11 Million Actions. $30 Billion In Pledges. A Nonprofit Founder Shares His Best Campaign Tips.

He helped build an army of millennials, acting to end extreme poverty. Simon Moss shares his secrets to campaign success.

Simon Moss

Global Citizen Co-Founder

Who He Is:

Simon is the co-founder of Global Citizen, whose mission is to increase the number and effectiveness of people taking action to end extreme poverty. Simon is a campaigning and community education expert. He has contributed on development issues at some of the world's leading conferences including the G20, the World Economic Forum, and the Clinton Global Initiative. He consults regularly for business, government and nonprofits on social enterprise and community building.

Q: Tell us about your model for change at Global Citizen.

A: We built our model in a way that asks: How can we maximize the amount of pressure that we’re putting on people [to do the right thing]? At Global Citizen, our model is about going to the smartest people we can find—the policy experts—and asking them, ‘What is the one thing you wish you could change?’ Then, we mobilize public support, political support, media support, and sometimes work with celebrities, to do it.

Q: How do you use the power of the crowd to fight poverty?

A: Seven years ago, we started a campaign on polio eradication. It was a topic that is dear to my heart because my mother had polio when she was a kid, and she can’t run or walk properly as a result. Thanks to the efforts of Rotary International and people around the world, polio cases have been reduced 99 percent from 1998 through to 2010. To get that final 1 percent, the world needed to mobilize more money. So, we asked the Australian government whether or not they’d be willing to put in any money. They said ‘no.’ We said ‘yes.’ They said ‘no.’ We realized that we could turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ if we asked ourselves the question, ‘What would they actually like?’ What would make them feel good about what was happening? So we ran a concert with 4,000 attendees. We mobilized 20,000 people in the foreign minister’s local constituency. We got huge numbers of media impressions to go alongside a thing called the Commonwealth Heads of Governments meeting. It meant that we could get five world leaders on a platform together to commit $118 million. In 2017, there have been five cases of polio so far this year. Whether it’s a prime minister or whether it’s just someone in your community, if you can find a way to help them do the right thing—they already want to do it, but being a politician maybe lack the courage to do it—there’s a huge amount of campaigning that can progress that way.

Q: Recently, the singer Rihanna got involved in one of your campaigns. How did you leverage her enormous influence?

A: France has always said it’s a world leader when it comes to education, but last year, when we were working with UNICEF to try to get hundreds of millions of refugee children back into school—because we know that if refugees are back in school in 30 days, their education continues pretty much undamaged—the French were nowhere to be seen. We wrote letters to them. We called them. UNICEF pulled out all the guns. We happened to be working with a musician you might know named Rihanna. We got her to write a letter. Except, she’s a little less patient than us. She followed up her letter, very quickly, with a tweet and a request. The letter basically simply said ‘Where’s the money?’ Two weeks later, having not heard a response, we said, ‘Just wait a little longer.’ She said, ‘No, I’ll tweet him.’ She set off a round of panic at the president’s office, who basically told her, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll go work it out.’ A week later, the French committed several million dollars. One of the great campaign tools we’ve got is shame. If you can give some shame, and then a path to cooperate, then you’re onto something.

Q: Some nonprofits don’t have big celebrity supporters. What then?

A: Everyone is influenced by someone. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, the people who had the greatest influence on CEOs taking climate change seriously were the teenage children of the CEOs. Don’t ask who’s the most famous person. Ask who would influence them? And then ask, ‘How do I get to them or who in my network would have influence?’

Q: Global Citizen has built an impressive community of activists, mostly millennials, who have taken more than 11 million actions to end extreme poverty. How can other nonprofits replicate your success?

A: Think about what turned you on to your cause. Most of the time, it wasn’t someone saying ‘Do this. Do this now.’ Most of the time, it was a great story. It was a conversation you had. It was a person you met that got you excited. For us, so much of it starts with stories. We publish lots of stories—about 60 stories and 15 videos a week. The final thing is make at least the first part of it easy. It’s very easy to say to a friend, ‘Sure, I’ll come around and help you for an hour.’ And if you’re anything like me, you’ve got a lot of friends who say they’ll come around and help for just a minute, but are there for the entire day. I think you’ve got to let people make their own choices. Sometimes, as campaigners we make the mistake of trying to force people to do all of the things that we want; whereas, actually, most of us, in our own lives, don’t do that.

Q: What advice do you have for people around the world who are also campaigning or fundraising to end extreme poverty and other urgent issues like climate change?

A: The power that each of us has as citizens is unprecedented. We face some big challenges right now, and all of us are going to need to come together to stand up for the values that we believe in. Ask the question, ‘What can I do to step into the shoes of the people I’m trying to influence?’ Ask, ‘What would make them [take action]?’ Sometimes, it’s a carrot. Sometimes, it’s a stick. Sometimes, it’s a lot of fun, and sometimes, it involves a lot of shame.

This article is based on Simon Moss’ speech at MCON2017, an annual conference committed to understanding today’s social movements. It has been edited for length and clarity. Learn more about MCON.

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