News & Resources: review – Crutchfield: ‘How Change Happens’

Leslie R. Crutchfield, How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don’t (Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 2018).

This book is a model for groups striving to make big changes in societal attitudes and practices. Some organizations seeking change have been effective and some have not. This book tells what approaches to do, and what to avoid. She deals with big issues that are daunting and which seem beyond hope for change. But huge changes are possible, this study shows, with a long sustained organized effort that does certain things.

Leslie R. Crutchfield is director of the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at the Georgetown University School of Business. Her previous books are Forces For Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits and Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World, which are guides for small nonprofit organizations and for donors who want their money to have the biggest impact on changing global and national attitudes and practices.


Crutchfield emphasizes the importance of developing strategic partnerships and coalitions with other groups working for shared interests. Often it takes incredible optimism to fight these battles, against an enemy which may seem undefeatable. A campaign must be waged on different levels. Military battles are not won by infantry alone; ground soldiers must be supplemented by artillery, tanks, air power, cyber impact, spying on the enemy, propaganda to weaken enemy willpower, etc. It is the same with social change: a multi-prong approach is necessary.

It is necessary to change individual behaviors, policy, social norms and attitudes. Mass media, technology, and policy are each important levers for change. To change minds, stories must be fact-based as well as appealing to the emotions of people, to be persuasive.

A good example of social change is on tobacco use. Just a few decades ago, smoking was common in offices, restaurants, airplanes, and hospitals. It was glamorized by celebrities, promoted in glossy ads, and endorsed by doctors (many of whom smoked on the job). Big tobacco companies paid off politicians, and yielded enormous influence. An anti-smoking campaign had little money and few committed activists.

Yet, despite the odds, rates of smoking (individual behavior) have drastically declined, and smoking is prohibited in most public places (policy change). The abandonment of smoking is one of the most remarkable societal shifts in both individual behavior and policy change in modern history. It has saved more lives and prevented more disease than any other single campaign.

Another example of a drastic change is on same-sex marriage. In the 1990s, public opinion polls showed large majorities of Americans opposed it, and every state had laws which kept marriage restricted to heterosexual couples. President Bill Clinton, a supposed liberal Democrat, signed the bigoted Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. State initiatives for marriage equality were consistently defeated. Yet, in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be treated the same as other-sex couples. Within a year, public opinion polls showed that a large majority of Americans felt marriage equality was a good thing.

How did these changes, in both individual behavior and policy directives, succeed? How could smoking, one of the most prevailing trends and addictive habits, dissipate so dramatically in public spaces? How could the law, and people’s attitudes toward same-sex marriage, change when it was so fundamentally opposed by politically-powerful religious and conservative groups? While it is certainly true that many people still smoke, and that many bigots still do not accept gay marriage, the changes in attitudes are striking.

Crutchfield and her graduate assistants did much research to find out why some movements succeeded while others did not. Luck, misfortune, and timing had an influence. But for those movements which were successful, progress was “not attributable to the actions of one particular leader or approach … . Changes occurred because of the relentless advocacy of networks of individuals and organizations, campaigning in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and often against entrenched, powerful opponents. In spite of it all, they prevailed.” [p. 5]

The Digital Revolution has brought new ways of organizing, as activists can instantly connect with those sharing similar opinions by the worldwide web. Consumer and citizen scrutiny led many businesses to add social impact to their agenda, in order to attract more customers, retain employees, and lessen criticism of their practices.

At the same time, government has gone in a more conservative direction. “The United States today is the world’s leader in incarceration with … a 500% increase in imprisonment over the last four decades.” [p. 6] This increased imprisonment was not due to increased crime rates, but rather because the “overcriminalization of America …. changes in sentencing laws and other government policies resulted in minor offenders being punished and branded on par with murderers and other felons.” [p. 7]

“Movements are manifestations of the polarizing, contradictory, ever-changing values and beliefs that constitute a democratic society. And they are the engines of change.” [p. 8] “Why some movements catapulted forth to victory while others faltered, had to do with how they were organized.” [p. 10] “Each cause we studied had impressive leaders, strategies, and many of the same campaign tactics. They organized, mobilized, and canvassed door-to-door; they educated, persuaded, and lobbied – and when that didn’t work, they sued, protested, marched, and demonstrated; they held vigils and town halls and prayer breakfasts; they gathered signatures, got out the vote, and some backed political candidates and influenced elections. They raised money and pitched the press. They did most if not all of the myriad things required to move public opinion, shift behaviors, and reform laws, policies, and regulations.” [p. 11]

“The success of winning movements, we found, had to do with their approach and the degrees to which they emphasized certain aspects of their campaigns. It had a lot to do with the strategic choices winning movement leaders made, and how they got their movement’s myriad parts aligned to advance a common cause, despite odds set heavily against them.” [p. 11]

“The best movement leaders had well-thought-out plans, made tough strategic choices, and led from the grassroots up. … Victory would be secured by unleashing that grassroots energy and channeling it.” [p. 12]

The most effective movements have six patterns.

