hall, shortly after being arrested in Trafalgar Square. RSPCA began as a collective of passionate reformers in a Covent Garden coffee shop.
It takes two things to ignite movements like these.
- A radical ambition for social change — expressed simply
- Passionate people participating — pooling resources, influencing peers, adding their own creative spin.
I think every charity has both of these things. But are they tapped to their full potential, today?
Now it seems commercial brands are taking a bolder stance for social change; see Jigsaw advertising how much they love immigration post Brexit. Imagine selling that in to your head of marketing! Nike enraged half of America by heroing Colin Kaepernick but saw their profits surge +31% as a result. Every worthwhile idea is met with some level of resistance. But in an age of polarised opinions, perhaps taking a vanilla stance is the biggest risk of all?
Equally, Daily Mail headlines speak of a current climate where the public believes charities are interested in their cash, but not necessarily their participation — a donation at any cost necessary. At the same time technology is allowing people to bypass charities and take social change into their own hands like never before — like the grandmother from Hawaii who started the Women’s March on Washington with a well-timed Facebook event, or the start-up empowering collectives of colleagues to pressure their bosses into pay demands without having to join the union movement.
It should come as no surprise then that a recent Wolf Ollins poll that asked people who they wanted to bring about social change, placed businesses in the lead, individuals second and charities right at the bottom of their list of social reformers.
If we don’t behave like movements, strive for bold social change and allow people to participate — they will simply circumnavigate us, and be the change they want to see in the world, without us.
So how do we regain our movement origins? There is much talked and written about movements, but many don’t go as far as they could. For example the Alzheimer’s Society’s ‘United Against Dementia’ ad takes on the language and imagery of marches and have created a powerful campaign. On the other hand, their Dementia Friends programme sees a group of passionate people participating to change the culture around dementia in their own sphere. This feels like a movement, with one element missing and that is a movement takes on a life of its own. It has the potential to reach faster and further, to save on media costs and let the power of the people spread the word.
Key to powering movements is creating the platforms that let people get involved easily. Great things happen when people come together. Real world connections allow participants to feel they are part of something bigger, they are a chance to form new coalitions and a way of experiencing the brand, cause or outcome. Mumsnet, Guardian and Faber have all seen the impact on their followers and their brand by bringing passionate people together. Despite the fact these new ideas were uncomfortable for the organisations.
In our connected, opinionated age we expect it’s the causes that behave most like movements that will thrive. Our parting piece of advice to budding movement makers? Don’t underestimate the power of creative. From simple actions like the Livestrong band, to iconic symbols like the Red Nose and culture defining experiences like the Tower of London poppies — people get behind powerful ideas. Creating the symbols of your movement that can be worn, shared or purchased allow people to show what they stand for and who they stand with.
With a great idea, a rebellious spirit and a small group of passionate people — you really can change the world.