This is a guest blog post by Ben Bisbee, the presenters of our free webinar on 7 Ways to Increase Member Engagement in a Distracted World. Click here to sign up for this webinar on April 24, 2018.
Art is fun. As a nonprofit, allowing yourself to direct your mission and vision in creative, artistic ways can feel extremely cathartic and expressive. So, when you’re thinking about engaging with stakeholders—volunteers, donors and members—it’s easy to focus on the look and feel of something, and on the words or fonts used. It’s easy to toil over images that elicit hope, but also showcase need. Am I right?
But there is also a science to words, to outreach and engagement. And sadly, it’s the science that’s often overlooked as some of the most valuable tools you can leverage when trying to engage with stakeholders in relationships you are hoping to achieve or grow.
See, not every relationship is alike – nor do you want all your relationships looking like one another. The science of engagement helps solve for this. And many years ago, I realized something really cool and helpful to point this out: Newton's Laws of Motion are essentially the very building blocks necessary to develop an effective engagement strategy.
No, really. Let me explain.
Newton's laws of motion are three physical laws that together lay the foundation for classical mechanics and their outcomes. They describe the relationship between a body and the forces acting upon it, and its motion in response to those very forces.
Discovered by Sir Isaac Newton nearly three centuries ago, I took the liberty of summarizing his three laws and then applying them to the science of engagement in ways I think you'll not only appreciate but leverage in your own nonprofit’s planning. I'm calling it Newtonian Engagement. Are you ready for a quick lesson? Because here we go…
Newton's 1st Law: An object at rest tends to stay at rest,
and an object in motion tends to stay in motion.
Newtonian Engagement Rule #1: An individual tends to not engage unless acted upon by someone engaging them.
Oh sure, this one seems obvious. But it’s important to understand that engagement is an action, a verb. It’s more than just typical organizational marketing or communications. Engagement is actually about strategic relationship design and interaction. Or what I like to call “engagement dynamics” — the tactics or elements that make up your engagement: your marketing, your communications, your solicitations, your stewardship, etc.
Often people don’t join because—and follow me here—they're simply not being asked and when they are, it’s not with any kind of specific intent or design. Oh sure, we’re pumping out messaging and marketing and advertisements that promote or suggest someone joining us, but remember, strategic engagement is more than just words on a page. At the very least, words and photos are the most passive levels of engagement dynamics.
I see it all the time; there is a comfortability in generically promoting needs or services. But at the interpersonal level? Asking for money, engaging about your mission, truly inviting people to join or partner or integrate their money, time or talents? It’s avoided an awful lot more than the industry would like to admit. And worse, rarely is it tailored to the type of engagement we’re wanting to elicit.
So, we have to find the right opportunities and engagement dynamics to truly engage and identify the kinds of engagement we’re hoping to achieve. We have to determine what we want and actually ask for it. It's not only time, I think it's mathematically essential.
Newton's 2nd law: The more force applied to an object,
The more accelerated the object becomes.
Newtonian Engagement Rule #2: An individual will continue to engage or grow their engagement when a nonprofit continues to engage or advances the engagement.
Just as real engagement can get someone to become involved in the first place, imagine what creating opportunities for conversations, collaborations or integrations could create?
Moreover, it’s also an opportunity to grow or advance relationships. Just as one might start as an entry level member, with the right levels of progressive engagement, they should — or at least could be — brought into leadership roles or help to advance your organization’s membership growth and advocacy.
As an organization, you’ve already introduced the initial engagement momentum to join you, why not keep that momentum flowing by building increasingly strategic engagement dynamics to help reinforce and grow their value to you and your value to them. This might sound easy, but it does take another layer of strategic intent. And the results help to deepen an individual commitment to your organization.
Newton's 3rd Law: For every action (force)
there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Newtonian Engagement Rule #3: When your nonprofit is matching the engagement of the stakeholder, your organization is met with equal relationship engagement.
This is the classic "push and pull" of Newton's laws. The tires push on the road, and the road pushes back. This is how true relationships work – both parties working in their own way to effectively reinforce the relationship at hand.
This is often why when strategic engagement isn’t in play—when there is more art than science—you will feel like you put out a wealth of energy and it yielded no return. Or a member will feel like they’re always trying to communicate, trying to offer support or suggestions but are met with silence or disinterest. However, when those you’re engaging see your true interests and can match them, amazing things mutually happen.
Just as Newton's laws of motion define the relationship between a body and the forces acting upon it, Newtonian Engagement does the same for the relationship development and design. Having a need, options, or an opportunity does not automatically create motion, movement, or friction. The same is true with engagement. Just as Newton's laws are universal, scientific truths, so is this about engagement and the need for organizations to invest strategically in the design of their engagement dynamics.
Engagement is an art and a science – not just a tactic. To learn more practical strategies you can use to make your nonprofit’s engagement efforts with your members, volunteers and donors more productive and effective, be sure to join our free webinar “7 Ways to Increase Member Engagement in a Distracted World” on April 24th at 2 p.m. ET.
Ben Bisbee is a nationally recognized trainer, speaker, and consultant focused on nonprofit engagement expertise. He is the founder and principal of Rhinocorn Consulting, an engagement expertise consultancy focused on designing dynamic models of volunteer management, board development, fundraising, corporate partnerships, and public program strategy and design. Ben is also the Administrator for the 31st Century Nonprofit Network on Facebook - a community of engagement and content-sharing for nonprofit professionals.