1) They are “fueled by energy that materializes from the bottom up. … Effective leaders let local activists lead. Seeding and growing networks of passionate individuals organized around a common cause is infinitely more powerful. … They do this by fostering bonds between individual members as well as by empowering them to collectively fight for the cause. It can be tedious and time-consuming, but when done right, the investment pays off.” [p. 12]

2) “Successful U.S. movements plow through all fifty states with their change campaigns, rather than focusing only on sweeping federal reforms. They do the yeoman’s work of pushing for improvements at the state and local level, racking up small wins and building momentum incrementally, rather than going for national change at the start.” [p. 12] … “They win big when their grass-tops are organized in networked leadership structures – coalitions of leaders who recognize they need to forge pathways so all of the players around them can collaborate and achieve collective impact.” [p. 13]

3) “Great leaders refuse to choose between either pushing for policy reform OR shifting social norms and individual behaviors. To achieve lasting systems change, movements must change public attitudes so people believe the changes they seek are fair and right. They strive to make the change they seek the ‘new normal.’ Whether emotional, visceral, heartbreaking, or inspiring, winning movements lead with messages that connect with people at their human core. The put the individuals with the lived experience of the problem out in front of the cause. … And they use all the tools – social and traditional media, sophisticated advertising, and old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground organizing – to get their message out.” [p. 13]

4) It is a fact of life that “Movements are crippled by policy disagreements, personality conflicts, territory fights, or scraps over which organization gets the credit. … All players jockey to have their vision for change dominate the agenda.” To respond to this reality, effective leaders are those who can “bring disparate factions together around a common agenda.” [p. 13]

5) Appeal to businesses for support. “Corporations have influenced the outcomes of many movements in positive ways. … Businesses can alter their employee policies, raise their influential voices in public debates, and leverage their brands and customer loyalty, for causes.” [p13]

6) “Be ‘leaderfull.’ Instead of small handfuls of elites dictating to troops from the top down, or an amorphous mob of activists pushing for change from the bottom up, the most effective movements find balance … with leaders who both empowered and encouraged their grassroots counterparts to take action at the state and local level, while helping guide the movement toward collective goals at the national and federal levels through networked leadership. Effective leaders share power and lead from behind, embracing a longterm view…. It’s the main reason why the best movements win.” [p. 14]

Networking with and through other groups in coalitions and alliances is the new strategy in the digital age, in all its messy complexity. [p. 17] “Change happens not by chance. It is determined by individuals and networks that bind together in common cause.” [p. 18]


Any time an effort is made to restrict gun ownership, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is very effective at preventing passage. Its members mobilize at any city council meeting. “They show up, they speak up, they vote – and dutifully persuade family members, neighbors, and friends to do the same. The NRA projects a visible, palpable presence at statehouses, council chambers, and courtrooms across the country whenever a piece of legislation or law related to guns is up for consideration. It is the dutiful activism of … hundreds of thousands of citizens across the country that shore up the phenomenal legislative and electoral victories of the NRA. The NRA’s grassroots organizing strategy is the single most important reason why the movement has been so successful.” [p. 22]

Since the vast majority of Americans support gun control, it would seem that laws would be passed. But, so far, this has not happened on the national level. “The main reason for their defeat nationally is that gun control advocates historically failed to match the scale and intensity of the NRA’s grassroots-fueled movement.” [p. 23]

