Many of us are familiar with the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.” The truth is, it “takes a village” to achieve just about any meaningful change in our world—from fighting disease to uniting for peace.
For many years, purpose-driven organizations believed that change could result from a handful of generous supporters, vocal advocates or committed volunteers. Today, in our highly fragmented world, we know that the most effective change makers inspire participation at a broader and deeper level.
Below are four key ways to achieve this:
1. Make the case in concrete, relatable terms. What problem are you trying to solve, and why should people—even those not directly affected—care? If you want to involve people in your cause, they need to understand its relevance and feel its importance. No Kid Hungry, whose name is already revealing, makes a clear and compelling case: “1 in 5 kids in America doesn’t get the food they need every day. This takes a terrible toll on their health and development, and threatens their futures in profound ways. It also drags down our nation’s economy by perpetuating the cycle of poverty.” No Kid Hungry also clearly breaks down the resources that are currently being deployed to solve child hunger, and why they are insufficient. It is worth noting that this type of clarity is particularly challenging for brands with more than one area of focus. However, to stand out in this crowded landscape, even the most complex organizations must crystallize the challenges they’re solving in clear, compelling and concrete terms.
2. Be transparent about your approach. As Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans explain in Understanding New Power, traditional notions of privacy are being replaced by a permanent transparency as more of us, especially young people, are living our lives on social media. This, combined with the endless amount of information available at our fingertips, has raised the bar on the level of data and detail one expects—particularly when it comes to how dollars are being spent and how these investments link to impact. Charity: water hits the mark on this. They are crystal clear about their process of providing long-lasting water and sanitation services to communities all over the world, from planning to implementation to maintenance to tracking. They are even piloting remote sensor technology so that anyone anywhere can monitor the water flow in their wells in real time. This kind of radical transparency allows potential supporters to see under the hood for themselves, which deepens trust and, ultimately, encourages greater involvement.
3. Make it easy for supporters to engage in meaningful and authentic ways. The digital age has helped nurture a more participatory culture. The kind where one can tweet ideas and vote for the next new Lay’s potato chip flavor, or nominate a friend to be the new face of Dove by sharing how she represents real beauty. Offering meaningful opportunities for supporters to engage with your brand—through front-line volunteering, ideating and problem-solving, and/or galvanizing their networks on behalf of your cause—strengthens their dedication to your success. Amy Webb, a “futurist” who forecasts digital trends for nonprofit and for-profit brands, even suggests that instead of asking for “donations to,” you should ask for “investments in” your cause. But you also have to mean it. If you ask someone to raise her voice, for example, but don’t intend to consider her perspective, it may end up damaging her relationship with your brand.
4. Show your impact. Then show it again. Supporters want to know what their contributions make possible, whether it’s their time, money, mind or voice. For example, the Robin Hood Foundation makes clear that 100% of every donated dollar goes directly to the most effective poverty-fighting programs in New York City. Last year, they invested $132 million in more than 210 programs. Charity:water touts that in 2014, volunteers completed the critical tasks of mailing out over 4,100 tax receipts, writing 700 thank you notes, and preparing 1,000 gift bags, helping to ensure a well-run operation. Ultimately, people give to causes, not to organizations. The more effectively you articulate and visualize the impact you create together with your investors, the more motivated people will be to join in and take action.
Our experience has taught us that by following these four principles, purpose-driven organizations can engage and galvanize a community of supporters to achieve collective impact, with exponentially larger and more lasting results.