How can we mobilise people to win campaigns?

Craig Dwyer, 8 November 2017

Campaigning for change is in a period of flux. We need to be nimble in our response. We need to rise to the challenges and embrace new opportunities.

Campaigning is often portrayed as a fight, a battle, a crusade. And it can often feel like that to campaigners and to those directly affected by issues.

People are intrinsically motivated to do good; it is the task of campaigns to mobilise these people and facilitate their action.

But to affect real change, campaigns must go beyond the struggle of those involved to reach people not directly affected. People for whom the campaign doesn’t represent a fight, but rather something that they feel compelled to be a part of or to support.

People are intrinsically motivated to do good; it is the task of campaigns to mobilise these people and facilitate their action. This requires moving from combative concepts to collaboration, listening and empowerment.

Much of the next 30 years of change-making will be shaped by the millennial generation: those born between 1980 and 2000, who by 2047 will be between the spritely ages of 47 and 67.

The Millennial Impact Project found that millennials learn about and donate to causes digitally, that their peers are a critical influence of millennial giving and that they are motivated by opportunities to use and develop their skills.

Increasingly, millennials support causes rather than organisations. To connect with individuals more effectively and increase engagement with the cause, campaigns should use digital platforms to enable and empower supporters to create content that they can share with their peers to promote the campaign’s central message.

Where does that leave civil society organisations? There is still an important role for them to:

  • Frame the cause in a way that motivates people to get involved.
  • Facilitate and enable supporters to take action and become content creators.
  • Be a central hub, providing strategic leadership and oversight.

If we take these as guiding principles to build a campaign for change, what will this look like? As a starting point, charities must draw supporters in with an inviting cause that appeals to their intrinsic desire to do good. Excellent storytelling and issue framing is crucial to converting observers to supporters. It must be authentic, it must demonstrate how things can get better and it must show what role an individual can play in making that happen.

Jean Case, chief executive of The Case Foundation, who produce the Millennial Impact Report, eloquently sums up this type of campaigning as “quick, get to the point, show me where there’s impact, tell me what I need to do in an authentic way”.

Excellent storytelling and issue framing is crucial to converting observers to supporters.

So you’ve hooked supporters with your compelling cause, now how do you get them to take real action? While proactive social media activity will keep supporters informed, new era campaigns move them to deeper engagement by providing opportunities for collaboration where they can create content and tell their own stories about what motivates them to support the campaign.

This type of engagement is vital in encouraging supporters to influence their peers to become involved. What would make you stand up and take notice? Your friend sharing content from a campaigning organisation or content created by your friend about why that issue is important to them?

Authentic campaign messages by supporters to their networks reach more people and incentivise more action. Content created by individuals, stakeholders and other campaigning groups can also be supported and shared by organisation accounts.

Empowering supporters to become content creators requires strategic leadership from campaigners to frame the cause and develop the narrative, then to open it up to participation. Having a bank of engaging, relevant, informative and shareable content that promotes key campaign messages and activities sets the tone of the campaign, inspires others to get involved and ensures that they can be on-message. People want to participate – your campaign should be concerned with making it as easy as possible for them to do so.

Providing a spectrum with different levels of engagement and various points of entry encourages participation. Some people may want to show support by simply changing their social media avatars, others may want to donate online or even make a video. However supporters want to participate, it’s important that they can.

Craig was the social media director for the Yes Equality campaign for civil marriage equality in Ireland. He was recently awarded a fellowship to conduct research for the Social Change Initiative on using digital and social in campaigning.