Effective grassroots activism is “the single most important factor in success.” Another example is the campaign to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples. The campaign leaders of the Freedom to Marry group coordinated local and state ballot measures by successfully galvanizing memberships of major national groups like Lambda Legal, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, National Coalition of Lesbian Rights, Human Rights Campaign, and hundreds of state and local groups. “Likewise, the anti-drunk driving movement was almost entirely predicated on chapter-based strategies of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), RID, and others to mobilize survivors and victims’ families and friends. The modern tobacco-control movement was sparked by grassroots activists who rallied in the 1970s to pass the first community bans in Arizona and Minnesota.” [p. 23] …. “The tobacco-control movement accelerated again with the 1995 launch of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. A national organization created to provide technical support and critically needed resources to state-based grassroots coalitions, the campaign also mounted national media and public norm change campaigns and provided a powerful counterweight to the influential tobacco industry lobby.” [p. 24]

“The polio eradication movement credits its success in large part to Rotary International’s grassroots membership, which puts more than a million boots on the ground through its 30,000 chapters,” [p. 24]

“Conversely, the causes that are faltering can attribute their struggles in some part to weak or uneven grassroots efforts.” For example, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, founded in 1974, focused on passing a gun control bill through Congress. They were not successful because they did not develop a strong grassroots base. … “While many factors fall beyond the control of a movement, there is one thing every movement has within its purview: the care and feeding of its most ardent base of supporters. Perhaps the single most important decision movement leaders must make is whether to let their grassroots fade or to turn their grassroots into gold.” [p. 25] “A successful movement wins when its members are nurtured locally, and simultaneously encouraged and supported to channel their energy into targeted campaigns at local, state, and federal levels.” [p. 26]

Effective grassroots are “collectives of individuals who were part of networks and who gained as much from being connected to each other within the movement as they did from outwardly attacking foes.” A network is a community defined by a common set of values, and creating that should be treated as an end goal in itself. [p. 26] Leaders need to “nurture intense, personal bonds that engender trust and mutual obligation [between members] …. then encourage activists to collectively take charge in their communities to advance the cause at the local level.” [p. 27]

For example, the NRA nurtures its members by organizing events, publishing a magazine and social media. “NRA outings are family affairs, featuring clam bakes and potlucks replete with music, children’s games, and more …. Members are beaconed on the Facebook page to ‘come to this year’s banquet and fight for freedom, family, and the future of the Second Amendment while enjoying a night of raffles, games and FUN!’ … Members of the NRA are a community. They live near one another and hunt together; they often socialize and work together.” [p. 28]

Likewise, MADD works not only to change laws, but also supporting the victims of drunk driving crashes and the victims’ friends and loved ones. “Support circles sponsored by local MADD chapters forge bonds of trust and mutual obligation among people at the most personal level. They provide bereaved and injured victims and their family members and friends what they need most … one-on-one emotional support.” MADD also provides a list of trained victim counselors which it lists on its website. It provides guidance through the criminal and civil justice systems, accompany victims to court, connecting people to others who have had similar experiences, and provide supportive materials to read. [p. 29]

“Most movements require their members to take big risks – advocates are called to stand up to powerful people and institutions and often face criticism. … What fortifies advocates in stressful situations like these are bonds they have with each other.” For example, civil rights protestors doing sit-ins in the 1960s faced physical violence and emotional adversity. “It was because of their strong friendships and mutually felt obligations to one another that they held fast. … The collective strength of grassroots members comes in part from the support they feel and receive from each other, as well as their connection to a larger cause.” [p. 30]

“Grassroots advocates need help coordinating their local actions to advance a larger common agenda. … Leaders need to give grassroots activists the resources they need to succeed: educational and training materials, moral support and camaraderie.” People writing with complaints or suggestions are potential volunteers, so welcome and nurture them. [p. 31] For example, the NRA Grassroots Division is in charge of answering all incoming mail, and was deliberately structured to respond to individual member concerns. They have a member hotline to alert the national NRA of local events. The NRA “envisions its role as largely listening and responding to constituent concerns, and then forging the network so local grassroots individuals can coalesce and take action.” [p. 32]

This is a business model, since “most businesses have elaborate mechanisms for gathering customer feedback and data and for transparently responding to their suggestions and concerns.” [p. 32]

The NRA identifies members in as many of the 435 U.S. Congressional districts as possible, to act as liaisons for help with door knocking, phone calling, material distributions, and other get-out-the-vote efforts….. “They are successful because they don’t just give the grassroots attention when there’s a bill up for consideration; they maintain a visible and constant presence throughout the broader gun-enthusiast community. They visit gun shops, attend gun shows, and show up at hunting clubs. NRA staff make a point of attending many local community forums to “have a continuous dialogue with potential supporters and remind them that their activism is important.” [p. 33]

