So what is #newpower all about?

So what is #newpower all about?

Peter Lewis | 6 December 2019

Peter Lewis, Chief Executive of the Institute of Fundraising, looks at what the new power model shows us about movements and campaigning organisations, and what membership organisations like the IoF can learn from this framework.

I saw author and public speaker Jeremy Heimans present on ‘new power’ over a year ago, but it feels the right time to reflect on it now, post initial stages of Extinction Rebellion and as we build up to the election.

When I saw him speak I have to say I came away feeling that little in what he had talked about was either new or effecting power, and that many in the audience, who had been involved in grass roots movements over the previous few decades and more, would have been insulted by the lack of recognition to them – think the anti-apartheid movement for example. I therefore didn’t buy his and Henry Timms book of the same name when it came out.

But I was encouraged to give it a read over the summer by two people I respect from very different places in the voluntary sector: Paul de Gregorio of Rally and Shaks Ghosh of Clore Social – and I am glad I now have.

The book ‘New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World - and How to Make It Work for You’ has interesting insights, good examples and helpful reminders that make it worth a read, as well as being enjoyable, not only for anyone interested in changes happening across society today, but also particularly for people who are interested in engaging people in causes and campaigns, or indeed in membership organisations. That, for me, is fundamentally what it is about – how to effectively engage and lead people in the modern world, while also reflecting on how people’s expectations of you as an organisation or movement are changing.

New power still, I think, over plays changes that are happening, and more could be referenced from successful (and unsuccessful) movements from the past – probably going back to the Peasants’ Revolt and the first printing of the Bible. But it is much more nuanced than the title suggests, and that shouldn’t dissuade you from giving it a read. Rather than being binary about new power being good, it has interesting examples and guidance about blending old power with the new, for maximum impact.

Religion and community

It is a natural human instinct for people to come together for common cause or interest, and we have been doing it for millennia. Think of the major faiths, for example. And people’s motivations are never simple or binary. Churches have often acted as the centres of the local community for people with little or no religious belief.

My ex-wife’s grandmother was the mainstay of the local village church for over 60 years, without believing in God. It was her way of being a part of the local community. The same complex personal motivations remain the same today. In many ways, although technology is changing the ways people can mobilise or be mobilised, I am not so convinced of fundamental differences between now and what has happened in the past.

The climate strikes

Extinction Rebellion’s approach may seem new and exciting. The climate strike may have mobilised people around the world. But are these approaches fundamentally different to people secretly passing newly translated and printed copies of the Bible around in the Reformation? Or plans being shared in coded poems during the Peasant’s revolt? Is the CND sign, now the universal emblem for peace, and which deliberately never had an owner, any different from Extinction Rebellion today? And hasn’t the main take-away from Extinction Rebellion been of people coming together, occupying space? In the election, isn’t a great deal of the interaction face-to-face, on the doorstep or in the local market?

For me, the most interesting reflections in Heimans and Timms book were on levels of engagement and crowdsourcing ideas. For any membership organisation, or organisation that relies on a strong cohort of volunteers, the lessons from LEGO and NASA are incredibly pertinent. New power talks about “super-participants”. People who are incredibly committed to our product or cause – or fans you might say. In LEGO’s case, adults absolutely addicted to playing LEGO, developing new models; in NASA’s case, professional and amateur scientists around the world interested in space exploration.

New power in membership organisations

In a membership organisation they are your most committed members, probably volunteers with particular roles such as committee members. Those who are supporting others, giving your organisation huge amount of time and expertise.

If we think for only a minute we can probably all identify who our “super-participants” are. We should really challenge ourselves as to whether we are doing enough to engage them, listen to them, support them, and embed their views and ideas in our future development. We may be used to consulting with our members, but are we truly engaging with them to help find solutions to the problems we are facing? This is one area where I am committed to doing more of at the IoF.

Perhaps all this means that membership organisations should have a natural advantage moving forward? We are based on a community of people coming together for common cause; people who have a sense of belonging, who want to be supported and served, but who also want to contribute. If we can get that engagement right, and use all the opportunities that technology now allows us to engage in different ways, and keep our communities of people central to our thinking at all times, perhaps membership organisations who were once predicted to disappear as a result of freely available information, will actually thrive and prosper.

So when people start talking about new power; digital engagement; the power of Facebook, Instagram or the latest App, perhaps just remind them that the real power is people coming together for common cause. And remember #NewPowerfulMembershipOrganisations

Peter Lewis is Chief Executive of the Institute of Fundraising


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