From the abolitionists, suffragettes, and Civil Rights movement to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, people have long been organizing movements for the rights we have today. During the Pushing for Systems Change: How Social Movements Can Shift Society session during the We Give Summit, Carlos Saavedra, executive director of the Ayni Institute, discussed how donors should think about strategically funding social movements for social change. 

Saavedra recounted his own experience as an activist in the immigrant rights movement fighting for equal access to higher education for undocumented youth and as a key organizer for End Our Pain and the Right to Dream Campaigns that led to the DACA victory, securing legal relief for 1.4 million undocumented youth. 

“Sometimes we forget about these movements because people in power make it seem like they have all the power,” Saavedra said. “But every major change was fought to the nail by masses of people - but politicians are telling us ‘it’s not us, it’s them.’”

Saavedra encouraged funders to think about movements as cycles or seasons. 

“You have to know what season your movement is in because you can’t do everything all the time,” Saavedra said. “We have to move with the natural cycles. We have to fund or support the right thing at the right time.” 

By understanding the movement ecology, funders can be better equipped to fund the right strategies at the right time. Collective givers should consider the issues they care about, what they’re giving dollars to, and what’s missing from their giving strategy.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Winter: During this phase, the few believers and disempowered majority begin to think and learn about the issues. At this time, funders should think about investing in personal transformation or services and programs that help people get over the shame or stigma of being oppressed. 
  • Spring: At this point, movements begin to grow in support, and there is an explosion in ideas and often tensions in how the movement should take risks. Groups start thinking about alternatives to the status quo and start imagining an ideal world. Donors should consider funding community organizers during this phase. 
  • Summer: This is the most exciting phase for a movement where there is maximum people power, and the movement begins to fight to change the power structure. Often this season is confronted with pushback, and the movement must fight repression. Funders should direct their resources toward advocacy groups and mass mobilization efforts. 
  • Fall: During this phase, the movement reaps the rewards of victory. Often victory creates different expectations and a new normal. After this phase, the cycle begins again. 

There tends to be an over-emphasis on funding movements in the summer cycle, but Saavedra encourages donors to fund the activities that generate movement springs. 

“We can’t rush movements,” Saavedra said. “We have to fund winters and invest in the early work so we can have a ‘movement summer.’"