“Successful movements have at their center a vigorous base of passionate, energetic, and well-organized grassroots support.” [p. 34] MADD chapters appoint their own leaders, raise their own money, and promote their own programs. The national headquarters provides suggestions and resources, packets of information and guidelines of how to respond effectively, with local law enforcement, courts, and legislatures. “Chapters were free to act locally and advance the cause in ways that worked in each community’s unique political, legal, and social context … to encourage and enable the local leaders to assume leadership. ” [p. 37]

The anti-smoking campaign faced the powerful tobacco industry, which bribed politicians at the national and state levels. So the activists concentrated on the local level, where “politicians care a lot more what their voting constituents think. By rallying local activists to show up at even the smallest town council meeting and stand up for their rights” they had a big impact. National groups provided technical assistance to local groups, helping them to pass state measures. [p. 38]

Local activists find out where state legislators go for coffee, or grocery shopping, and bump into them and state their support for their cause. Activists for marriage equality influenced enough state legislators in Massachusetts that the state legalized same-sex marriage. [p. 41]

“Galvanizing a movement requires mobilizing … everyday individuals with the lived experience of the problem at hand. These people are the most inseparable from the cause. They are the most viscerally connected to it. They have the most to lose if a movement fails, and the most to gain if it succeeds.” [p. 48]


In a crucial 2005 meeting, mega-funder Tim Gill, Evan Wolfson, and other activists decided on a state-by-state strategy. In progressive states, they would push for gay marriage; in less favorable states, push for civil unions, domestic partnerships, or anti-discrimination laws. They realized that national laws did not change until a majority of the states had already passed such laws. Women did not get the vote until a majority of states allowed women to vote. The 1964 civil rights act did not pass until a majority of states had civil rights protections. Instead of trying to force consensus from above, this strategy allows each camp to work on what they thought was most important in their state. [p. 53-55] ACLU Director Matt Coles wrote it up in a paper “Winning Marriage: What We Need To Do.” They focused on Massachusetts, mobilizing grassroots volunteers to lobby state lawmakers and turned out voters to support election bids of candidates who would support the right to marry. Then they began campaigns in other progressive states. Meanwhile, attorneys from ACLU and Lambda Legal mounted lawsuits that in 2015 resulted in a Supreme Court decision nullifying the bigoted Defense of Marriage Act. By 2015 there was a groundswell of support for marriage equality in a majority of the states. The incremental state by state approach won. [pp. 56-57]

“The key insight is this: Don’t push directly for any sweeping federal change until a solid majority of support has already been cemented in most of the U.S. states. … It requires resources, discipline, and relentless commitment to orchestrating a differentiated yet coordinated strategy across all 50 states.” [p. 57]

Leaders “conceived of themselves not as commanders at the helm of an army, but rather a coordinator at the center of a network. … They work with and through their peers to drive greater impact, rather than directly competing or trying to go it alone. … Coordinating and supporting the efforts of a wider spectrum of organizations and individuals rallying for the cause, helping them engage in differentiated but coordinated work at local, state, and national levels. … Leaders work behind the scenes coordinating and supporting the work of others around them … [and] providing high-level strategic direction while asking how they can help others around them do things better.” [pp. 58-59]

In Massachusetts, gay activists concentrated on defeating one anti-gay politician to show their political clout. They helped pro-gay candidates run better campaigns, got out the vote for them, ran mail pieces, got people to march in their parades, flooded campaigns with volunteers. They also did research on sitting officials and candidates, unearthing positive or negative information on them. They also identified allies who would speak out for them. They got same-sex couples to share their stories – winning people over personally, capturing their hearts as well as their votes. When an openly gay candidate defeated a longtime incumbent, that result intimidated other politicians.

“The most crucial step for movement leaders is to recognize that a deliberate choice must be made to focus at the local and state levels. … Then they must execute that vision and channel every resource that can be mustered – money, grassroots energy, political connections, policy expertise, and organizing prowess – to lock in those desired wins.” [p. 73]

Young people are rebellious, skeptical of authority, bristling at being told what to do. Effective messages on Youtube tap into that defiance. Campaigns depict repressive authorities as profit-hungry manipulative domineering adult establishment types who want to repress youth. Core messages suggest young viewers rebel against repressive laws that try to restrict their freedom. Resisting repression is presented as the hip, rebellious thing to do. [p. 78]

Today’s young people care deeply about social justice issues, so ads can focus on the harms that result in the status quo. They also care about relationships, so an effective anti-smoking ad said simply “You’re twice as likely to get ‘left swiped’ on a dating app if your profile picture shows you smoking.” Case closed. [p. 79]

“You also have to change the environment – change people’s minds about what’s acceptable, what’s normal.” [p. 79] [This suggests it is more effective to show the commonness or normality of certain attractions, than to plead for the rights of a small minority.]

