Lone Nut

If your job is in peer-to-peer fundraising, you are in the movement business. Movements are made of humans moving, and while there is no instruction manual for this complex beast, there are some clues about human behavior that can help you get your movement moving. Last week we talked about the well-known star thrower story by Loren Eiseley. This story illustrates that movements can be about anything, and how they can start.

Once again, I went to my personal psychology news feed, the beloved Big O the psychologist, and casually started a conversation about movements.

What I gathered (like shooting fish in a barrel over here to get a blog out of him):

Although movements are diverse with regard to duration, importance and numbers of individuals involved, all movements do have some common features. The three-minute Ted Talk by Derek Sivers, How To Start A Movement, captures the common features of movements beautifully.

(Go watch it and come back. This will make so much more sense if you do.)

Paraphrasing Sivers, here are the steps involved in starting a movement.

  1. First, you need a leader, someone who is not afraid to stand out and be ridiculed. Imagine the girl in the Star Thrower. What she is doing isn’t complicated, and her role is to demonstrate how others can follow.
  2. Then you get your first follower, the old man. The first follower “transforms a lone nut into a leader.” The leader must embrace the follower as an equal, so now it’s about the two of them—plural.
  3. The movement has to be public. Others will join because they are emulating the followers, not the leader.
  4. As the movement gathers momentum, there is a tipping point where it becomes less risky to join the movement than to be left out of the movement.

Two essential features needed to grow a movement are:

  • Nurturing your followers as equals so it’s about the movement, not the leader.
  • Emphasizing that leadership is over-glorified—it's the followers who make the difference in sustaining a movement. What's important is having the courage to follow, and showing others how to follow.

The best example of this dynamic at work in my mind is the American Cancer Society Relay For Life. The lone nut? Gordy Klatt. The first follower? Pat Flynn. Emphasis that leadership is over-glorified? Illustrated by the magnificent emphasis that Relay put on field-level volunteers during Relay’s massive growth in the late 80’s and 90’s.

Who is your lone nut? Who is your first follower? Or, are you running a marketing program featuring a product?