How Change Happens

Photo by Doug Haslam (Left)

There’s a belief that a Like or petition signature doesn’t mean anything. Critics slam this behavior as slacktivism.

That’s pretty bad news for those of us who have committed to making change happen in our personal networks.

We use vehicles like walkathons, banquets and other fundraisers, petitions, social network updates with asks, requests to share information online, volunteer days, even flash mobs to get people to act.

Yet, we hear these individual acts like a $10 donation or a “retweet” on Twitter are dubbed slacktivism.

But moments of time online, fundraising events, and/or days of action do create change.

First of all, when done together as a community we can create statements.

For example, when someone like Doug Haslam, a friend of mine in Boston, raises money for cancer research by taking on a 100+ mile bike ride, we see someone make a statement about a cause. We become more interested. Perhaps we share Doug’s story, comment on a post he writes, even donate.

These acts are often dismissed as slacktivism.

Has Doug failed in his efforts to convince us to help him, and maybe even fight cancer ourselves?


As a result of Doug’s actions to raise $10,000, we–his friends–have been influenced.

According to Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication:

  • — We are twice as likely to volunteer their time (30% vs. 15%) and to take part in an event or walk (25% vs. 11%).
  • — We are more than four times as likely to encourage others to contact political representatives (22% vs. 5%), and five times as likely to recruit others to sign petitions for a cause or social issue (20% vs. 4%).
  • — We are as likely to donate to a friend’s cause as someone who does not engage in peer-to-peer networking.

Let’s go back to peer-to-peer influence. We can see how Doug’s acts have changed us.

Now we take up action to fight cancer, and choose to influence our own tightly knit social networks. Mutual friends will now see two people fundraising using events. Perhaps two more join us. Suddenly, you have a significant minority, an early adopter group of fundraisers in a relatively, tight knit group of people.

The change bug has been injected into the network. Influence grows with more voices amplifying the message, creating a safer movement for those who are on the fence.

7 thoughts on “How Change Happens”

  1. Thank you Geoff. I absolutely agree that the slacktivism term gets thrown around a bit too liberally. Just as there’s probably one person who cares about the lunch you just Tweeted about, Liking, sharing, donating, signing up- even and especially wirting posts like this- do good, each in their own way. nnnI am grateful to those who donate, but just as grateful for those who can’t for some reason but spread the information to their friends (some of whom may donate), or even simply wish me well (encouraging me to continue to ride and work harder to raise money), perhaps sharing their own story about cancer in the process (more motivation to stay involved). nnnDon’t underestimate the smallest action, as ithey can easily lead to the bigger ones.nnn(and if I’m allowed to share my Pan-Mass Challenge link here, it’s http;// – they give us until October 1, maybe we can reach $10,000)

    1. You’re a great example of a social fundraiser who goes the distance to make things happen, Doug. So glad you shared your link, and keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks for shining the light on this important topic! There are so many factors that play into the use of the negative slacktivism label– some conscious, some likely unconscious. “I’m doing so much! and you’re not” can be self-validating and motivates some to be highly active. Research shows that easy and small actions repeated consistently over a period of weeks lead more successfully to lasting habits. Thus encouraging simple means of participation over time may lead to greater involvement in a cause. Individuals who have divergent networks may find over time that through sharing what they are doing for a cause they care deeply about that they have educated and influenced many to support that same cause, or other important causes. That’s all good.

    1. I think it’s really easy to point fingers at other people these days. I don’t think that’s how winning is done. As you say, it is a self validation criticism, but where does it take you? Into doing nothing. All great things take many small steps. We need to remember that. We need to celebrate small steps.

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