“Give people the idea that the change you want is right. … Movements won because they acted to change hearts and minds, not just policy. They made a goal of reframing the way people viewed an issue and found ways to connect with the public in profound ways that resonated emotionally. … debunking stereotypes and shifting broad societal values and beliefs.” [p. 80]

Change public attitudes by appealing to a basic American value: freedom. Persuade the public that young people should have freedom, and the same right to “the pursuit of happiness” that adults enjoy. A Youtube video states: “We represent the very best of America’s strength, and of America’s character. In all of freedom’s history, no other people have been so alert, so vigilant, so unafraid to take a stand and go out and fight for what’s good and right.” [p. 81] A Youtube video “was arresting. Loud, invigorating guitar music accompanied parades of people representing a rainbow of races, ages, and fashion preferences streamed by. The ad featured people enjoying themselves while in mass demonstrations for change. It was clearly designed to be captivatingly positive, upbeat, energizing, patriotic. The images also challenged conventional wisdom. There were links to other videos, and to the organization’s website. Robust marketing and advertising campaigns should be designed to win over hearts and minds. [pp. 82-83]

“The victory of same-sex marriage came about because many straight people came to understand that same-sex couples loved each other in the same way they loved their different-sex partners. As President Obama said ‘Love is love.’ The core message of ‘love’ was not always at the center of the marriage equality platform. LGBT advocates arrived at it after many decades of taking different paths. … They needed to stop talking so much about rights and benefits and legal protections and start talking about marriage as something people wanted to do because of a deep sense of love.” [pp. 86-87] They shifted the debate to focus on fundamental American values like freedom and love, and ‘the pursuit of happiness.’

In Massachusetts, constituents signed piles of postcards that were delivered to a legislator by a lesbian couple and the adopted child they were raising. This was a TV ad, along with another showing a high school hockey star celebrating a big hockey win with his two dads. These helped normalize same sex relationships, shifting them closer to the mainstream. The ads often featured non-gay parents, siblings, aunts, friends, who talked about how they had come to support marriage equality. [p. 89]

The mass media has a huge effect. Vice President Joe Biden said the TV show Will and Grace changed his mind about gay marriage. Senator Harry Reid said singer Lady Gaga, especially her song “Born This Way,” was foremost in his mind as he proposed pro-gay legislation. [p. 90]

Persuasion is more effective when it is less strident than condemning opponents as bigots and haters, and instead engaging with skeptics and appeal to them to be the best of what they could be, by dropping their opposition to equality and freedom. [p. 90]

“People feel-do-think. Emotions are the precipitators of behaviors, not the other way around. The best social change makers realize they must make people FEEL something before they will DO anything else – whether the goal is to get them to change their minds about an issue or to stop or never stop a harmful habit. Having visceral emotional reactions awakens people to alternative possibilities – it’s what motivates them to act. The problem is, too many social change campaigns are predicated on the idea that if people could just see the data or proof, they will feel enraged or inspired or empathetic and they will simply come around to our way of thinking.” [p. 97]


“Every cause is plagued with struggles over power, credit, money, and personality, as well as genuine disagreement over policy solutions and campaign strategies. It takes a big ego to believe you can change the world, and every cause has its egomaniacs. The stuff of social change is complex – messy, conflict-ridden, shape-shifting. All sides genuinely believe they are right. Often leaders … attack each other, rather than focus on a larger shared goal. … No cause we studied was spared inside strife. … Leaders had fundamental disputes over end goals, policy solutions, or campaign strategies. [p. 104] Successful leaders “helped others see and aspire to a common vision … and persuaded more people to move forward together than tear each other apart. The best movement leaders focus on how to get the various parts of their fields working in alignment. … It’s an extremely difficult feat. But some have figured out how to make it work.” [p. 105]

