How to Succeed in Social Activism

Part 1: Put Down that Keyboard and Get Involved

By: Garrett Ettinger

We’ve all heard the criticism before.

“You share and post all these things on your social media, but do you actually get out there and volunteer?”

When you’ve got a full-time job, kids, and a social life, sometimes practicing what you preach can be harder than expected. As a millennial who needs to balance a ton of different projects and deadlines at once, I get it. The little free time that you have should be used to relax.

But here’s the thing. Right now, our civil and human rights are under an unprecedented attack.  For that reason, it’s incredibly important to get involved with your community and push for positive change. And there are ways that you can be effective and helpful outside of reposting hot political topics.

What many fail to realize is that the active members of many progressive nonprofit movements are not the passionate youth you see on TV. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those between the ages of 35 to 54 years old are the most likely to volunteer. Not so surprisingly, these volunteers are not the ones who soak up the limelight and end up on the front page of the New York Times or act as spokespeople for movements. As a result, there is an unrealistic picture of what social and political activism is in America.

I’ve seen this reality firsthand in campaigns to expand workers rights, fund public school, and raise the minimum wage. When a big march, protest, or sit-in goes viral online, young people show up. However, when the hashtag drops below the top 10 trending on Twitter, they typically don’t persevere.

And finally, when the campaign takes too long and the legislation fails or stalls, young people drop out and the campaign joins the long list of things people once cared about. The people that are the most engaged and involved (often seniors) are the ones who stick around for the long haul and see things to the end.

“But what can I do? I don’t have any free time,” you say.

There are no guidelines or steps everyone universally takes to get involved with important movements. But there are a few things that you can do to really make an impact. Below are some starter steps to get involved and make a positive change in your community.

  1. Figure out an issue that’s important to you. If you don’t care about the campaign in your heart, you won’t care about the work you do for it. With so many issues and problems today, it’s hard to narrow your choices to a single one. Think of something you have a real passion for. It could be something that has touched you or your loved ones personally or something you’ve cared about since childhood. I’m not saying don’t work on more than one issue. What I am saying is, don’t try to help everyone, because you’ll end up spreading yourself too thin and helping no one.
  2. Google a great organization near you. Do your research. Find a nonprofit near you that works on issues that you care about. If no one is working on your specific issue, find an organization that shares the same values or that works on problems within the same realm. Look for smaller, community organizations or community centers that don’t have much money. These nonprofits could use help and are almost always low on volunteers.
  3. Call them, explain your bandwidth, and ask how you can help. It’s important to call and talk to someone over the phone, especially if it’s a smaller organization. Messages often get lost and never make their way to the actual organizers working on the issue. If you have limited time because you’re busy, you could help make phone calls at home or come into volunteer over the weekends when you have some free time.
  4. Promote events on social media. I know the article’s title says “put down the keyboard,” but there are ways to use your digital presence to help nonprofits. Share, repost, and invite people to nonprofit events. Whether it’s a protest or fundraiser, many nonprofits have a very small communications budget and online digital branding is not their main priority. Even if you can’t attend the event yourself, improving their turnout goes a long way in helping the campaign. As much as you like posting things you found on news sites, sharing a nonprofit’s events helps the movement much more than you could imagine.
  5. Stick with the campaign as it evolves. You don’t have to stay in the loop forever, but make sure to check in now and again. Legislation and rulings get overturned, politicians try to pass new laws that override progress, and campaigns carry on, even after a perceived “victory.” The problem is, most volunteers and people forget about the issue altogether after a perceived win, even when the issue hasn’t been resolved.

Hopefully, these tips will enable you to make changes in your community and potentially in the country. Don’t feel bad if you can’t start volunteering tomorrow. Issues persist for a long time and organizations will always need the help in the future. It’s better if you are ready to volunteer instead of giving a half-hearted effort.

Join me in two weeks for the second entry in the series where we will examine how to leverage your own experience and skills for a good cause.


How to Succeed in Social and Political Activism is a bi-weekly blog that delves into important issues facing America and what you can do to affect actual change. Twice a month, we’ll dive into the world of nonprofit social and political activism and outline better ways to get involved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Garrett Ettinger is a Philadelphia resident who has worked on social and political campaigns for almost a decade. He has worked on campaigns including paid sick days legislation, funding public schools, and preserving the environment. Currently, he helps with communications efforts at Old Pine Community Center and is a writer for a number of online publications. If you’d like to contact him, send an email to

Our awesome programs are only possible with your generous help!