Working tirelessly toward social goalsNonprofits play a critical role in social change. Whether raising financial or moral support, giving visibility to marginalized communities or organizing activist campaigns, organizations with a social focus make it easier for people to join together and exercise the power of collective voice.
Nonprofits are often ideally positioned to take confusing, frustrating, complicated social problems and turn them into actionable causes. Nonprofits give shape to social issues and break down solutions into manageable goals that can be achieved by groups of dedicated people.
Nonprofits may function as:
- Organizational hubs. Achieving social change on any scale requires commitment, purpose and a healthy sense of outrage. By offering space for gatherings or managing the logistics of a multi-faceted social campaign, nonprofits often serve as all-around community hubs — helping to focus passion into actionable steps.
- Fundraising bodies. Social change requires persistence and capital. Nonprofits can serve as lightning rods to gather these resources under one roof.
- Community catalysts. Social change agitates the social structure, bringing social inequalities to light so needs can be addressed. Nonprofits are often the driving force behind awareness campaigns, active volunteerism and organized fundraising. They set a social goal and work tirelessly in its pursuit, acting as catalysts for equality.
3 steps to social change
Although each cause will require its own custom plan, the road to change typically begins with the following three steps:
Identify the problem
Social causes are determined by the needs of a community. Both start-up and existing nonprofits should regularly take time to identify major problems faced by participants. Conduct research, set up focus groups, mail surveys and ask for feedback. Listen to what the community is saying. Who's hurting? What would make their lives a little easier? What other organizations are trying to help?
Engage the community
Activism begins on the ground. Garner support for your cause by making it easy for volunteers to join. Then, build momentum by promoting awareness and providing opportunities for direct action. Community-focused campaigns can take many forms, including meetings, workshops, performances or other events. What's the best method to connect with your community (either in person or virtually)? How might you partner with other organizations to build even more momentum?
Keep your community engaged for the long-haul by showing how everyday work connects to the larger mission. By taking time to weave your nonprofit's story through every facet of the organization, you ensure that everyone who interacts with your programs understands your social mission.
How will you take action? Options may include:
- Social safekeeping: improving or expanding an existing program
- Social exploring: gathering data, understanding world events
- Social advocacy: organizing participants, staff and the public to take action
Resist the temptation to take on everything at once. Target your focus. Make serious gains in one or two areas, and then move on to the next.
Stanford Social Innovation Review: The networked nonprofit by Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano (2008)