How to Engage, Inspire, and Inform
Getting engaged in social good can be a daunting task. There are so many ways to interact with nonprofits, social or political causes, and volunteer programs, that it can be incredibly difficult to know where to start. Luckily, I’m here to help you brainstorm ways to interact with the causes that are near and dear to your heart, even if you’ve never participated in a social good campaign before.
We live in a powerful and exciting time when it comes to social consciousness. People are more willing than ever to get up, get out, and get heard when it comes to causes they care about. It’s finally becoming popular to take part in social action, and more and more of us are feeling ready to stick our necks out and take part in something bigger than us.
However, being willing to participate does not always translate into participating. Many people I’ve spoken with want to participate in these campaigns, but don’t know how to get involved with causes they’re familiar with, or how to find reputable organizations to work with and donate to.
It can be difficult to separate the signal from the noise, when it comes to social action, and there aren’t too many people around to help you decide -- in a neutral and unbiased way -- what the best way for you to support your cause is.
First, a disclaimer: we here at mGive support anyone who takes part in raising their voice to speak about their beliefs. We are a diverse company, comprised of Hillary supporters, Trump supporters, and Bernie supporters; socialists, free-market libertarians, by-the-book conservatives, and die-hard progressives. Our office is staffed by 5th generation Americans and 1st generation American immigrants. We engage each other in lively conversations about politics, culture, religion, and social problems, often over a lively game of ping pong. In short, we here at mGive encourage you to engage with social good campaigns that you believe in, regardless of what those beliefs are. We don’t advocate for any particular set of morals, policies, or beliefs, and we don’t ascribe to any partisan system. We simply want to see people get up, get out, and get active, and tell the world what they believe in, as multifaceted individuals, with multifaceted beliefs.
Phew! Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how to take action!
There are dozens of social campaigns every month, thousands of nonprofits to donate to, and hundreds of ways to take action in your city and around the nation. Determining which ones are responsible and worthwhile can be difficult. Luckily, the internet has made it easier than ever to research all of the different ways in which you can engage.
For nonprofit research, GuideStar will be your best friend. With a free account you can look at almost all US-registered nonprofit’s financial information, who they work with, who controls their boards, and more. You can use Google and Wikipedia to learn about the people on these boards, and ensure that they represent your values.
If you’re wary about participating with a nonprofit, try some crafty Google searches to unearth any negative publicity. Try searching “[Nonprofit Name] scandal” or use similar terms to find any unfortunate stories surrounding that organization. Be mindful of where you’re getting your news from if you do this, and be conscious of any bias by the writers. If there are no results on the first page, the nonprofit is most likely (generally speaking) blemish-free.
Have you tried googling Text to Give?
An important note: do not obsess over a nonprofit’s overhead. Nonprofits need money in order to function, and it is unrealistic to expect the biggest nonprofits to spend $0.95 of every dollar on their cause. Focus instead on the raw total being spent on their cause. If a cancer-research nonprofit only spends $0.40 of every dollar on their cause, but their total income is $100 million, that’s still $40 million being spent on life-saving research. Conversely, a nonprofit spending $0.90 of every dollar on their cause, while only raising a total of $5 million, will have a less measurable impact despite their lower overhead.
Similarly, crafty Googling can help you determine who is in charge of organizing social action campaigns that you’re considering participating in. If you want to attend a march, but want to ensure you are not tacitly garnering publicity for an organization you don’t agree with, Google “[March Name] Organizers,” “[March Name] Leadership” or “[March Name] Sponsors.” This can help you identify the people in charge, and some simple further research can help you learn about what they stand for.
2) Show Up
As I said before, wanting to participate is easy. Now that you’ve done your research and picked the organizations that you want to engage with, dedicating yourself to the point of attending their events is the next step on the road to social activism.
First, make sure that you stay in the loop when it comes to events. Subscribe to the nonprofit’s facebook page, RSVP to the event invitation, join their email or mobile subscriber list, or follow their social media profiles. Make sure that you’re seeing their updates.
Some social platforms, like Facebook, artificially constrict who sees posts from certain types of pages. So, if in doubt, make sure you go to their page and confirm that you are “following” or “subscribed” to that page’s updates.
Please ignore the fact that my Facebook is in Pirate language.
Make sure that you RSVP to events you’re interested in. And please, if you RSVP “yes” to an event, make sure you show up. Organizations use these “yes” responses to plan food, drinks, chairs, and everything else surrounding an event. Don’t feel guilty for changing your RSVP or for saying no, just be honest! It helps make the whole process run smoother.
Once you’ve found an event that you’re interested in, the next step is simple: show up and get involved. Volunteering your time and energy is incredibly valuable to the work of a nonprofit. They depend on your time almost as much as they depend on donations, as volunteers help them get work done without having to raise their overhead or coordinate an overwhelmingly large staff.
It’s difficult to overstate the feeling of satisfaction that comes from volunteering for a great cause that you believe in. Get out there and start doing things. I promise it will be worth it.
Voting with your wallet is about as American as it gets. In today’s digital world, there are myriad ways that you can invest in the nonprofit and social good sector.
One way is to quite literally invest in companies that give philanthropically, or take part in social good work around the world. Some apps, like Motif, can help you invest in these companies. Motif curates company’s social good policies, moral leans, and philanthropic efforts for you, and presents you with recommended investments in companies that reflect your beliefs.
