If there is one itty bitty silver lining to everything happening right now, it’s that we are seeing more people engaging in social justice, especially online. And they’re taking concrete action. Across my social feeds, I’m seeing more people than ever asking their friends, family and colleagues to sign petitions, call their local representatives, attend protests, or make donations to a cause.
It’s encouraging to see people taking concrete, meaningful action at times like these, instead of stopping at a vaguely supportive social media post. Donations, calls, petitions, protests — these are the activities that catalyze change.
That said, for many people, this is their first time taking social action online. Just like anything else, it’s not a skill that you instantly pick up. You learn it over time.
It happens to be my specialty.
I’ve spent my early career promoting non-profit causes through digital channels. In so many ways, promoting social causes is tougher than traditional corporate marketing. You’re still trying to persuade the audience to act, but you need to do so in a way that honors the cause. It gets complicated.
As with anything on social media, authenticity matters here. Successful fundraising posts are honest and vulnerable. They explain to the audience why the cause is so important and why they should care. When people donate to your fundraiser, it’s because they feel connected to you, and therefore feel invested in your cause by extension.
But it only works if you effectively express why the cause is significant to you. That’s where a few marketing techniques from the non-profit biz can help you out.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Start with why
By now, most of the world has seen Simon Sinek’s viral TED Talk where he discusses the importance of starting with why you do something instead of what you do. If you haven’t, or just want a quick reminder, take a few minutes to watch it.
Here is what Sinek’s advice means in the context of your social media post. Instead of starting with “I’m asking my friends and family to donate to XYZ charity” try leading with your ‘why’ — the reason why the cause is important. Tell your network why the issue matters, then work back to how we can help and specifically what they can do.
Try something a little more like this: “The pandemic has led to a significant uptick in gendered violence and intimate partner violence in our city and across the country (why). We can help women and children escape situations of violence, poverty, and homelessness by supporting shelter programs in our communities (how). Consider sparing a few dollars to support XYZ charity, which provides short-term housing and support for women, trans, and non-binary folks here in the city (what).”
Center the cause
Make your post about the cause — not about you. Rather than start with “I was horrified by the events over the past few months” start with “Police violence has left a legacy of trauma in Black communities. It’s time we did our part to fight anti-black racism.”
Remember, you’re an ally in this situation. Shift the focus to the people experiencing oppression and trauma. Center their feelings and their needs.
Provide a call to action that people can act on immediately. Make your CTA as specific as possible and give clear instructions on what you’re asking. Instead of, “We should all try to support causes that help BIPOCs,” say, “Click the link below to donate to XYZ, a fund that provides bail funds for protesters arrested in the northwestern US. It only takes about three minutes to donate by PayPal or credit card.”
Illustrate the impact
Give your audience a meaningful illustration of how their donation will help. Most charities have impact stories and videos available on their website. Post those too, sandwiched between your appeals for donations and signatures. For many who are considering supporting a cause, seeing the real people affected by their gift is the motivation they need to donate or volunteer.
Take some time to show gratitude. Thank front line workers, activists, and organizers. Perhaps post a special thank you to the person who first educated you on the issue or share your appreciation for everyone working in a particular field to help others.
It can be easy to get caught up in the details — posting articles, replying to comments, finding the perfect info-graphic — and forget the big picture. Practicing gratitude helps to realign your thinking to focus on the purpose behind your social action.
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Of course, I’m still learning too. Over the course of the past few months, there have been dozens of times that I’ve had to rethink everything I know about social action, allyship, and my role in creating change. But that’s a good thing. Taking action requires continual learning and re-learning — it’s all part of the process.