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Building an online movement in the era of social distancing
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Building an online movement in the era of social distancing

Digital strategies on how to fight for your cause from the safety of your own home.

The immediate future of large-scale gatherings is unclear, and each day brings new information on how long it’ll be before we can safely return to organizing in person, whether that's through door-to-door canvassing, public rallies, or in-person fundraising events. But one thing is clearwaiting to organize is not an option. The causes you feel strongly about need your help now.

Luckily, the digital tools to adapt your in-person efforts and move them online are available and better than ever. You can adopt all-digital tacticsand make an even bigger impact than you might have thought possible.

Take stock of your supporter base
Bringing your movement online is going to take rigorous organizationthis is a critical time and the last thing you want is for valuable supporters to fall through the cracks. 

If you don’t already have one set up, create an online database where all your information is in one place, ideally integrated with your other systems like your website, communications, and donations. This will streamline your ability to engage your supporters, reach out to them for help, and keep them updated on the latest news about your work. 

This is also a moment when building and deepening your relationships with your community can be a game changer for their long-term commitment to your movement. Your supporters want to feel seen and recognized for their involvementespecially now when they might be feeling isolated and looking to connect. By accurately tracking their involvement with your cause and what they’re specifically interested in helping with (through tools like tags and custom fields)you give yourself the room to keep your communications personalized, and create unique, 1:1 relationships with each of them. 

Equip your supporters
Take this time to onboard any new supporters, or train established ones who are looking to step into a bigger role with your movement. The online format is especially convenient for holding training sessions that can bring in supporters from different cities, countries, and even continents. All your potential volunteers will need is the time and an internet connectionwhich lowers the barrier to entry considerably.

Creating an online training reduces the workload on your end as well. Without the need for a physical space, refreshments, and moreall you’ll need to get your training into the world is an event page, which gives you additional time to spend on the content for your training instead.

Identify what skills you’d like your supporters to have, and use a training to get them up to speed. Whether it’s making phone calls to locals within their community, or leading information sessions on your causenow’s the perfect time to get them excited, motivated, and ready to jump right in.

Re-examine your goals 
A lot has changedand so should the way you measure your success. You might have originally set goals around the number of supporters you’d want to show up to a rally or march. Now’s the time to ask: what do those goals look like for an online effort? Is it the number of people who post an image of themselves on social media holding up the sign they would have otherwise marched with? Or is it the number of attendees that come to a live streamed event that’s replaced your protest? 

Give yourself the space to address that your goals might look a little different during this timeand that’s okay. Most importantly, make sure you’re tracking your progress and sharing it with your supporter base.

Keep your community updated
With so much uncertainty in the world, it’s possible your supporters don’t realize your efforts are still going. They might assume that, without access to large-scale gatherings, you’ve decided to put things on hold. Make it a priority to communicate loud and clear that you’re still goingand you actually need their support now more than ever.

And, as alwayssegment your communications. Your most active supporters might be keeping an eye on your website or social media for updates every day, and if you’re keeping those up to date, they’re likely caught up on this next phase of your efforts. Make sure to address this in your communications to them. This is an opportunity to let them know how much you appreciate all that they’ve doneand ask if they’re willing to take a larger role in your work as you navigate moving things online.

As for your newer supportersget them excited! They let you know that they were ready to be a part of something, so make sure they don’t lose momentum. Use your communications to get them looking forward to being a part of what you’re doing now. If they cared about your cause before, then they’ll care about it now too.

Experiment, and then experiment some more
This is new and uncharted territory for everyoneand we’re all learning to adjust one day at a time. But this also means it’s the perfect time to get outside your comfort zone and try something completely new. With the internet at your fingertips, your local movement can suddenly become globalor your global movement can triple in size. Don’t be afraid to think big. Bold movements create powerful change. And with everyone online, you can absolutely make a large-scale impactit’ll just take some additional creativity.

For example, with in-person strikes not currently an option, Greta Thunberg, who’d previously been organizing worldwide school strikes for climate change, moved these in-person efforts online, encouraging supporters to post pictures of themselves holding their signs at home instead, using the hashtag #ClimateStrikeOnline to raise awareness.

The pandemic has also given rise to more virtual protests, where live-streamed events have replaced large scale in-person gatherings. These events can be as long or short as you’d likesome take place over the course of 24 hours, with special events happening for each global region. Earth Day replaced the in-person activations they’d planned for this year with a 72-hour live stream featuring a variety of influential speakers for the movement, live performances, inspiring presentations on a variety of climate-related topics, and more.

And don’t overlook the power of the internet to help you bring in completely new audiences. With virtual events lowering the barrier to entry, you might find your protest, march or live-streamed event drawing in supporters who, given the right attention and follow-up, will stick around long after you’re back to hitting the streets for your cause.


There’s no right or wrong way to make this transitionbut the most important decision to make is between stagnating due to uncertainty or adapting and growing through it. We hope you choose to keep your movement moving, and we can’t wait to see what you accomplish.


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