If you’re worried about investing in companies that use sweatshop labor, for example, Motif will help you make sure your money is going to companies that believe as you do. Other investment apps like Stash also have portfolios available that are dedicated to responsible labor and social good.
Putting money towards supporting responsible companies encourages them to continue their responsible work, and encourages other companies to make responsible practices a priority.
A more direct way, of course, to invest in nonprofits is to become a recurring donor. Now, I don’t want to undercut the importance of a one-time donation. These are crucial, and help provide much needed funds to a nonprofit in need. However, they stop short of giving a nonprofit the financial security they need to plan and expand.
Recurring donations are more than a passing thought. They are an admission of belief. By signing up to be a recurring donor, you say “I believe in this cause enough that I am willing to sacrifice to see their work continue.” Recurring donors mean so much to a nonprofit, and are vital both to creating new programs and maintaining existing ones.
Think about it like this: having a dependable monthly income helps you plan your vacations, doctor’s visits, new purchases, and maintenance budget, right? Well, in much the same way, a nonprofit depends on a dependable monthly income from their recurring donations to plan spending on things like events, healthcare programs, addiction treatment counselors, professional organizers, and more.
Signing up as a recurring donor make you more than a financial backer: it solidifies you as a member of the cause.
4) Discuss Often
People often question the benefit of discussing social good issues. I often hear justifications along the lines of, “well, if you’re not even doing anything about it, then there’s no point in talking about it. You aren’t accomplishing anything.” These arguments drive me insane. Let me tell you why.
Conversations matter. Conversations drive social action and lead to universal acceptance of what were once fringe ideas. We see it everywhere, for good and bad: the more something is talked about, the more people pay attention to it, the faster it is accepted as a mainstream idea or an important point of consideration.
From LGBT rights to the alt-right, once something is noticed and discussed by a huge amount of people, it starts to become accepted as a part of everyday life. Now, the debate could certainly be made over which conversations are good and which conversations are bad, but the point is to keep having them. History will decide which conversations were worthwhile.
According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of adults either often or sometimes hear news for the first time from ordinary people they interact with every day, either instead of, or in addition to professional news sources. By discussing social good issues, talking about campaigns you are participating in or interested in, and engaging in debate and conversation surrounding these topics with your friends and family, you can help bring awareness of those campaigns to people who otherwise might not have heard about them.
Bet they're discussing some sweet social action.
The same rule applies to social media. By sharing on social media about these campaigns, you can get them on the radar of people who may be interested in taking part in social action, but who otherwise would not know enough about the cause to get active.
This awareness, in turn, can translate into real and effective action. You have the power within yourself to recruit more people to care about the causes that are important to you. By encouraging others to discuss a campaign or nonprofit, become an active donor or volunteer, and share about it themselves, you can help to extend a nonprofit’s reach and donor-base, an action they both appreciate and depend on.
5) Call Your Representatives
As mentioned in my disclaimer, all of this advice applies to anyone, no matter what side of the aisle you fall on.
During the election, I ardently and strongly supported one particular candidate. However, in my messaging to my friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers, I solely advocated on behalf of voting, regardless of who that person was inclined to vote for.
Why? Because I believe in the power of representative democracy; and I believe, above all else, that being Americans means our government works for us.
We have seen, recently as well as historically, the power of organized action. From protest marches, attending town halls, contacting senators and congressmen directly, and discussing issues on social media, legislative action can be birthed from civil engagement.
When you are calling your representatives, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, you are not calling to complain, you are calling to make your voice heard. A senator (or their intern) does not have the time nor the patience to listen to you yell at them. So, be polite. Calmly and concisely state your position, and then hang up. You will be counted on a tally list of calls about that particular issue, and they most likely won’t be writing down your unique comments, so don’t feel the need to be overly verbose.
Don't be her.
If you’d like to get angry, get loud, or speak on a more personal level, consider attending a town hall! That is quite literally what they are for, so show up and get as mad as you’d like. On the phone, however, stay calm and respectful as you address your representative.
It's hard to ignore people when they're staring you in the face.
Another important note when calling a representative is not to waste time calling people who don’t represent you. If you aren’t a constituent of the person you’re calling, they’re much less likely to, quite frankly, care about what you have to say. When you call, mention your zip-code or full home address so that they know you live in their district and to listen to what you have to say.
Try this script when calling your representatives:
“Hello, my name is [your name] and I live in Mr./Mrs. [Representative’s Name]’s district at [your address]. I am calling today to voice my strong support/opposition to [policy, decision, or cause]. I will/will not vote for [Representative] if they do/do not support/oppose this measure. Thank you for your time and have a nice day.”
Short, simple, and effective. Your position will be counted and hopefully will be taken into consideration when the time comes for a vote.
To get in touch with your representative, find their contact information on the House of Representative’s Website. The Senate’s Website will help you locate your senators. Or, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
And there you have it. Taking part in Social Good has never been easier. Now that you know how to research worthwhile causes, locate and attend an event, invest in social good campaigns, discuss important issues, and get in touch with your representatives, you have everything you need to make your beliefs heard. Get out there, and get active: I’ll see you on the picket line.
p.s. Are you a nonprofit or social good campaign manager? If so, connect with us to learn how to attract new donors, implement a mobile fundraising strategy, and expand your reach! Contact us today :)