25 Powerful Ways Funders Can Support Social Movements


This blog originally appeared on Inside Therapy

By Solome Lemma

So funders, you want to offer support to social movements? Here’s the essence of what you need to do, boiled down:

  1. Get uncomfortable.

  2. Move more money.

In the 30-plus years that Thousand Currents has been operating in the global philanthropy and social change space, we’ve come to learn intimately the difference between supporting a cause or an issue, an organization or a movement. Here’s our understanding of some of the key characteristics of social movements:

Movements are generally focused on moving systems, structures and institutions toward justice and equity. (FYI, philanthropy is, itself, an institution.) This means fundamentally changing society’s status quo, not just making changes to service delivery for “poor people” (though this clearly remains important and has strategic and tactical importance in movements). 

Movements build community and momentum in response to a specific need or social condition or vision, or all three. They resemble an umbrella, rather than any organogram, including and gathering more and more individuals, campaigners, formal and informal groups, policy analysts, civil society organizations, media makers, etc., all taking coordinated steps.

Most importantly, what differentiates movements from other social good efforts is that they are rooted in and led by “the people.” This collective leadership can take many forms, but it is seen in its accountability to people—not boards nor funders.

Movements are characterized by systemic analysis and agenda in order to take principled, collective, direct action and create targeted strategic pressure. Just as much as they may include joint efforts on policy advocacy, narrative shift, community organizing and mobilizing popular support, movements are phenomena. However, sometimes, they are standalone efforts working to push a new or excluded agenda forward. Movements vary greatly, as the context and the people decide the configuration that a movement takes.

Now, if you still want to keep learning about how to effectively support these ever-moving, sometimes nebulous, and interconnected groups of humans trying to achieve change together around the world, here are some additional insights Thousand Currents can offer on moving with movements in practice.

3. Be clear: Funders don’t start movements. They fund. They can connect. They may convene. They can facilitate (sometimes, if requested to do so). They can encourage. They back, but they don’t build. Building is the work of movement leadership.

4. Don’t predicate your support on a formal organizational registration. Movements take many forms and often don’t fit into bureaucratic boxes. Limiting your funding to a particular structure undermines the emergent and dynamic nature of movements, and stifles impact.

5. Make the case for why YOU (funder) should be the one supporting the movement(s) instead. Be prepared.

You can read the full story article here