Quantum Fundraising: A Shared Vision to Effect Change

Throw away the rule book and take a leap into the world of quantum fundraising, says Jon Duschinsky, where people come together for a reason, effect change and then go their separate ways

For a long time, scientists have known the world is no longer a place of certainty. That it is not linear. That cause and effect was a thing of the past. Scientists came up with a way of defining this world, and called it Quantum. The basic premises of a quantum world are that nothing is centrally controlled and that the universe works because an infinite number of very small things join together in ways that we don’t yet understand, to effect change, before disbanding and going their separate ways.

However it is only very recently that we have begun to link science and society. For, difficult as it is to believe, we live in a quantum society. The age of centralized control is over. People are increasingly self-organizing and using the tools of the flat world platform – the web, networks (physical and virtual), tribes, omniscient communication – to effect change in different ways. Linear society is fading from our present. We have entered the age of quantum society, where people come together under a shared vision to effect change before disbanding and going off to do other things.

When Obama was elected, the non-profit world cried revolution. Someone had finally raised money using the Internet! We had a model to follow. And ever since, charities around the world have been heading down the new media road with greater confidence, spending more and more money developing new tools and funky websites. Except that this road is leading them all in the same direction. Failure. Because almost all of them have missed the point.
Obama was elected by a grassroots, quantum swarm of people who came together to effect change. The Obama team set out a clear vision – a vision that was simple enough to be consensual yet powerful at the same time (“Yes we can”) – and then crucially, gave people the tools to swarm together and get him elected. Obama didn’t get himself elected. The grassroots teams did. He just held the fort and ran a solid campaign so that Americans wouldn’t have too many reasons to NOT elect him.

So what about the Internet in all this? Well, in a linear world, achieving change was about money. The party with the most money won. But Obama had much less money than the Republicans when he started the campaign. What Obama (or rather Chris Hughes, the founder of Facebook and the brains behind the communities) understood, was that if you could allow your real supporters to self-identify, and then ask them what tools THEY needed to help achieve your vision, and then provide them, THEY would do the work. Example – grassroots campaigners for Obama wanted to be able to call up the swing voters in their local area, but didn’t have the information to do it because the information was held in difficult to access centralized databases at Obama HQ. The online team built a link to the database for campaigners. But didn’t stop there. They also built an online integrated calling tool so that calls could be made, and information recorded, in one place. That way, all the volunteers knew what was going on and could make the right calls at the right time. But they didn’t stop there. They also ran massive teleconferences to train campaigners in how to use the system, and then held their hands when they needed to get questions asked. What was the impact? Eight million calls made.

Recognizing that society is quantum is not in the interest of the traditional leaders. It isn’t in the interests of politicians or big business, who think they have the power. But it IS in the interest of organizations that aim to make serious change in the world.

In a quantum society the amount of change you can effect is no longer directly related to the amount of money you have. Nor is it related to your position in society. Already, tiny, unknown organizations are achieving exponentially important things.

If the Obama campaign has taught us anything, it is the model of customer service that you need to achieve change, and that if you really want to achieve something, you need to trust other people to do it for you and give them the tools they need to make it happen.

What is different now is that the web has finally given us the tools to allow self-organization to be efficient. Think back to the world of science for a moment. When the quarks and other infinitely small things come together to do something, they do it with remarkable efficiency. Now think about the world of non-profits. Traditionally, the side of our activity that has involved self-organization has been community fundraising or mobilization. Which is just about the least effective way of doing things. Volunteers or campaigners have always been an integral part of non-profits, but how often can we truthfully say that they work with remarkable efficiency? So there has been a mis-match between the efficient quantum science and the inefficient quantum society. The Internet, social platforms, online tools and remote accessibility that comes through Web 2.0 and mobile networks, overturns this. Because it allows us to conceive the tools for self-organization centrally and then share them with everyone, exponentially increasing their ability to self-organize and achieve change.

So, what does this mean for you?

Until now, the campaigns your organization runs have been centrally decided, scheduled, and managed. Achieving the change YOU want to see in the world is about achieving the amounts of money and mobilization YOU think is necessary to make specific policies that YOU think are a good idea.