Before the campaign for marriage equality in New York, the Freedom to Marry Coalition gets every group to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, which addressed the thorny issues that frequently plague groups. It spelled out how much money each group must raise, how donor and supporter lists would be managed, what will happen to those donor lists later, and how any remaining money would be divided. It spelled out what the campaign would do, and what it would NOT do, and how decisions would be made. It neutralized many things that cause fights, including decision-making authority and staff time. They agreed on strategies, working to defeat anti-gay politicians, and stood at shopping centers with cell phones and dialed legislators for citizens to call in support of their measure. [pp. 106-107]

“By taking the time to improve their internal relationships, movements dramatically increase their chances of success.” [p. 116]


Corporations have been drivers of social change, in recognizing the same-sex partners of employees for marital benefits. They did this as a result of pressure of gay employee groups, and to attract customers, but these moves helped to prepare the way for laws that mandate benefits for same-sex partners. [p. 123]

Gay activists started with same-sex benefits for city governments. Then they moved to major corporations in the film industry and computer companies, then major banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America. Gradually they expanded the list, so by the 2000s most employees in California worked in places with benefits. This “normalized” same-sex couples recognition. [p. 128]

Employee unions are also an effective pressure group. For example, as the health danger of second-hand smoke became widespread, airline-employee groups pressed airlines to prohibit smoking on planes. Later, workers in restaurants and bars pressed for similar prohibitions. [p. 129]

Business leaders also played a major role in the Rotary Clubs campaign to eliminate polio globally. Not only cash donations helped, but also their clout, connections, and cachet. [p. 124] Businesses can provide management, marketing, and finance skills, and will often respond to pressure faster than government, which is slow and often ineffective. Businesses also develop new products and services that advance change. Businesses are subject to pressure by public exposure of their wrongdoing, and often they respond to prevent boycotts. [p. 126]

For example, liquor companies helped pay for the campaign to reduce drunk driving. MADD emphasized they were not against drinking, only driving while drunk. [p. 129] When Freedom to Marry sued for same-sex marriage to the Supreme Court, hundreds of corporations signed onto amicus court briefs in support, stating they wanted their employees to have equal rights. [p. 132] Many other businesses have supported environmental causes, to appeal to customers as well as employees. [pp. 138-139]


After her daughter was killed by a repeat drunk driver, Candy Lightner organized Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) in 1980. Within five years there were 450 local chapters and two million members and donors. She was articulate and impassioned, and was interviewed on TV shows and was in a made-for-TV movie about herself. She persuaded President Ronald Reagan to establish a Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving, and many governors did likewise. Her campaigns resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of drivers under the influence, and of deaths. She was charismatic, outspoken, and emotionally effusive. Yet, there were other successful leaders who were introverted and circumspect. What they had in common is that they are “leaderfull.” Leaderfull leaders have three characteristics:

1) They empower local leaders and groups to take actions. They give local activists the resources, incentives, and platforms to work together in a common cause. They groom the grassroots, in all 50 states, and push for change in ways that may differ from one state to another. Let those who want to work on a particular issue do so; all can contribute in different ways.

2) Leaderfull leaders bring together allies and diverse coalitions to work for a common cause. Look for unlikely allies and develop relationships with them.

3) Leaderfull leaders encourage people with the lived experience of the problem – the individuals most directly affected by the cause – are empowered to speak and act on behalf of the organization. Leaders groom them to help them learn to speak publicly and effectively. By telling their personal stories, they can change hearts as well as minds. [p. 146]

Start chapters in different legislative districts, then the local chapter influences their local legislators, on both the state and federal levels. The national group sends study guides to learn about the advocacy process, decipher the local legal code, monitor court cases, and meet with district attorneys, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and legislators. Advance state-level reform proposals, and also push for changes on the federal level. [p. 147]

Meet with opposition leaders, and ask why they are opposing and what you can do to tailor your proposal so it will reduce their opposition. Do this before proposing a bill to a legislature. [p. 148]

Ask the governor to appoint a task force, to study the issue and recommend actions to take. [p. 138] Get articles published in major newspapers and leaders interviewed on TV and social media. Organize highly publicized protest actions, to get coverage in the press. [p. 148]

