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The Fundamental Building Blocks of Social Change

By Nell Edgington

There is no shortage of great ideas to change the world. I get countless emails and calls each week from passionate, committed people who see a need in their community, in their world, and have an idea for solving it. But they are frustrated because they can’t find the funding to get their idea off the ground.

Well, funding follows social change momentum. If you lack money it isĀ  merely a symptom of a larger lack of momentum. To create social change it is not enough to be a single person with an idea, or even a single person with an idea and a group of friends.

You need to put some key pieces together to create real social change momentum:

A Significant Problem
It is not enough that you and your friends care deeply about some social ill. It needs to be a problem that is significant enough to get those outside of your world interested. It has to be a problem that a larger group cares about and sees a need to solve. And in order to get there you need to break the problem down. Who has a vested interest in people in Africa getting clean water, or unemployed youth getting jobs, or inner city kids learning to read? Segment the market and think about the kinds of people you need to get on board with your solution. Then go after them.

A Proven Solution
And you have to offer a real solution. Ideas are great, but people don’t invest in ideas, at least not since the dot com bust. You have to stop talking about how great things will be and start piloting the idea. Until you have some results to point to (like changed lives) it will be hard for people to take you seriously. I’m not suggesting that you need a comprehensive evaluation study. But you do need to move beyond “Let me tell you this great idea I have” to some concrete demonstration that the solution you are suggesting has actually worked somewhere and for someone.

A Compelling Case
You must craft your solution and the significant need it addresses into a compelling story. Your passion, enthusiasm and commitment need to be contagious. Some people are born with a natural charisma, and I’ve seen many social entrepreneurs who have it. They believe so strongly in what they are doing and tell such a compelling story that those around them can’t help but join the cause. But if that doesn’t come naturally to you, you still have to figure out a way to break out of the “but it’s so obvious that people should just automatically get it,” and learn how to create a story that convinces people to join.

A Diverse Group
Finally, but most importantly, it has to be more than just you and your friends. Momentum comes from building a committed army of supporters with diversity of experience and networks. While the Occupy movement has some strength in numbers it remains to be seen whether it will actually result in any significant change. This is partly because the movement has not broken through to networks beyond the young and disenfranchised. Until they can get people within the “establishment” to really take them seriously and become as passionate as they are about the ideas behind the movement, I don’t know if they will get any traction.

Passion is an absolutely critical ingredient to creating social change, but it will only get you so far. To build real momentum, and the funding to survive and thrive, you need to assemble a diverse network of supporters who believe in your solution and are committed to seeing it grow.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

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1 Comment to The Fundamental Building Blocks of Social Change

[…] to be the holy grail of the nonprofit world. In order to expand your major donor list, you need a network of more than just you and your fellow staff member. The first place to look is your board. If correctly trained and successfully integrated into an […]

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