Friday, October 17, 2014

Inviting Others to Play

So, you've got a cause. You're inspired. You want to be part of a movement! You want to build the movement in your community!! You are a change maker!!! But...how do you recruit people to come play with you? How do you even get people to an outreach event?


We don't know that girl in the bee costume, but she's
attracted to my crazy Belle Bride Princess. Who could resist that?
It's the classic conundrum. The first hurdle to building a movement is finding your followers. It all sounds so intimidating, but is it really so different than your children inviting others to play on the playground? When entering a new playground full of kids we haven't met, I have one daughter who simply runs through the area yelling and immediately has a flock behind her. I think most of us, however, empathize more with my other daughter who gets frozen in her own thoughts wondering if she should ask someone to play...if she'll be bothering them...if they'll think she's fun...if they will refuse. Even if we were the yelling child when we were six years old, life has a way of introducing fears and insecurities.

Building a movement is still a lot like asking people to play with you. Today, I offer you two thought experiments to help you think about your approach to finding your followers.

Video of Concert Dancers
Watch this TED talk by Derek Sivers called "How to start a movement" where you will see a movement begin and swell at an outdoor concert in less than 3 minutes. Here are some actual grownups demonstrating all the human characteristics of movement builders while essentially just playing.


Video from Derek Sivers' TED2010 talk
Did you see that? Most of the success of getting people on their feet is having the courage to do your thing and then empowering your first followers as equals!



The Chair Demo
At a ONE Campaign meeting last night, Sam Meyers of ONE's Washington DC staff facilitated a session on the topic of building a movement in our local community. She used a simple demonstration using two chairs to get us thinking about key concepts in getting folks to an outreach event. She pulled two chairs to the front of the room (not very close to where we were sitting), set them back to back, and asked for 2 volunteers to sit in the chairs with no explanation about why. I jokingly said, "I'm in if I can bring my wine with me!" and sauntered up with my wine glass. My friend Jennifer jumped up with her beer and took the second seat. To our surprise, Sam said "That's it! Thanks! You can go back to your seats now." With us back in our original seats, the real lesson about volunteering began.

"Why did you volunteer?" she asked me. Because I know how awkward it feels to be a facilitator with no volunteers. "Why did you volunteer?" she asked Jennifer. Because she was my friend, so she thought it would be fun to be with me. Plus, she'd be supportive of me taking the risk and thought that that if she didn't know the answer to something Sam asked, I might know it. Less risk for me, less for her. "Why didn't you volunteer?" she asked each of the other people. I don't remember all their answers, but here's a smattering:


  • I didn't know what was going to happen
  • It was kind of far and I was comfortable where I was
  • I felt intimidated
  • I might not know the answers (aka have the skills to do the activity)
  • I didn't want to look silly in front of others
  • I figured someone else would

All of those reasons not to volunteer sound like the very same barriers people you'll have to overcome to get people to your outreach event. They translate into: "It's not near to where I live", "I'm not sure I can do what you're asking me to do", "I don't want to rearrange my schedule for something I'm not sure will be fun or worthwhile" Even I - who was first to volunteer - made a joke that actually has bearing in the real world. I said I didn't want to go unless I could take my wine. Well...some people would rather go to an outreach event in a bar than in a church basement. If they are taking time out of their otherwise busy schedule, having relaxing drink in a nice place is appealing even if someone's not yet committed to your cause.

So, what do we learn from the chair activity?

#1 First Follower is a leader, too. Just like in the video, we see that the First Follower is a type of leader, too, so it might help to stack the deck a little and strategically choose who that First Follower will be. Is it someone like me who has led a group before and will be sympathetic to the difficulty of what you're trying to do? Is it someone like my extroverted daughter who unwittingly picks up followers wherever she goes? Is it someone already connected in your community who knows a lot of key players you'll need to know?

#2 Friendship is a powerful motivator Jennifer came because I went and it made her more comfortable to take the risk. You know this from watching your children:
Friends make everything less scary and more fun. 
Ugandan girls were not afraid to talk to me or take a selfie
with my phone because they felt safe with their friends!
Friendship certainly doesn't guarantee they will stick around and be part of your group for all time, but your friends are willing to take a bit of risk for you because they like you. If it's not their cup of tea, then maybe they know someone else who will join you based on their recommendation and friendship.

#3 We need to create outreach events while keeping the barriers in mind. Design your outreach event in a way that makes it as easy as possible for people to say yes. Without being overly negative, think about the main reasons people might say no and try to address them as best you can. Provide food. Have it in a drink-friendly place if your crowd is into that. Are you reaching out to moms? Hire a sitter to watch the kids while they play or watch a movie during your meeting. Are people from two different areas? Find a place 1/2 way between or in a place so cool that it's worth the drive or alternate your meetings between the locations. People don't know your organization? Put in the time to actually talk with your invitees to let them know about it and that what you expect of them is easy. Are there disabled individuals in your group? Make sure that your venue can accommodate them.

I can't tell you the magic incantation that will make your first outreach meeting a success. In fact, sometimes mine have been not-so-successful. (see my blog "Outreach: Failure and Persistence or 'OMG, What if No One Shows Up?") But with planning, persistence, and a little - or a lot - of help from your friends, I know you're gonna find some great people to play in your sandbox with you!

1 comment:

Sarah @ International Blessings said...

Great article! Thank you for sharing these great tips for bringing people together. It is scary hosting an event, and wondering if anyone will show up or even cares, especially when that cause is dear to your heart.