How Individual Change Agents Can Help Us Build a Stronger Social Economy | npENGAGE

How Individual Change Agents Can Help Us Build a Stronger Social Economy

By on Jun 1, 2017


A girl showing the power of individual change agents while volunteering during disaster relief

The most radical force for change is the same thing today that it’s always been—a person. It all comes down to a human being, driven by passion, joining with others to transform the world.

As people and organizations who care about changing the world, we should be intensely focused on how we catalyze the transformative impact of the individuals who are at the heart of any movement or change. Because if we really get that right, we have the potential not only to accomplish our own goals, but to strengthen the broader social economy.

And what happens when we build a stronger social economy? We produce more good, together.

Building a Stronger Social Economy Through Individual Change Agents

To be really effective in catalyzing individual impact, it’s important to first consider what makes today’s individual change agents tick:

  • CAUSE – Today, individual change agents tend to be connected more deeply to causes than organizations.  Your organization is often just one channel through which they seek to drive change.
  • COMMUNITY – From the Ice Bucket Challenge to the Woman’s March, many of today’s biggest movements are less about single charismatic voices and more about the transformative power of the chorus.  Today’s individual change agents live this – they see the power in the many. And so when they want to make a difference, many think not just of donating their time or their money, but their networks.
  • TECHNOLOGY – Technology plays a powerful role in virtually everything we do today—how we advance causes, how we share our voices, how we connect. So it is logical that it has also become central to the way today’s everyday activists engage.

But its easy to get caught up in old ways of thinking about the role of supporters— where donors and supporters engage with our organizations in pre-determined ways we define for them, or where employees participate in pre-defined and managed volunteerism.

How to Respond to the Rise of the Open-Source Activism

Ultimately, through their driving connection to cause, their engagement in their networks and their use of technology, people today are often embracing a style we’ve come to call “open-source activism” – they come alongside your cause as co-creators, bringing not just their support, but their passion and ideas.

From where I stand as a CSR professional, effectively working with open source activists looks like transforming from a Corporate Social Responsibility mindset to a Human Social Responsibility mindset.

Human Social Responsibility means that organizations of all sizes take their lead from their employees and the human contracts they sign with the world. It means recognizing that people are at the center of every organization, no matter why it exists.

At my own company, we have made empowering our staff as agents of good  central to our CSR – and part of doing so has been to double-down on how we provide choice. We understand how important storytelling is – both within the company and outside— and have  just kicked off an initiative to better tell stories of how our people are committed to giving back.

If you are part of a cause-oriented organization, you can use a very similar lens in thinking about your supporters. 

  • How are you centering your practices and strategies around the people who make your work possible?
  • What steps are you taking to ensure you fully catalyze the potential of the open source activist?

Three Action Steps

My colleagues at Blackbaud work with a vast array of social good organizations who are driving impact by catalyzing the passion and impact of the individuals who care about their causes. Here are a few action steps to start with:

  1. Say yes: When an open-source activist comes to you with a crazy idea for how they want to support your cause and scale your reach, you need to figure out how to say yes. Figuring out how to say yes to and empower your supporters to do their own thing is one of the most significant challenges for any cause-oriented organization.
  2. Be transparent: Open-source activists don’t see themselves as passive consumers. They are active partners in pursuing social good. They demand authenticity and transparency . They want to get to know the real people at your cause, not just your mission statement.
  3. Connect to cause: We know that open-source activists tend to be more passionate about causes than organizations. If you’re an organization in this space, don’t assume your activists will be loyal to you; assume they will be loyal to your cause, and work in all your communication to show them the real and tangible difference they are making by supporting your cause.

Together, these three steps can help the entire social economy better benefit from the massive potential and power of individual change agents—through cause-oriented organizations, CSR, and every combination in between.


Rachel Hutchisson is the vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud, headquartered in Charleston, SC.  She is responsible for the company’s global corporate citizenship efforts, a role that allows her to leverage her 20+ years of experience of working with nonprofit partners.  She is a member of the board of directors for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International, the Giving Institute (producers of Giving USA), and the Coastal Community Foundation.  She is also a Past President of the AFP SC Lowcountry chapter. Rachel is a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she is a Renaissance Weekend participant and was the recipient of the Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Influential Women in Business Rising Star Award.  Rachel is an avid soccer fan and spends far too much time driving to remote parts of the state to watch her children play.  Connect with Rachel on Twitter at @RachelHutchssn or on LinkedIn.

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