how to start a movement
The Borgen Project movement has led millions of people to fight global poverty, but even we have trouble explaining how to start a movement. An idea is simply a thought or suggestion for a possible course of action. And lots of ideas are good ideas. Some of them are even great; maybe even great enough to change the world. But it’s hard for an idea to get very far on its own. To make a significant impact, an idea needs to become a movement. It needs to inspire others to rally behind it and push it forward. has taken the guess work out of launching your idea, with a “How-To” guide to start a movement for social change.

The site breaks the process down into 8 stages, each broken down even further into step-by-step instructions. Check out for an in-depth guide to launching your movement, and to learn more about each of the following 8 stages:


How to Start a Movement?


Stage 1 – Plan and Strategize.
A cause is much easier to get behind if supporters know exactly what they would be getting themselves into. It’s also much easier to solicit funding if necessary, when you have a well defined plan. At this stage of the game, organization is key; you’ll need to keep track of your members’ names and contact information, feedback and advice from members and non-members, a timeline of significant milestones, etc.

Stage 2 – Build Awareness.
You need to understand the people you’re trying to engage. Figure out the best ways to reach them: popular social networks, classrooms, parties, bulletin boards, etc. Once you’ve decided where your target audience is most likely to hear your pitch, you can deliver an authentic story about yourself and your campaign that explains who you are, what you’re trying to accomplish, and why they should be involved. A brief video that appeals to people’s emotions can go a long way, and a catchy slogan and logo are important, because they can keep your movement in someone’s mind.

Stage 3 – Mobilize.
Encourage action through petitions, pamphlets, radio advertisements, picketing, parades, assemblies, flash mobs etc.

Stage 4 – Stay Safe. has a collection of articles on a variety of safety topics, from protecting your online security to surfing the web anonymously. There are even instructions on how to use the “I’m getting arrested” app for Android to notify your family or lawyer that you are being detained, should you choose to practice civil disobedience or non-cooperation tactics in your mobilization efforts.

Stage 5 – Access Blocked Information.
If you are running into a wall in your search for information, there are a number of circumvention tools to get around web censorship, and has laid them out for you. Circumvention technology finds an unlocked back-door to censored information. Disclaimer: there may be legal repercussions for accessing information censored by your government; so consider the risks carefully before engaging any filtered sites.

Stage 6 – Collaborate.
Build a coalition, or a group of individuals or organizations working towards the same goal. Keep in mind that not every coalition needs to be formal; there are benefits to working with other organizations in a less publicized way. Whichever type of coalition you choose to build, realize that trust amongst members is invaluable.

Stage 7 – Fundraise.
Money can be raised via traditional routes such as hosting events or placing donation jars in local businesses. But you can also raise funds via digital routes such as Facebook or Text-To-Donate programs.

Stage 8 – Keep Supporters Engaged.
With the amount of content on the internet, it can be difficult to keep supporters engaged over time. Posting frequent blog posts or status updates with gripping headlines that promote your campaign is imperative. Don’t ever assume that you’re finished generating interest in the campaign. It’s up to you to always keep people interested in the movement you began; just remind them why they wanted to be involved in the first place. And while you’re at it, plan and strategize for your campaign, build awareness with new potential members, mobilize, stay safe, access blocked information, collaborate, fundraise…

To make a significant impact, an idea needs to become a movement. It needs to inspire others to rally behind it and push it forward. Starting a movement can be a never-ending cycle that just keeps turning. The good news is, if it’s something you’re truly passionate about, you won’t mind at all. And if you follow the steps on to create a successful movement, you may end up changing the world.

– Dana Johnson

Photo: Blyden Consulting
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History of The Borgen Project from THE BORGEN PROJECT on Vimeo.

The Borgen Project Movement
In 1999, while working as a young volunteer in refugee camps during the Kosovo War and genocide, Clint Borgen recognized the need for an organization that could focus U.S. political attention on extreme poverty. In 2003, after graduating from Washington State University and interning at the United Nations, Borgen began developing the organization.

In need of startup funding, Borgen took a job living on a fishing vessel docked in Dutch Harbor, Alaska (the same location as “The Deadliest Catch”). From humble beginnings in one of the most remote regions of the world, The Borgen Project was born. One man with a laptop and a budget that came from his Alaska paychecks has evolved into a national campaign with volunteers operating in 220 U.S. cities.



Borgen Project Intern Nicole Arata mobilizing friends to call Congress. Make it fun and you’ll create life-long advocates!


What is it? In a nutshell, mobilizing means getting people to take action. At The Borgen Project it’s usually used in reference to mobilizing people to email their Congressional leaders. Swarms are when multiple people email or call a Congressional leader on the same issue.




1. Email friends and family. Create an email template that you can personalize and send individually to your contacts. Don’t send a generic “Dear Friends and Family” email that goes out to everyone at once, those rarely result in anyone taking action.


2. “Do your Day.” What is “Do your Day?” Simply put, it’s going about your daily routine and mobilizing the people you interact with along the way to take action.


For example:

  • During breakfast, have your roommate email Congress.
  • While driving in the car with friends, have them call Congress.
  • While at work, mobilize co-workers to email Congress.



3. Tabling. Setup a table where people can learn about The Borgen Project and take action. Have a laptop with the email Congress page open and ready to go. Try a catchy sign like “Help Africa in 30-seconds without donating.”



4. Find Places Where People are Bored and/or Relaxed. Where do people wait? Where are people relaxed and open to talking to people? Make a list of these places in your area and tailor your approach. For example, most people on ferries are somewhat bored and their life is temporarily on hold until the boat reaches its destination.




Know Why It’s Important. People are usually happy to help once they understand why it’s so important. The Call Congress page explains how Congressional offices track and tally each time a voter contacts them in support of a bill.


Know Why People Don’t Email Congress. Understanding why people don’t take action will help you build a proactive approach to engage them. These are the most common reasons people don’t email Congress when asked to:

  • Information Overload: Computers, smartphones, TV, radio, magazines, etc. The average person has lots of information crossing their path each day.
  • Skepticism: We’ll be honest, in the early days of The Borgen Project we were very skeptical that people emailing their Congressional leaders mattered… In fact, we didn’t encourage it or have the advocacy software to do so on our site. Damn were we wrong on that one! After a zillion lobbying meetings with Congressional leaders, friend and foe, we became huge believers in it because it does make an impact.
  • Don’t Care: Not much you can do with these folks. The goods news is there aren’t too many people who fall under this category. Even many that do, can be engaged when the information comes to them the right way. We found it interesting that many people who are against immigration, were starting to call on the U.S. to let more Syrians in as the bloodshed worsened in 2015. Many who fail to sympathize with people who flee poverty, are able to sympathize with those fleeing violent and unthinkable conditions in vulnerable communities.


67 People Mobilized in 15 Days!

Ayusha Shrestha, an exchange student from Nepal won The Borgen Project’s Top Mobilizer Award in August of 2016. Ayusha attends Kennesaw State University and is a Political Affairs Intern for The Borgen Project in Georgia. In 15 days, Ayusha mobilized 67 people to email Congressional leaders in support of the Reach Every Mother and Child Act. Watch the video to learn how she did it.





Mobilizing = Leadership

Being able to lead people to take action is the core of being a good leader. While mobilizing people to email Congress or to make a donation might seem challenging, try to keep things in perspective… People aren’t being asked to go on a hunger strike, march across a country or face imprisonment. We just need them to send a quick email!


Mobilizing Words We Live By:

  • Lead by Example
  • Educate Them
  • Engage Them
  • Include Them
  • Coach Them