To build a movement, it is vital to offer assistance to those victimized by the problem, and provide solace to families who are impacted. This is how to build a strong movement. Support circles forge bonds of trust and mutual obligation between individuals on the local level, to cement a formidable army of people ready to do battle for the cause. Do chapter support. Have a majority of the board of the organization made up of chapter leaders. The president of the board should always be a victim of the problem, so that person can be a national spokesperson and speak from personal experience. But the CEO should be a professional nonprofit leader who can handle administrative details. [p. 149]

Winning movements have strong national groups with central headquarters that raise money to provide to the chapters, develop strategies that they suggest to the chapters, and helping to coordinate across networks. But they do not control chapters, with a central command issuing orders. The national leader may be powerful and influential, but their prime duty is to foster activists and embolden others to take actions. They encourage local state and national leaders to come together and cross-fertilize ideas. [p. 150]

“Successful leaders are those who inspire and empower people who have suffered from discrimination to advocate for themselves. They build trust between individuals and work through networks, both online and offline, to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The power of any network lies in the infinite connections that exist between individuals, rather than the power of any one single individual.” [p. 151]

Leaderfull leaders may be subdued and thoughtful, mild mannered and unassuming, lack of towering ego, non-confrontational, yet can rile up the base by bellicose defenses of those who are discriminated against, either in speeches or in direct mail or social media. For example, Wayne LaPierre, the leader of the NRA wrote a direct mail appeal labeling federal agents as “jackbooted thugs [who] take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize or destroy our property, and even injure or kill us.” [p. 153] Every year he travels across the nation, showing up at gun shows and “Friends of the NRA” fundraisers. When speaking he constantly acknowledges and encourages local activists. Within five years he turned around declining membership, established an award-winning gun safety program for young people, increased NRA lobbying efforts in Congress and state legislatures, and has attracted millions of members to the NRA. [p. 154]

Evan Wolfson wrote his law school thesis on the right to marry for same-sex couples. His first job was working for Lambda Legal, and he convinced them to establish a marriage project. He worked for 30 years on marriage equality, before the 2013 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriages. He is “persuasive, persistent, and relentlessly optimistic … impassioned and charismatic” [p. 155] Other leaders are “relentlessly pushing for their cause, and propelled into action by personal factors that inspired them to become activist.” [p. 155]

At the 75th anniversary of Rotary International, a group of business leaders, they were looking for a particular issue to have a worldwide impact. One of their members, a medical doctor, convinced them to take on as their project the global eradication of polio. The 33,000 chapters and millions of members worldwide lobbied governments around the world, and raised money to end polio. Their effort made the difference in ending this dreaded disease. [p. 156]

The most important characteristic of successful leaders is their ability to listen to all perspectives, and understand others’ viewpoints. “It’s hard to make change until you really understand the perspectives of all the players.” [p. 156]

“Entering the experience of others and understanding what they believe with complete empathy. Going over into another culture, another way of life, then coming back with new insight to one’s own culture and way of thinking. … Great movement leaders are able to not only hear, but deeply internalize and empathize with the others around them, both their closest allies and their adversaries and enemies.” [p. 157]

Freedom to Marry campaign invited influential people like Vice President Joe Biden into the homes of same-sex couples, to see their “normal” family life and change conceptions from “rights” to “love.” But they also highlighted non-gay people, talking about how and why they changed from opponents to supporters of gay marriage. [p. 158]

The other major characteristic of successful leaders is the ability to “let go” of their own ego, and be subsumed by the movement and give oneself over to the mission or the cause. This means subordinating personal and organizational identity to the interests of the broader coalitions and alliances. By extending credit to those around them, and sometimes blending into the background, they are able to effectively move the cause forward. [p. 160] “They win not by competing, but by collaborating, and by leading from behind.” [p. 161]

Effective leaders have a relentless focus on impact, which enables them to attract strange bedfellows, to make common cause with would-be enemies or unlikely allies. [p. 163]

Leaders also have to be prepared to sacrifice and suffer, to work long hours for no pay, and to deal with dissension and criticism. “The emotional toll on movement leaders is palpable. … Feelings are raw and frustrations are high.” [p. 163] Sometimes former allies turn against each other, and inflict psychic wounds. “What keeps leaders going is the never-ending quest for impact and a clear-headed belief that they are on the right side of history.” Their deep passion and commitment allows them to keep on persevering to victory. [p. 164]

While successful movements are not top-down centralized leader-centered, there is danger in going to the other extreme of too little structure and leaderlessness. Totally democratic decision-making can lead to the lack of a unifying focus so a movement risks imploding or simply fading away. Movements must strike a balance. [p. 166]

