The world is full of injustices. Fortunately, however, there are many people out there like you and me, who want to make things better for people stuck in situations they are powerless to effect. But where to start?
How to support social issues that you care about
If you’re a little confused about what makes an issue ‘social’, they are the issues that influence society and are opposed by enough people where they become an issue. Think of issues like abortion, alcohol and drug abuse, poverty, healthcare, education, inequality of all kinds (racial, ethnic, gender, sexual preference, financial, etc).
Do you care about a particular social issue but seems so much larger than you, overwhelming even, and you’re not sure how you can help? If the questions “What can I do that will enable more girls to stay in school in sub-saharan Africa” or “How do I find a group that addresses sanitation problems in developing countries” or “How can I help the homeless in my community”, this list provides 8 ways to involve yourself in the social causes that you care about.
1.) Educate yourself
Social media is a good tool to get information on causes you care about. Follow organizations whose work you admire on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Follow #hashtags on these platforms that mention topics you want to be involved in by going to the ‘search’ area of these apps and typing in a phrase you think may be used, like #genderequity. Look through the results to see if there are any accounts using these tags that you’re interested in following. Contribute to these digital conversations when you can, becoming part of their communities.
The search box can also be used to follow specific organizations, thought leaders, and social issues or causes that you know are of interest to you. Type in the name of something you’re looking for, for example USAID. If the organization or person has an account, click on it, and then click ‘follow’ or ‘like’ on their profile page. When they post something it will now show up in your feed for that app.
Additionally, some social apps like Twitter suggest accounts similar to ones you follow. Use this tool as a way to broaden your information reach – the more cause-related accounts you follow, the more those types of accounts come across your radar.
Spend a few minutes each day looking through your social media feeds and read stories that are relevant to what you want to know more about.
Another way to educate yourself is to go to organization websites, click on their ‘About Us’ pages, read their press releases and other ‘In the News’ articles. Sign up for their newsletters.
Go to websites, look for emails, and pro-actively contact groups you want to volunteer for to see if there’s a need or vacancy you can fill. Often times small NGOs will welcome you as their resources are thin and they can use additional volunteer help to fill in gaps.
I wanted to be involved with a group empowering women and girls in a developing nation. Never a regular Twitter user, I happened to look at my feed one day and saw a story on Girl Up Initiative Uganda, that does exactly the kind of work I wanted to be involved in. As a bonus they were starting Mazuri Designs whose goal is to become a fair trade fashion company. Mazuri teaches sewing skills as a means of creating income and economic empowerment to a marginalized community in Kampala.
I read the story, clicked a link to their website, saw a welcoming ‘If you’d like to volunteer please contact us’ message. Two days later my journey began as a remote advisor to these organizations.
For those of you wanting to be involved in a face-to-face capacity, Idealist is a website database offering volunteer opportunities in your area. Simply do a search for your city and scan the results to see if there’s a match between what you care about and an organization that needs you.
3.) Find like-minded people
Many people are looking for fulfillment outside of their regular schedules of work and family obligations. Look for ways to physically be around people who share your interest in a particular cause. Food pantries, homeless shelters, refugee centers, fair trade and social enterprise associations all offer events or opportunities to get involved with people who share your passion. Does your cause have a Meetup.com group in your city? Does your church support a social issue that interests you?
In-person opportunities to be around like-minded people are great, because of the connections you can make and conversations you get to have that sometimes lead, like bread crumbs on a path, to a destination you hadn’t planned for but are welcome to have discovered.
Also, having a circle of people all interested in the same social issue will raise your own awareness of it and your ability to notice others ways you can get involved in the cause. This is called a frequency illusion, or Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
4.) Identify and use your skills
Make a list of things you’re good at that could add value to an organization and look for groups who need you. If you’re a web developer who’s passionate about gender equity education, search for these nonprofits online, go to their websites, and reach out to ones that need a better, more professional looking online presence. Offer to rebuild their site pro bono.
Remember to take credit for work you do – add volunteer and paid experiences with social causes you support to your resume and LinkedIn profiles.
5.) Put the ‘fun’ in fundraiser
Are you great at getting people to support a cause you’re interested in? Create a fun and interesting way to raise money to support your cause. Bake cupcakes and sell them at your church bake sale. Run a 10K and raise money for beating your personal best time or for each mile you complete. Ask for donations of gently used items people no longer want, then hold a garage sale with profits going back to your cause. Have people over for dinner and a movie, with the theme being related to the cause you care about to raise awareness. Instead of peopling bringing a bottle of wine as a hostess gift, as for a $10 donation instead for your cause.
6.) Organize it
Organize and hold your own event! Care about urban produce deserts in poverty-stricken neighborhoods? Find vacant land, a local group or church to ‘own’ the project, and put out church bulletins and social media announcements to recruit workers. Get seed and fertilizer donations from a home improvement store. Schedule weekly shifts. Train the neighborhood volunteers on gardening essentials. Create a produce oasis that transforms communities.
Be a leader and start your own Meetup group or church event. See if your alumni organization or work colleagues would participate if you did all the planning.
7.) Get media attention
Write your message clearly and connect it to everyday events people can easily relate to to make it news-worthy. If raising money to build a homeless shelter in your neighborhood is your cause of choice, get stats on how that will positively impact your community and the lives involved. Be aware of timing needed for different media outlets. Magazines need longer lead times than online news sites that are updated daily. Reach out to and build relationships with journalists. Research outlets you want to be covered in, and find out which editor or writer is the best fit for your cause. Pitch them your story, follow up to confirm receipt, and if your story fits into their content calendar or they’re looking for an interesting piece on your topic, you could find your social cause getting more exposure in print or online.
Get a job with an organization with a social mission. Socialbrite offers a list of platforms, communities and organizations whose mission is to do social good. Idealist.org is also a great place to look for jobs in your area. The purpose of their site is to connect people who want to do good in the world with opportunities for action and collaboration. Here you can find openings at places like The Greater Chicago Food Depository and Feed America.
9.) Networking with a twist
If you have a job that requires you to go to networking events, add a little personality to your elevator pitch. People love people they can relate to, and sharing some personal info, like a particular cause you are involved with, is a way to be memorable, and possibly also find an ally. The more you put out in the world what you’re interested in attracting, the more likely opportunities are to find you.
If your current level of involvement with a cause you care about is sitting on your couch, frustrated because you don’t know how you can help, I’ve been there and can relate. Try the ideas outlined above to become an active participant in solving some of the world’s problems, bringing more justice to underserved communities, or just letting others who’ve been marginalized know that you care.
Because of whom I follow on Twitter I became actively involved with empowering and educating young girls in Uganda, even visiting the NGO to experience first hand their work and impact. Your desire to be a change maker just the start. Now go use these tips to leave your mark on the world in 2016.