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6 Things Your Nonprofit Needs to Build a Movement


By Allison Gauss

Men Speaking on Stage

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Every nonprofit organization has a mission, but only a few are able to truly build a movement around their cause. Movember, best known for championing the mustache in the name of men’s health, and charity: water, a peer-to-peer fundraising pioneer, are two shining examples of how a nonprofit’s mission can mobilize a global audience for social good.

At the 2016 Collaborative, Adam Garone, co-founder of the Movember Foundation, and Rod Arnold, the former COO at charity: water, took the stage to discuss what it takes to turn your mission into a movement. They identified six key attributes that they associate with the transformation process. Check out their expert advice and watch the full discussion in the video below.

1. A Great Brand

With so many different organizations tackling social problems, it’s increasingly difficult to stand out from the pack. A strong, cohesive brand allows your audience to connect with your organization and build a lasting bond. And although many nonprofits think they aren’t as “cool” as charity: water, “It’s not just about being cool,” said Arnold. “It’s about having a personality.”

The key is to give your supporters something to identify with beyond the problem you are trying to solve. What does aligning with your organization say about them as a person? If you think through the answer to this question you can use that it to inform your marketing strategy and appeal to your supporters’ identities.

2. A Deeper Meaning

All social impact organizations are fighting to solve a problem, whether it’s cancer, poverty, or climate change. But a movement can’t be built by simply targeting an enemy. To mobilize and engage people, you must remind them what they are working for, not just what they’re working against.

Along with providing clean water to those in need, charity: water has always been about “reinventing charity…reestablishing trust in charities,” said Arnold. Garone explained that while Movember’s aim is to improve awareness and prevention of men’s health issues, their organization is also inspired by movements around women’s health. “We fundamentally believe that if we can nudge some of the negative aspects of masculinity—if we can get men living happier and healthier and longer lives, that it will naturally flow on to a number of women’s rights issues and women’s health.”

3. Personalization

Even though your movement needs to have a deeper, shared meaning, it’s also very important to let your supporters express themselves and make the cause their own. For charity: water, their birthday peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns are an important way of handing the movement over to their community.

Similarly, Movember is designed to create a stage to feature the creative and fun efforts of their fundraisers and supporters. It began with growing mustaches, but over the years, Movember’s supporters have launched many other grassroots fundraising initiatives.

build a movement Movember example

Movember encourages support through all kinds of activities in their Move challenge.

4. A Strong Community

While nonprofit supporters do want to personalize their involvement, they also want to be a part of something bigger. Whatever the cause, supporters want to connect with like-minded people and feel like their collective effort is making an impact. One way charity: water does this is by highlighting their fundraisers and supporters in communications and social media. They use these channel to show that regular people are helping in a big way.

At Movember, this need for community and connection is built into their mission. “One of the key ways we’ll impact men’s health is by getting men more socially connected,” said Garone. “A big part of what we do, both from a cause point of view and a fundraising point of view, is encourage this sense of community.” Movember’s online fundraising platform helps men all over the world share their story and connect.

5. Nuanced Storytelling

The importance of storytelling for nonprofits and brands in general has received a lot of buzz in recent years. But Rod Arnold notes that there are different types of storytelling that organizations must balance. “You want to tell stories about the impact and the great results but you also need to not lose sight of the need. Sometimes, by celebrating the results, you feel like people think ‘Well, they’re doing fine and maybe they don’t need my help.’”

Both speakers emphasized the need to both portray urgency to inspire action and speak transparently about the progress you make. Garone noted that while nonprofits do need to tell these stories, empowering your supporters to tell your story and their own to their personal network is an important tool for awareness as well.

6. Solid Infrastructure

“This comes down to the operations and the people and also the tech platforms that you’re using,” said Arnold. Building a solid infrastructure—a solid foundation, for your organization ensures that you will be able to scale your work and make the most of the support and resources you have.

Garone explains that tech infrastructure is especially important for engaging and activating younger generations. “They don’t care that you’re a charity. They expect the experience, particularly online, to be the same as what it is on Facebook and Whatsapp and Instagram,” he said. Nonprofits don’t have millions of dollars to develop technologies like these, but they can invest in important tools like CRMs and online fundraising software.” These tools will help you nurture donor relationships and make it easier to connect with your organization in a meaningful way.

Whatever your nonprofit’s mission, you need to mobilize your community to solve the problems you face. Movember and charity: water are great examples of organizations that combined these six elements to build sustained movements for social good that captured global attention.

For all of Rod Arnold and Adam Garone’s insights on turning your mission into a movement, check out the full session video, including questions from the live audience.

Attend the 2017 Collaborative

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