A MOVEMENT VS. A COMMUNITY. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE? DOES IT MATTER?

Yes, a huge one. And yes, a lot. Yet I’ve recently heard people using the two terms synonymously. This is a mistake, because if you don’t understand that the goals and the means of the two types of organizations are very different, you’re unlikely to succeed in building either.

In short, the differences are these:

  • The goal of a movement is to effect significant social change through the means of mobilizing millions to take action.
  • The goal of a community can be to learn something, do something, and yes, change something, but normally on a smaller scale and through the means of a smaller number of people with more intimate relationships doing a multitude of stuff together.

Here’s a rough summary of the differences with a brief explanation of each following:

Here’s a brief explanation of each of the differences:

Goal-Movement:

Movements exist to make significant social change, often when the government is unwilling or unable. Equal Rights for Women, Civil Rights for Blacks and, more recently, Equality for LGBT are examples. I’m on the Board of AllOut, which is a global movement for LGBT equality. It will not rest until the ghastly statistic of 76/10 is 00/00. That is, the 76 countries where it’s illegal to be gay and the ten countries where you can be executed for being gay change their culture and laws for the better.

Goal-Community:

Most successful communities are explicit about their goals or purpose, which tend to be about learning something (e.g. Spanish) doing something (e.g. hiking) or supporting each other (e.g. dealing with diabetes). They can also be about change (e.g. eating healthier) but it tends to be change on a smaller scale: to meet a personal goal (like losing weight) or improving a local environment (e.g. cleaning up a river).

Means-Movement:

The huge goals of a movement are achieved by mobilizing huge numbers of people.

It’s only when significant numbers of politicians’ constituents or companies’ customers demand change does intransigence turn into reluctant compliance. For example, when AllOut presented half a million signatures gathered within three days from around the world to the Ugandan Parliament in April 2011 did they decide to abandon debate of the infamous ‘Kill The Gays Bill’.

It’s not just about huge numbers. It’s also about Action. Your goal when running a movement is not for members to have ‘conversations’. Your goal is for them to take action together. Signing a petition, making donations, having house parties, marching en-masse. These are actions that effect change because a multitude is leveraging their mass by doing the same thing at the same time.

Means-Community:

When you’re amongst ‘like-others’…others who share your values, worldview, interests or needs…that’s when you can get support, pursue your passion or make some change more effectively than simply doing it alone.

‘Conversations’ (you can probably guess I don’t’ really like this word) can help deliver the benefits of community. But your goal should be to increase the numbers of members who do significant stuff together and contribute content. Read here for more about this.

Benefit-Movement:

It’s power. Millions of people acting together with common cause can make history because of the leverage of a multitude. Few governments or companies can withstand the power of well-organized population acting in concert for a justified cause. And few things can make an individual feel so powerful: being part of something bigger to make a change that could never be achieved alone.

Benefit-Community:

The Big Benefit of community is Belonging (beyond the benefits of learning, doing and supporting.) Read here about the ultimate benefit it confers: self-actualization, which it does by creating a safe space amongst like-others to become yourself.

Interaction-Movement:

There tends to be less interaction amongst members of a movement than a community. How can a million ‘good friends’ talk, do and meet together? That being said, strong grass-root action groups often fuel the most successful movements, where close ties are made between members who talk and meet often. It’s been noted that the American Civil Rights movement was largely mobilized by local Churches. Even today, online movements find sustained strength by acting both locally and globally.

Interaction-Community:

Without rich and frequent interaction via forums, chat, video chat or meeting up face-to-face, communities won’t deliver their benefits. Read here about the importance of interaction and intimacy within communities. And about how relationships and friendships grow as a result of rich and repeated engagement between members.

Shared-Movement:

Movements tend to bring together people who share a common cause or activist agenda.

Shared-Community:

Most communities exist because of shared interests or needs. Members tend to be unified by, say, their passion for zombies or desire to learn how to knit. These commonalities may evolve through frequent interaction to share a desire to become friends, colleagues or even partners.

Relationships-Movements:

Modern movements…that is, those organized online…tend to have little interaction between members. The focus is to act together vs. with each other. However, local or sub-groups within a movement can obviously build the cause’s strength as well as give the opportunity for more intimate relationships between members. Obama’s 2008 election that used these techniques also employed many local events and house-parties.

Relationships-Community:

Successful communities are the ones that have many members with strong ties to each other. Read here about how rich and frequent interaction leads to a feeling of mutual responsibility and support, which leads to strong social glue.

Size-Movement:

I’m going to say it: size does matter when it comes to movements. At AllOut we’ve grown from 2000 to 1 million members around the world in 18 months. Leveraging that motivated population has helped us achieve huge milestones in a short time.

Size-Community:

You can have a successful community with four people or forty thousand. Although once you get to above c. 150 people (the Dunbar number…the number above which it becomes increasingly difficult for an individual to know who everyone is and how each person relates to every other person) ties are likely to weaken. Read here about what happens then and about how to maintain intimacy and satisfy needs as your community grows.