Selling Social Change

I recently read an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) called “Selling Social Change” by Taz Hussein and Matt Plummer of the Bridgespan Group. It was a really interesting read that sparked a lot of thoughts for me especially around my own work right now. I wanted to share a few highlights from that article.

A summary of the article could read along the following lines; “Just because there’s a clear need doesn’t mean there’s demand…Rigorously evaluated evidence-based practices and programs alone cannot trump beneficiaries’ lack of awareness or interest… (Nonprofits and funders) must be prepared to actively generate demand for social change.”

I have found this idea to be especially pertinent in my work at CoreAlign, where we work to infuse the domestic American reproductive health, rights, and justice movements with the concepts of innovation and speaking race to power. The article details three steps nonprofits need to take when creating and implementing solutions.

  1. Recognize the limits of designing as service or program primarily for effectiveness and also design for “spreadability”.

Essentially, in our quest to deliver programs and products that deliver social good with maximum efficiency and effectiveness, we often overlook or undervalue whether potential beneficiaries will find the service appealing. In fact, sometimes we must look at how effective elements of our programs might actually hinder adoption and use. The examples cited in the article demonstrate that organizations that are able to make difficult decisions that may slightly reduce effectiveness or efficiency end up increasing the overall net use of services or products by beneficiaries.

  1. Go beyond identifying a broad group of potential beneficiaries and focus first on a subgroup most likely to participate.

The article shares an image of the “product adoption curve” and asks nonprofits better understand whom they are targeting “because different adopter categories have different needs and attitudes toward the programs and services created for their benefit.” This makes sense intuitively when we look at products like the iPhone and Facebook and consider the needs of early adopters, early majority, and late majority users. The same product may need to be marketed or pitched differently to different segments of users – and this can be a hard pill for many nonprofits to swallow.

  1. Develop and resource a sales and marketing capability from the outset, right alongside budgeting for program delivery.

Finally, and I love this point, nonprofits can fall for the fallacy that it’s enough to simply create a service or product that people want, and fail to spend the resources to inform and entice users to demand what they make. The article (somewhat boldly) uses a breakdown of Big Pharma spends on R&D vs. Sales & Marketing to demonstrate that it is not sufficient to simply have a great product – you have to get your beneficiaries to know that it’s out there, and understand how it might benefit them.

The author’s end by asking us all to consider three questions during our strategic planning processes:

  • How will you ensure that your program or service receives high scores from beneficiaries on these dimensions: better, compatible, simple, testable, and observable?
  • What segment of those you hope to serve knows that they have a problem and are looking for a solution?
  • Who will sell your innovative program or service to potential beneficiaries?

I found these to be very important and salient questions for my own work, and can easily imagine how it might spark new thoughts for others. Check out the article here and let me know what you think.

Source: Stanford Social Innovation Review, Selling Social Change, by Taz Hussein and Matt Plummer, Winter 2017

 

 

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