Growth hacking: a process of rapid experimentation to identify the most efficient ways to grow a business (or cause!)

An idea that has captured the attention of the startup tech sector is the notion of growth hacking, a way to quickly scale a business through rapid experimentation. For causes, this can range from increasing conversion rates by testing simple design tweaks, to nailing rapid response and raising $24M in a weekend. Growth hacking is more of a mindset of experimentation than tactics and techniques. It’s a particularly useful framework since nearly everything we’ve learned about engagement is changing. While we had a decade to adjust to websites being important, we’ve had a lot less time to figure out social media, and even less time to adopt a mobile-first world. What worked a few years ago, may not today.

At the same time, technology advances, global consumer trends, and the urgency of so many causes have given rise to the networked individual who is rewriting the rules of engagement. Anyone with a smartphone, passion for a cause and few hundred followers can raise awareness, mobilize support around an issue, and raise money from friends and family, and are already doing so.

A revolutionary force of change— the individual

The most revolutionary force for change in the world is the same thing today that it’s always been—a person driven by passion—joining with others to transform the world. As fellow changemakers, we should be intensely focused on how we catalyze the transformative impact of the individual.

Individuals are a revolutionary force for change

So how do we catalyze the impact of an individual? It begins with understanding today’s change agents. You may ask, what’s so different about the potential of a person today? Rachel Hutchisson, VP of CSR, tells us it’s today’s individual change agents who are deeply connected to cause, community and technology:

  1. Cause. Today more than ever, individuals are connected to causes more than organizations. People want to spread ideas much more than they care about being card-carrying member of your organization. Your organization is just one channel through which they seek to drive change.
  2. Community. Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms describe it this way. “Old power works like a currency. It is held by few… New power” – that is, the power that is driving social change today — “operates differently, like a current. It is made by many; it is open, participatory and peer-driven.” From the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter, from the Ice Bucket Challenge to the Woman’s March, many of today’s most effective movements are less about single charismatic voices and more about the power of the chorus. And, when individual people want to make a difference, many think not just of donating their time or their money, but their networks. They view growing the chorus to be an important part of their work.
  3. Technology. It’s central in pretty much everything people do today. How we advance causes, how we share our voices, how we connect. How we live our lives. So it is logical that it also has become central to the way everyday activists engage.

My Passion. My Terms

In terms of participation with causes, there’s a small, but powerful group of individual change-makers who want to do more than sign a petition or make a traditional contribution. They are coming to the table with their own ideas—Scotty Parker who cycled across the US this summer for Water Mission, or Enda O’ Doherty who climbed Kilimanjaro with a washer tied around his back to raise funds for the Pieta House and awareness for mental health, or the guy who dressed up as a Stormtrooper and walked across Australia to raise money for a children’s hospital.

These volunteers have creative and powerful ideas for how they want to make a difference, but they aren’t waiting for permission or a playbook. And these amazing people aren’t outliers. They are the reflection of a larger trend of individuals interested in fundraising, organizing, and engaging on their own terms.

Rise of Peer Influence

One of main drivers behind the success of p2p fundraising is trust. But according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust is at an all-time low, though higher with millennials. Today, your next door neighbor is seen as just as credible a source of information as an academic, government, business or even an NGO.

It’s the individual—the everyday influencer—who is emerging as the new star and trusted source of information that can offer powerful endorsement of your cause to their social networks. It’s why, depending on the type of event, a P2P fundraiser might only send 4 to 7 emails to get a donation. In contrast, a nonprofit sends 2500 emails to get one donation. Similarly, the average click-through rate of email sent by a p2p fundraisers is an astonishing 28% vs .58% (half a percent) when sent by an organization. Read our latest analysis of p2p fundraising.

Peer influence is becoming increasingly important to nonprofit fundraising

Radical Collaboration.

The Networked Change Report from NetChange evaluated 47 of the most effective campaigns, ranging from the NRA to Occupy Wall Street. The report concludes that campaigns that partnered with self-organized networks of people with clear goals and targets made an impact far beyond their level of resourcing—meaning they growthhacked their mission with people power.

The magic combination was the traditional nonprofit that provided a centralized campaign structure and unified message to diverse stakeholders. In contrast, traditional organizations that controlled every aspect of a campaign couldn’t scale their efforts. Similarly, movements led by individuals with too little structure – who did not partner with traditional nonprofits – lacked the infrastructure to make a sufficient impact.

Stunning results can happen when people align on shared goals and have the opportunity to grow into leaders. This was demonstrated by the understaffed Bernie Sanders presidential campaign who entered the race with only 3% name recognition; a big reason his campaign made an impact far beyond its fighting weight was a structure and philosophy that empowered volunteers. With only two digital staffers the campaign hosted the largest distributed political event in history with 2,700 kick-off parties in one night! This was accomplished by trusting volunteers to run events traditionally executed by staff.

What Growth-hacking your mission with people power looks like

What it looks like to growth-hack your mission with people power

What does it look like to growth hack your mission by giving more power to your people? In general, it’s a little less about us and more about them. It’s about a greater investment in your volunteers, advocates, ambassadors or whatever you call people who want to do more.

It’s featuring their hero’s journey and letting them tell their story with authenticity. It’s about providing training and right tools for them to amplify their voice through by making it easy to share on social media, easy to record video testimonials, easy to get involved.

When we support people to take an active role within organizations we increase participation which creates more fundraisers, more advocates and more people messengers. More participation means more power to make an impact – more power to deliver missions, more power win campaigns and people served. All of this is needed more than ever to take on the enormous challenges our planet faces.

Engagement has evolved, and so must your technology solutions and strategies. The shifting engagement landscape means that your organization must start focusing on:

  1. Moving from simply reporting on data to actually using it to recommend actions. It’s time for technology that will help you easily identify and reach your most socially active supporters and ask them to share your next event, action, or fundraiser with their social networks.
  2. Dramatically increasing participation by mobilizing real-time passion for your supporters on social media. For example, Save the Children Action Network remarked their most effective email campaign directly following the election was the result of dramatically pivoting their campaign message around early childhood education once they saw how passionate their supporters were around the election results. While they knew their supporters leaned toward Clinton, they could see how strong that support was by seeing hashtags like #ImStillWithHer still flooding their dashboard. This insight prompted them to significantly change their messaging timeline and tone. They remarked, “if we had launched our initial message, which was neutral in tone, we would have risked alienating our strongest supporters.”
  3. P2P Fundraising. IT’s time to understand the best, and perhaps new supporters who you can engage with your next P2P fundraising event. You need to be able to identify socially active or wealthy individuals to cultivate as team captains or participants for your P2P participant database. It’s also important to have the data to help you identify the likelihood of a participant or team captain or supporters who frequently talk about your programs and are ripe for an invitation.