The Quantum world is not all about you, but it is all about two things – the VISION that you share with the world, and the TOOLS that you provide other people to achieve it for you.

So who are THEY and how do we apply this slightly abstract thinking?

Obama and Chris Hughes did give us a model and if we apply this model to a typical non profit structure, we get the following.

1. Define an incredibly powerful, consensual and specific objective.
The vision needs to be driven by an individual, someone we can believe in and want to emulate or support. It needs to be big enough to get people excited, but also time and objective specific. And it needs to recognize that people will come together to achieve one thing, and then disband – and that this is OK. Traditionally we built strong relationships with donors that grow over the years. This is not how the quantum world works. And this is one of the Obama team’s (few) errors – they mobilized a massive community of supporters and campaigners to get him elected and now they are doing everything possible to keep that community mobilized, while everyone has moved on to other things.

2. Create opportunities for leaders (or “super-users”) to self-identify
When one of the major US portals launched an ‘answers’ service they relied on a small number of highly motivated and unpaid people to provide most of the answers. And they did it because they loved it. Every cause, every campaign, every vision is going to have a number of serious leaders. People will fall over themselves to devote huge amounts of their time and energy to help achieve a vision.

Once the vision is finalized, the next stage is to give these people the opportunities to self-identify. This can be done more effectively than ever today thanks to social networking, blogs, and other online tools.

When they have identified themselves and have successfully bought into sharing the vision, they need to find out what you could do to allow them to be more effective and reach the vision more quickly. Bring them together. Engage them. Challenge them. Start developing a wish-list of tools and working out what it would take to build them. These tools will allow the supporters (customers) of the vision to mobilize others, to engage actions, to share the vision and to raise money through peer-to-peer asks.

3. Development, customer service and quick reactions
As the first tools come online, you will need to provide support to leaders and the first participants. This will involve hand-holding to get the tools adopted and answering questions as people use them. It will involve reacting quickly to iron out bugs and problems. It will involve developing new tools as people have new ideas. The movement will grow as the vision is shared, but only if the tools meet people’s needs.

This is the cycle you need to perfect and speed up to allow the movement to achieve critical mass and for change to happen.

How can you make this happen?

Moving from traditional fundraising and campaigning to a more quantum approach will not happen overnight. It needs a number of cultural evolutions that must be given time to take hold. We believe this is the future of achieving change and that within five to 10 years, most major and successful organizations will have adopted the model.

In our opinion, there is clear competitive advantage for any organization that decides to take on this way of fundraising, especially if your non profit aims to achieve change that will simply not happen without scale.

Your three-stage Action Plan

Phase 1
The first steps to moving in this direction will be to analyze your current campaigning and fundraising activity. What is the vision? Who are the groups involved? What are their motivations? How do they interact? Do you already have some leaders? What are their interests? What data is held and what are the internal systems around information management? What are the relationships with donors and campaigners?

Phase 2
Next, you will need to identify a vision that fits with the organizational objectives as well as with what your supporters think about you. This will be a collaborative process to develop a case for support and ensure internal support and buy-in.

Then you can begin to package this vision and work with social networking experts to share it with communities (and your existing supporter base) to identify leaders, before engaging these people in conversations, both online and face to face, to help determine the tools they need to achieve the vision.

Phase 3
Rather than reinventing the wheel, you will save time and money by drawing on the information gathered during the analysis phase to build on existing capacity. Out of these conversations will come a wish-list of tools and a process for developing and implementing them. Then it is about building the tools, engaging and listening to your leaders and growing supporter-base as they implement them and continuing this virtuous circle until you move closer to a tipping point where you can reach out and touch the change you are working to achieve.

About: Jon Duschinsky is founder of bethechange, an international network of consultants in fundraising and communication. bethechange has offices in Paris and London and works with non profit organizations in over 20 countries around the world: foundations, research institutes, higher education, NGOs, international development agencies and more in France, Europe, North America and EurAsia.

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