I’ve had an Extinction Rebellion protestor staying in my flat for 4 days. He’s a 70-year-old Grandad of 4 and a retired engineer who needed a place to stay in London whilst building barricades. We’d never met before but shared the same values and bought into the same mission. He’s been involved with East Anglia Extinction Rebellion and I’m on a mailing list for Extinction Rebellion Christians. We were connected via a central volunteer coordinator and finished final logistics on WhatsApp.
It’s the perfect example of how society’s way of solving social issues is changing. For centuries doing good has been owned by institutions with hierarchical command-and-control, top-down power structures. But with more connected technology and an expectation of participation, traditional power hierarchies are quickly being disrupted by peer-to-peer networks. The technical term is a holacracy. Jeremy Heiman’s book “new power” outlines perfectly the extent of this disruption in every sector; from travel (Airbnb, Uber) to retail (Facebook marketplace, Etsy) and even food (Olio).In this more connected world, hierarchical power will struggle to retain control as people increasingly feel they can achieve their ambitions and find new ways of doing things by collaborating with peers, not relying on institutions that don’t have their interests at heart or feel distant from their priorities. The charity sector is no different. A Wolf Ollins study found that most people think businesses or individuals working together should solve the world’s social issues. Charities and activists fell sadly at the bottom of the pile as people see them as institutional, untrustworthy or unrepresentative of the views of the people. It’s crucial that charities embrace new power to solve social issues if they are to survive long term.
The key to winning in the new power world is to move from being a controller to a catalyst.
Instead of setting restrictive boundaries on who and how people should engage with your cause – create big ideas, connecting platforms and engaging experiences that draw people into your movement on their own terms and allow people to interpret it in their own way.
Organizations can take this catalytic approach in their strategies, in their creative and in their internal culture. Based on our experience we’ve created a checklist for any charities big or small to create the conditions for harnessing new power.
- Ditch limiting and generic audience segments and uncover the shared values and motivations that unite existing and prospective supporters, whoever they are.
- Break down the “them and us” divide between supporters and beneficiaries. Switch from saviour pity to empathy with people like me. Explore the full range of possible human relationships between supporters and beneficiaries; could they be allies, neighbours, collaborators or friends?
- Think bigger than going straight to a donation ask with saturated audiences who are giving to every other charity out there. Follow the McKinsey model to build bigger consideration experiences that draw a wider range of believers into awareness, consideration, engagement and more active support and advocacy for your movement, on their own terms.
Catalysing big ideas:
- Create a memorable, simple and well-crafted big idea that galvanises a wide range of people to take different actions and last for years to come. Your idea should be a fertile creative territory that inspires internal teams to continually interpret and execute interesting new ideas that act as the “cherry on the top” of your campaign. These executions are often what grab people’s imaginations and win awards. Just look at Marmite’s “Love it or hate it”. First coined in 1996, it’s inspired continual new executions for 13 years, from DNA testing kits to family board games, all whilst reinforcing the same idea in the public mind.
- Break enormous social crises down into manageable wins that give people a role and make people feel like progress is happening. Think “Beating cancer right now”
- Consider more than a limiting proposition, judged by how close people can replicate your exact wording. Think instead about the principles and beliefs that sit behind it. We love ‘Versus Arthritis’ communications that always reiterate the beliefs that arthritis can happen to anyone, is life-limiting and will one day be stopped
Catalysing internal culture
- A culture where connectivity and collaboration between different teams is allowed to thrive and people are empowered to pursue new innovations that emerge as a result
- A diverse team of decision-makers that leaves the ivory tower and is informed by a range of different perspectives and opinions – whether through research, steering panels, staff or hackathons with supporters and beneficiaries, like our Holy Hackathon with millennial churchgoers for Christian Aid or the Connect Labs innovation hub for blind and partially sighted people we created with RNIB.
The times are changing, but take heart. No organisation is getting it right all the time. Change won’t happen overnight and moves one step at a time. But in our new power world of disruption, change is necessary to survive long term.
Embrace the power of participation and you will go further and faster than you ever expected. We have greater opportunities to solve social issues now than ever before, but only if we put power in the hands of the people.
Come and talk to us if you’d like to learn more.