Social Change Anytime Everywhere

Allyson Kapin & Amy Sample Ward

256, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2013

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There are many ways to share your message with supporters, call a community to action, and ask for feedback or support that will ultimately help you spur social change. Organizational communications are increasingly personal and direct, thanks to social media platforms and the prevalence of public access points. Yet despite the increasing number of methods for reaching out to and communicating with your constituents, certain guiding principles remain the same. Like houses, there are many different architectural styles, but certain elements are critical to structure—no matter what, the walls must support the ceiling and the doors must align with their frames. Whether you have a modern brownstone, a farmhouse, or a large Colonial style home, there’s a foundation under the floor, nails and screws joining pieces of wood, and insulation in the walls and ceiling.

The same is true for campaigns, appeals, and for building a movement. During our work with organizations of all sizes and missions, we’ve identified five principles as integral to a structurally sound campaign or movement. These five principles are the “make it or break it” checkpoints, regardless of whether you are a community group or enterprise-level organization, creating a political or advocacy campaign, or launching into short-term or year-round fundraising efforts.

  1. Identify your community from the crowd
  2. Focus on shared goals
  3. Choose tools for discovery and distribution
  4. Highlight personal stories
  5. Build a movement

Keep these principles in mind as you develop your strategies and communications. In the preplanning stage, let these principles shape your decisions about audience, voice, and which platforms to use—they will help you and your colleagues navigate many conversations and add focus to your strategic planning.

You should also use these principles during the active phase of events, campaigns, and projects. As anyone who has ever sent out an email to more than one person or who has organized an event knows, your work only increases after you hit the send button. As the reach and traction of your message grows, you need to evaluate and evolve your work continually to ensure that you are still on target. You need to make changes to reflect any shift s in your community, goals and accomplishments. These principles serve as reference points for that reevaluation of your work during the active phase, and also afterward.

Regardless of the channels you use or the goals you set, these five principles should influence the way you operate and contribute to the potential success of your endeavors. Let’s look at each of the principles in detail.


The words community, network, and crowd are often used interchangeably. They are not, however, interchangeable. These three words indicate very different segments of people, and you should use them to denote not just whom you engage and communicate with, but also how and why.

Your Community

The ring closest to your organization represents your community. This is made up of people you can contact directly. Their email addresses, phone numbers, or mailing addresses are in your database. They receive your email messages and appeals. Maybe they attend your offline events. There is nothing preventing you from communicating with them directly.

Your community members have opted in to engaging with you. That opt-in comes in various forms—for example, maybe they signed up on your website to receive email updates from you, “liked” your Facebook Page, or subscribed to your YouTube channel. If you buy a list (that is, you acquire new names and contact details from similar organizations or campaigns), those new “names” aren’t part of your community until they confirm their participation or connection.

Your Network

The next ring represents the people who are just one step farther out from your organization: your network. You can make some educated guesses about the people in this category—they tend to be the family, friends, colleagues, and coworkers of the people in your community. Your messages, information, and updates reach your network through your community. Your community members are the messengers, not you. The community may share your links or posts via Facebook; they may let their friends and family know that they support you or donate to your campaigns. Maybe your organization creates and posts beautiful, compelling photographs that community members enjoy sharing across the web, or printing and posting in their office or home. Whatever the content or platform, your messages move through the community to the network. And when members in the network find a message interesting, exciting, or compelling enough to sign up for your email list, like it on Facebook, retweet it on Twitter, or subscribe to your organization ’s blog, they convert themselves from a member of the network to a member of your community.

The Crowd

The last ring, farthest out from your organization, represents the crowd. In the most general and literal sense, the crowd is everyone else—the whole world.

However, in planning and evaluation, the crowd comprises all the people we hope to reach who aren’t connected to us through the network. The way we communicate when we speak to the crowd is very different from the way we speak to the community—we can’t be as personal and are guessing at how to make our message relevant. The crowd is the biggest segment, but that doesn’t mean it is the most influential or most important of our multichannel strategies.

Information about online networks and the web shows that you should focus on how to best tap the power of your community and network to spread your message, and not overestimate the chance of the crowd stumbling across your message and distributing it for you.

For example, if your organization were the Northwest Indiana Times, a regional newspaper, you would not actually engage with every member of your service area, since that could reasonably translate to every resident in northwest Indiana and even the southeast suburbs of Chicago—you don ’t know who they all are or what they all do. Your community is thus composed of the people who subscribe or buy papers, connect with your reporters or stories by following them online and commenting on posts to your website, and attend your offline events. Their friends, colleagues, coworkers, and family are the network—the people you reach through your community. The network knows about you but isn’t yet directly connected. Maybe a friend of someone in your community told them about a story or a featured series they read recently, or they have family members who attend an annual event sponsored by the paper. The crowd is everyone else who lives and works in the neighborhoods in northwest Indiana; yes, they are part of your service area or audience, but you haven’t reached them yet.

Ultimately, you should have a plan for each of these segments of your audience. Communicating with the crowd, network, and the community are very different but can be really valuable to the success of your campaign or call to action. Setting goals and defining your message for each group at the start of your process will help you effectively engage with each group.

The core elements in building relationships with the crowd, network, and community are time, action, and people. You can use these three elements to help you identify the various options for any given engagement.


Is this a one-time or sustained engagement? Is it just an event, and do you have the capacity to maintain or support a community around it once the event is over? Recognize the limits or options within your organization—what capacity do you have to maintain the action you’re considering?


The action you want people to take—remember, even if your message or campaign doesn’t have a “call your Congress person” or “sign this petition” action, you are still asking them to do something. Actions can be passive or active. An active call is more appealing to your community and less appealing to the crowd, because the community members already know you, trust you, and have opted in to support your work. This kind of action might include sharing a personal story or experience, recruiting a friend to join the campaign, or signing up as a volunteer.

Similarly, a passive action isn’t very interesting to your supporters, considering that they are already taking passive action by following you on Twitter or signing up for your email list or campaigns. But a passive action can be attractive to the crowd if it is simple and provides value directly. For example, posting an infographic showing important facts about a piece of proposed legislation provides valuable information to someone whether or not they know about your organization; and it is an easy request to ask people to share it with their friends. These actions are usually things that the community may do as a way to show they are listening and connected but can be of more interest to the crowd because of a focus on a larger topic, news story, or even an interesting issue.


Who do you need to reach? Is it the crowd, community, or a hybrid? It is important to have a plan for each segment and an understanding of what your message is for each group. You may run a campaign or promote a targeted call to action to your community that asks a lot of their time, energy, or support. During that same campaign, a message for the crowd would focus on sharing information or learning more about the focus of the campaign—things that require less commitment.

Opportunities for your organization to build trust, catalyze action, and affect change exist at all levels of the human landscape. To be successful, however, it’s crucial to recognize which group to target, how to communicate, and what to say. Some of the best metrics of success are the size and engagement level of the community ring. Is it growing? Are people taking on more responsibility and leadership? Are you increasing the number of people who are volunteering or stepping up as champions of your cause or superfans? It’s important to achieve a balance between your goals for crowd-to-community conversion and your goals for leadership development within the community.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Social Change Anytime Everywhere by Allyson Kapin and Amy Sample Ward, copyright © 2013 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Read co-author Amy Sample Ward's introduction to this text.