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Some of history’s largest movements have been led by small teams. The key element behind their success? An ability to distribute leadership to their community.
While the idea of distributing leadership is not new, it’s seen a lot of change since the inception of digital organizing tools, which have made it possible to scale efforts toward distributing leadership to online communities more than ever before.
With that said, this is the perfect time to expand your digital organizing efforts to make the most of your capacity as a team—you might find that a small team can maximize its efficiency and operate at the same scale as a larger one, particularly in a fully digital landscape.
Let’s say you’re getting your first fundraising campaign off the ground with a team of less than five—and trying to determine if it’s really possible. Or maybe you’re preparing to run for local office and need to figure out how large a campaign team you really need to be successful. Or, it could be that you're fired up to lead relief efforts in your local community, but you’re wondering if you can do it without any paid staff.
The answer to all of the above is yes. In some cases, it’ll take creativity and applying the right strategy—but NationBuilder exists to give everyone the ability to step up and work toward building the future they want to see.
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Grow your supporter base
When you’re working with a small team (or even solo) your biggest asset is the online community you build around you. These are the people who will make up your database—supporters, donors, volunteers, friends and more.
This is the group who will help build the foundation for your efforts. You might feel hesitant to ask for help or reach out to friends with a specific need, but this is a skill you can hone—one that will become invaluable as you work to build, engage, and scale your online community. And to maximize the impact of your outreach, it’s important to have an infrastructure in place to capture meaningful interactions and the information you glean from them. This means having an action-oriented website that can track how your potential supporters engage with your site once they navigate there.
For example, AnimalVictory.org, a petition site run by a duo of long-time animal welfare advocates, showed exactly how far this kind of infrastructure can go when they opted for an action-driven website over a DIY one, centered around ending the mistreatment of animals.
With action pages set up to track and identify when supporters sign a petition, donate to their cause, or subscribe to their newsletter—they have insight into how each supporter has engaged with their organization thus far, and can use that information to personalize their communications moving forward. The result? A total of 150,000 petition signatures collected within six months of their site launch, and 10,000 new email subscribers coming in every month. All of this supporter mobilization happened online, through their action-driven website, targeted emails, and optimized petition pages.
Mobilize your community
While growing a supporter base is absolutely essential to your efforts, it won’t do you much good if the people you’re pursuing aren’t engaged with the work your organization prioritizes. Moving them to action is the next critical step in ensuring you can continue to scale your efforts without growing the size of your team. And right now, online actions are key.
To keep people engaged and increase the likelihood they’ll take you up on your ask, you’ll need to personalize your outreach to their unique journey with your organization. This means addressing the actions they’ve taken thus far (e.g. making a donation, signing up for your newsletter, etc.), taking their personal interests into account, and tying your ask back to how they originally got involved with your organization.
The Livable Streets Alliance, an advocacy organization pursuing equitable and innovative transportation solutions within the metro Boston area, did just that. In 2018, with a team of five, they managed to move three major initiatives forward that helped drive a $5 million increase in Boston’s transportation budget. This was made possible with three fully-integrated websites, one for each initiative, which allowed their lean team to harness the power of digital organizing to grow a large supporter base for distinct initiatives and have advocates ready to mobilize on their behalf when the time was right.
Turn supporters into leaders
At the very core of distributed leadership is the idea that your supporters can grow with your organization, and be given more and more responsibility as they do. Through this process you build trust, allow them to take more ownership over their work, and with the right organizing tools, give them access to the information they need to help carry out that work.
In 2019, this was expertly done by 100 Debates, a nonpartisan environmental campaign that centered on a coordinated day of debates across Canada addressing candidates’ plans on climate change. It was a massive day of action that relied heavily on the involvement of more than 100 volunteer organizers who were tasked with leading debates across the country.
To get them prepared, the team behind 100 Debates spent valuable hours on digital outreach, calls and video training. By investing time in developing their supporters’ skill sets, they gave them the tools to lead within their own communities, and expanded the reach of what the campaign team could do on their own. They empowered their supporters to be a part of something bigger than themselves and feel good about the work they were accomplishing—work that allowed more than 100 live debates with diverse candidates from all across the country to happen simultaneously, making the climate a key priority in the Canadian election cycle.
These strategies for expanding the reach of your efforts with a small (or even nonexistent) team are centered in a product principle we prioritize all the time here at NationBuilder: Putting your people at the center.
The idea of “your people” doesn’t have to be limited by geography or proximity—reach beyond your local community, as people from all around the world might be more inclined to want to connect with one another and make an impact in these uncertain times.
Creating community online has always been at the heart of digital organizing, but now more than ever, tapping into that community is what will help you create exponential growth needed to knock your goals out of the park—regardless of the size of your team.