Social Impact Entertainment and Impact Campaigns


Philanthropist's Field Guide

Social Impact Entertainment and Impact Campaigns

A story, well told, can change the world. Realizing the power of an effectively told story, more and more philanthropists are embracing storytelling and impact campaigns by supporting issue-oriented content, including documentaries, narrative films, books, and other media that align with their social impact goals. Known collectively as Social Impact Entertainment (SIE), this emerging tool affords significant leverage that can unlock game-changing outcomes at local, national, and international scales. 

Philanthropy has an especially critical role to play in impact campaigns, a term used to describe the collection of “on the ground” efforts strategically using SIE to raise awareness and prompt people to take action or change behavior. Philanthropies have deep relationships, based on trust, with partner organizations and advocacy groups that can be the key to an impact campaign’s success. Furthermore, impact campaigns are traditionally less supported by commercial capital and require inputs that can act quickly with strategic insight, a characteristic of philanthropy.

There are many entry points in the SIE lifecycle where philanthropic capital can be used strategically, especially since the content creation and distribution processes tend to be complex. Before diving in, it is worth looking at the overall landscape to determine where on the continuum you would like to engage.

an empty seat in a semi-crowded movie theater


Common entry points for social impact entertainment include:

  • Ideation and production—Aiding in the conception and creation of the content

  • Distribution—Helping to ensure that the content is distributed in a systematic way

  • Strategic amplification—Assisting in promotion and advocacy efforts through strategic impact campaigns, which are routinely underfunded

  • Evaluation—Determining how successful the project was in advancing its chosen cause, based on data and other performance indicators

  • Advance the field—Leveraging new opportunities, such as streaming services, to galvanize interest in SIE, advance the science of impact, and support coordination. 

The Role of Philanthropy in Social Impact Entertainment

Philanthropy is playing an increasing role in SIE, as the availability of content and expertise increases. Below are some recommendations to help you get started:

  • Be selective in how and where you engage to ensure it aligns with your overall theory of change, and, whenever possible, creates connections within and among multiple projects. 

  • Consider supporting the field as it grapples with identifying the best tools for data collection and measurement. As it stands, there is still no one-size-fits-all approach to measuring and tracking the impact of SIE and impact campaignsmeaning that this area is wide open for philanthropic investment. 

  • Team up with others. Consider partnering with a funder collaborative or nonprofit organization that is in tune with a particular topic area as a start. The SIE field will require extensive collaboration within and among sectors to advance the field and avoid duplication of efforts. 

  • Do your research and ask for perspective from trusted sources. There is no set of standards for philanthropists to understand how much the different stages of the SIE process could or should cost to achieve specific outcomes. 

Additional Resources:

  • The Doc Society developed The Impact Field Guide & Toolkit that includes a set of guides, worksheets, and case studies designed to help stakeholders who are supporting and creating social impact entertainment to be more strategic and impactful.

  • The Skoll Center for Social Impact Entertainment published the 2019 State of SIE Report. It explores this emerging field through the views and insight of the artists and industry experts. The online resource includes The State of SIE Map that maps out the landscape of participating organizations across sectors. 

  • As a philanthropist participating in SIE, you will most likely need to partner with content creators and other organizations. It is important to ask the right questions and find a common language before, during, and after a project. Prenup for Partners by Active Voice Lab provides clear and simple tools that can help you be prepared and move through complex situations.

  • The Fledgling Fund Impact Resources site includes white papers, case studies, and a Provider Directory, which is a useful starting point to identify people and organizations that work in the field of outreach and audience engagement. 

  • The Media Impact Funders Impact Tools provides a list of frameworks, apps, and case studies of high-impact media projects to help you think through your impact assessment strategy. 

Published September 23, 2020