“Movements require strong leaders who possess clarity of vision and unbounded will to relentlessly pursue impact. But these same leaders must also be willing to let go of their egos, to deeply listen to and understand others who represent differing – often opposing – views. They build effective coalitions and campaigns that enable multiple organizations and individuals to work together in common cause. But then they subsume their own organization’s identity and needs and defer to what is best for the movement as a whole.” [p. 167]

Change is not quick. Movements have to have a determination to keep going for as long as it takes to make change happen. [p. 168]


Leaders have to build a movement, not just an organization. To be successful, movements need to [p175]:

1) Actively recruit and nurture a grassroots constituency.

2) Build bonds between members, creating trust among them, as well as connecting to a larger common purpose.

3) Use all communications channels to keep the organization in touch with members and members in touch with each other.

4) Put people with the lived experience of our problem at the front of the movement.

5) Embrace a local and a national strategy, working to influence all three branches of the federal government, while also advocating in each of the 50 U.S. states. Use litigation, policy lobbying, and electoral influence. Have a networked strategy that allows groups to act within their own states, but in centrally coordinated ways that advance the whole purpose.

6) Have a country-by-country strategy and local activists to drive policy change and social-norm changes.

Movements need to change both hearts and minds, by doing these things:

1) Have deliberate strategies to change individual attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to shift broader social norms.

2) Convey messages that tug at peoples’ core values, like freedom, love, truth.

3) Do research to fully understand the minds of people we seek to change.

4) Know exactly which opinion leaders need their heartstrings pulled, to convert them to our way of thinking. Make a list of the most important persons, and strive to meet individually with them to show them a different viewpoint.

5) Create social marketing strategies, as well as traditional media.


Deal with allies and adversaries. [pp. 176-177]

1) Try to create “big tent” coalitions of likely and unlikely allies.

2) Realistically access opponents and allies who may reject or disagree with our approach. Count on there will be some philosophical differences. Plan how to deal with these differences. Even when some represent extremes, try to include them in the planning, because they represent a slice of the group.

3) Try to know our allies personally and build relationships with them, and keep open communications with them. Let go of ego, and keep the progress of the movement as the uppermost consideration, not personal power, control, credit, fame, or fortune.

4) Think about what to do to counteract or neutralize attacks by allies. Most conflicts are over money, power, access, and credit. Head off conflict by dealing with these issues first, with a written agreement about who gets donor lists, leftover funds, and other assets.

5) Instead of spending time fighting among ourselves, think about ways to refocus on our foes.

6) Don’t dismiss businesses as the enemy. Engage with businesses as policy first-movers, product innovators, educators of their workforce, advocates, hyper-exposed targets of protests. Figure out ways to use workers and market forces to advance our cause.

7) Use donations to fuel coalitions of grassroots groups to agitate, educate and persuade at the local and state levels. Use donations to fund social media and traditional media marketing and communications. [pp. 178-179]

Appeal to mega-donor Tim Gill, who poured $422 million into the campaign for LGBT rights, the largest donor for the movement. He set up the Gill Foundation, to underwrite research, polling, data analysis, litigation, and field organizing to advance LGBT causes, and Gill Action, to help elect hundreds of pro-equality lawmakers at local, state and federal levels. He helped LGBT organization leaders come together in closed-door meetings to access why they were not making more progress, and to come up with new strategies that were more effective. He did not try to come up with a plan himself, but he helped leaders come up with new approaches together. [p. 180] Note 7. Knoll, A. “Meet the Megadonor Behind the LGBTQ Rights Movement: How Tim Gill Turned a $500 Million Fortune into the Nation’s Most Powerful Force for LGBTQ Rights.” Rolling Stone, June 23, 2017. See also

8) Look for government patrons, to help a cause. They can steer research to help advance causes, like the Center for Disease Control funded studies that showed the dangers of smoking, or the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration backed the Mothers Against Drunk Driving MADD to cut down drunk driving fatalities. The National Rifle Association has shrewdly used government officials to prevent gun control efforts. [p. 180]

9) Use public officials in high office to throw their clout behind a movement.

Quote Robert F. Kennedy: [p. 182]:

“Each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”


Molly Ball, “Do the Koch Brothers Really Care about Criminal Justice Reform?” The Atlantic, March 3, 2015:

See also these websites:,,,