People want to go big in 2017!

Your supporters are inspired to make an impact and bring their social networks, stories and ideas to the table. However, the same digital tactics we all know and frankly love, may not get the same traction with the growing democratization of social change.

The conventional rules of nonprofits running all aspects of campaigns are being modified by civic minded individuals who use similar digital tools as nonprofits to be the change they want to see…and it’s working.

We’ve seen the power of campaigns such as #GivingTuesday, Standing Rock and various political races, who provide the tools and centralized plan for supporters to engage their own communities. At the heart of these successful movements is a peer to peer engagement strategy – people connecting with each other through digital tools and social channels who have an underlining sense of urgency about a cause.

The opportunity for nonprofits is to provide campaigns that facilitate deeper engagement with the following new rules in mind:

The game has changed:

  • Citizen movements play an enormous role in leading social change
  • People want meaningful participation, not a ladder of one off actions
  • Peer to peer engagement is key to scaling change

Citizen powered movements play an enormous role in leading social change.

What does an effective people powered campaign look like? It’s perhaps most clear with advocacy campaigns who have made concrete policy outcomes or shifted public opinion beyond financial and geographical limitations.

The “Networked Change” report from NetChange, evaluated 47 of most effective campaigns ranging from the NRA to Occupy Wall Street and concluded that campaigns who worked in partnerships with self-organized networks of people with clear goals and targets, made an impact far beyond their level of resourcing.

The magic combination was the traditional advocacy nonprofit who provided a centralized campaign structure and unified rallying message to distributed groups of stakeholders, including individuals as free agents. In contrast, traditional organizations who controlled every aspect of the campaign couldn’t scale their campaigns, while loose networks of individuals who didn’t partner with traditional nonprofits, lacked the infrastructure to make a sufficient impact.

The report also found “Campaigns that actively consult their audiences and draw on their collective intelligence have access to new assets and power.” In other words, nonprofits who facilitated grassroots participation were more innovative and made a greater impact faster than traditional “command and control” models or distributed networks of people without centralized plan.

People want meaningful participation, not a ladder of one off actions.

Stunning results can happen when people are aligned with shared goals, milestones, specific tasks and opportunity to grow into leaders. As demonstrated by the understaffed Sanders campaign, who entered the race with only 3% name recognition, a big reason they made an impact far beyond their fighting weight was their structure and philosophy which empowered “super volunteers”. With only 2 digital staff at the time, the campaign hosted the largest distributed political event in history with 2,700 kick of parties in one night! This was accomplished by trust volunteers to run events traditionally executed by staff.

It’s the same people powered principle which allowed volunteers of the Special Olympics to host over 100,000 events per year, or every 5 minutes! In both cases, the organizations found if they provided a structure to support their highly competent volunteers to do the job, they would rise to the occasion every time.

In terms of influencing policy, the Sanders example also highlights an important shift in how people want to engage, or be organized. Because information is so readily available, many already people “get it” and are ready to make an impact. This represents a fundamental shift of the widely adopted 1970’s Saul Alinsky organizing philosophy which aims to move the “unenlightened” through a series of engagement steps created by the organization called the “leadership ladder”.

Here, the purpose of people power is to provide political leverage for the organization during a campaign. The problem with this approach in a modern era is that people are largely aware of the issues they signed up for and have their own ideas about steps to reaching a solution.

Peer to peer engagement is the key to scaling change

We almost exclusively think of P2P as a fundraising strategy, but it’s much deeper. Both giving power to your people and P2P is a philosophy that can revolutionize citizen engagement – Who produces content. Who makes change. How culture is created. It’s an expression of an open society and medium of true democracy.

It’s the campaigns that operate like a hashtag – ideas that many embrace, but no one owns – which allow for individual expression among peers which generates more commitment and ownership.

Would #GivingTuesday have emerged as the largest worldwide giving day in history if the founders controlled every aspect of the campaign, made everyone register, required a donation, didn’t rely on p2p engagement and most importantly, wasn’t a hashtag but was branded by the organization? Instead, the brilliant and humble, Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact, provided a centralized plan and message which allowed diverse participation from organizations and individuals.

In summary, giving power to your people allows for deeper engagement with your supporters who can scale your mission with their peers through their social networks. This year experiment with strategies that give people the keys, but provide a roadmap.