No 810 Posted by fw, July 17, 2013
“They [Toronto Cyclists Union] have on their website: ‘Join the bike union so we can advocate on your behalf.’ I think that’s the wrong approach. It’s much more powerful to get them to advocate on their own behalf. To give them the tools they need. Like giving them more information, so, you know, the counter arguments, the counter, counter arguments.” —Dave Meslin
Part 1 of this 4-part series, featuring Toronto-based artist and organizer Dave Meslin (‘Mez’), focused on how non-profit organizations can engage more people in the social change process.
In Part 2, Dave explains why empowering your team members is crucial to success. He shares three creative ways to supercharge your team: one, micro-mobilize them so that their actions and messages are targetted; two, fight celebrification so your members don’t feel left out; and three, break down big goals into smaller winnable goals to build a track record of accomplishments for your team.
To watch Dave’s presentation on the Mayfield website, the venue for his lecture, click on the following linked title. Better yet, watch an embedded video of Dave’s 29-minute video below, which includes my transcript with text highlighting of key sections.
Note that the transcript for this, Part 2 of the series, starts at about the 9:35-minute mark and ends at about the 13:21-minute mark.
TRANSCRIPT (Start at the 9:35-minute mark)
Okay, number 2 — Empower Your Membership. We sometimes view our supporters primarily as a financial resource because we want their membership dues and it is the most sustainable type of funding, not from a foundation but from your own constituency. Having funding allows you to hire staff and pay rent. Often we see it as advocating on their behalf. Have you seen this from groups that I’ve founded like the Toronto Cyclists Union? They have on their website: “Join the bike union so we can advocate on your behalf.” I think that’s the wrong approach. It’s much more powerful to get them to advocate on their own behalf. To give them the tools they need. Like giving them more information, so, you know, the counter arguments, the counter, counter arguments. But, also, the ability to know who to phone and when and how. And the advantage of this is that there’s way more of them than us. So your policy advocacy director – you have one – if you have two thousand members, don’t you want them all advocating?
The thing is we don’t want to just mass-mobilize them, we want to micro-mobilize them. Which means they’re advocating to their local councillor or their local MP or their local MPP in their riding or ward. If you get five hundred people out to a rally, great. I mean that’s nice. There’s lots of good reasons to do that. That’s not necessarily going to sway any politician. But if you get fifty people to actually phone the politicians, and if you’re targeting the wards or ridings where you know you need to switch votes, that’s very valuable. But that means that you have a database that can sort your membership by ward. So you can send a targeted message that doesn’t just say “They’re threatening to close libraries. Phone the mayor and tell him not to close libraries.” Your message should say: “The library in your neighbourhood, three blocks away from your house is under threat. Phone your councillor. This is her name. This is her phone number. This is her executive assistant. This is his name. Phone him today.” That’s a much more effective way than getting even two thousand people out to a rally. It’s the micro-mobilizing using targetted, ward-specific messages.
Another quick thing here is to fight celebrification of the non-profit sector. The media and even ourselves sometimes we want to figure out who the heroes are. We put people on pedestals. And we have to fight that because it disempowers everyone else who’s involved. And I find that when the media contacts me to talk about a project I’m working on they want the story to be about me. They try and do a photo of me and write about me. And I push back a lot. I can’t change the story sometime but I can change the photo. I’ll refuse to do solo photos sometimes, and I’ll say no — “If you want a photo, you’ve got to take a photo of my team.”
And the reasons that’s important — because it gives credit to the people who are doing a lot of the work. But more importantly if someone looks in the newspaper and sees a photo of a group of people who are doing amazing work, they might imagine themselves in the photo. How do I join this group? I can easily see my face in this group. If they see a photo of me, how do they fit in? They might think, oh great, I’m glad Dave’s doing that great work. Good for him. And they’ll go to the next page. So always try and get group photos. And counter… it’s partially laziness, and there are other factors, but the media is always trying to make it about the one hero. You gotta fight back against that.
And one more quick thing here — If you’re fighting really big issues that have big goals – like reducing poverty or saving the environment – make sure you also break it down into very small winnable goals. That empowers your membership. Because people want to know and feel that their energy is actually contributing to something tangible. And it’s very hard to measure if you’re ever winning against those big goals. The small, winnable and relevant goals are really important.
So that was empowering your membership.
END OF PART 2 (At about the 13:21-minute mark)
~ Watch for more posts to follow from Dave’s Five Good Ideas presentation ~