Four Kinds of Nonprofit Leaders We Need Now: True Believers
What kinds of nonprofit leaders do we need now in order to effect real social change? Well, according to Kevin Kelly's landmark essay (and contrary to conventional nonprofit wisdom), you don't need the whole world to be a part of your cause. You just need 1,000 True Fans.
Kevin outlines his 1,000 True Fans concept mainly for creators, but it works for the nonprofit sector, too (as creators of change, if you will).
A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author — in other words, anyone producing works of art — needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
Kevin further defines a True Fan as:
...someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.
Justin Bieber lovers are True Fans to the max. Justin is a young pop singer who has quickly risen to phenomenal success with recordbreaking album sales and 13 million followers on Twitter. Young girls swarm his concerts and constantly spread the word about his music to their friends on social media with their cell phones. I've no doubt that if Justin asked his fans to jump, the only question they would ask is, how high? For my older readers, replace Justin Bieber with the Beatles or the Jackson Five and you get the idea. '80s babies like me: think New Kids on the Block. (Don't front. You know you loved them!)
Translated into nonprofitspeak?
We need True Believers. (Not to be confused with "Beliebers," as Justin Bieber's fans so affectionately call themselves.)
True Believers are passionate supporters who are ready and willing to do the work. They are the kind of people who believe so absolutely in the mission of your organization that they will become dedicated staff who aren't there just because they need a job. They may have a personal connection to your cause and have typically already put their stake in the ground (privately or publicly) on this particular issue. True Believers are engaged volunteers who recruit others to help out as well. They donate money, advocate on your behalf, join your boards (not just "sit" on them), lead committees, attend your events, and plan their own events in support of your cause. They're all over their social networks singing your organization's praises on Twitter and Facebook. True Believers will also tell all their friends, family and colleagues to support your organization with their time and money, too.
How do you find your true believers?
- Ask your staff, volunteers, board members: Why are you here? What brought you to this organization, this cause? Their answers will teach you a ton. (This can be done at a retreat or even a special staff/board meeting.)
- Invite current and potential supporters to events, even your "small" ones. Time is precious. The ones who come are the ones who care. (Atlas Corps does this really well. Just sign up for their email newsletter and you'll see what I mean. They invite you to some very cool, intimate gatherings with organization staff and program participants.)
- Go to where people are talking about your cause. Chances are, True Believers are already organizing themselves without you — on college campuses, at Meetup groups, on Twitter, even at the Occupy Wall Street movement in your city.
True Believers are not...
- "Yes men" who blindly jump on board with everything your organization does (True Believers care enough about your mission to challenge it when necessary)
- Staff members who are just working at your organization until they find something better
- Board members who are there out of a feeling of obligation to the founder: the "rubber stampers"
- Volunteers who are at your organization just so they can get school credit, or celebrities looking for media attention
How to support True Believers
- Ignite their commitment by giving them "insider" information about the organization. Yes, even "lower level" staff and volunteers! Not just board members. Be honest about what you really need to fulfill the mission. Then ask them to help make it happen.
- Ask them to make significant contributions of time, attention and money. True Believers consider your mission to be a part of their life's purpose. Give them something real to add to their legacy. Think of living kidney donors. Could you ask your True Believers to do something as personal and important as that?
- Give them a reason to take off work or bring their friends together. Think "philanthropy parties" or runs/walks/travel/campaigns for the cause. Allow them to use their involvement in your organization to support their personal mission. Missionary trips for religious organizations are a great example of this. What would make your True Believers put their reputation on the line for you?
By recognizing, engaging and supporting True Believers, nonprofits can stop wasting time trying to recruit and convince people to care and do more with the people who already do.