Tag Archives: membership

Where do we gather on Big Society – besides London and Twitter?

Yesterday morning NESTA launched the Neighbourhood Challenge, promising the first new Big Society money for local communities. In the evening RSA hosted an excellent event with NCVO on voluntary organisations in BS. In between I had a couple of productive BS-related meetings … all in London, of course, where the public events were as useful for informal networking as the main content – good though that was.
There was lively commentary on Twitter, and some blogging – including a thoughtful piece quoted below by my friend Kevin Harris, long-time specialist in community development and neighbourhoods.
The online content will be dispersed in the cloud of continuing chatter, and those interested in Big Society as friends, critics, or critical friends will go their various ways until the next meeting. In London.
At the end of the day I met up with another old friend who is keenly interested in Big Society, not least as a specialist in whole-system change within organisations and communities, but who is not part of the London crowd.
There’s currently no bigger system-changing policy in the UK than Big Society … and I would love to give you a neat online link to summarise that. But there is no one place to go to, and nowhere online to gather apart from Big Society in the North, which is limited by the amount of effort volunteers can put into such a big topic.
In the evening I gave my out-of-town friend a run down on the BS landscape … which I am tempted to replay here, but that would be to break some (gained in London) confidences. I’m trying to be a helpful, positive, joining up sort of social reporter. It can be frustrating. read more »

RSA rebranding: is Twitter the one to beat?

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has survived my cull of memberships because, although the conventional benefits are thin, it is currently such an interesting place. I’m paid up for another year, and even pondered taking life membership to avoid such vacilitation in future.
However, the organisation has failed to persuade my friend Amy Sample Ward that she should come up with £145 for the honour of being a Fellow. It’s not the possibly sexist label that’s put her off – as she explains here – but rather that the RSA can’t explain what it is for.
This has recently been exercising chief executive Matthew Taylor and staff, as he very honestly explains on his blog (which, by the way, I think is probably the best of its kind by the chief exec of a charity).
Matthew and staff have been discussing rebranding among themselves, while at the same time Matthew emphasises the huge importance of the 27,000 members (Fellows). This led me and some others to explore the contradiction of designing the t-shirts without consultation while suggesting the wearers should be empowered and encouraged to be ambassadors for the organisation. Airlines often get into trouble with staff for doing that … it’s even worse when they are paying you rather than the other way around.
The deeper contradiction is that many people are flattered to be invited to be Fellows because getting FRSA after your name sounds grand …. but in fact it is no qualification at all. Anyone can join with a a couple of upright-looking recommendations. The point of Fellowship is that you shouldn’t look to the benefits for you (magazine, bar, library, label etc) but rather what you can do for society. That’s why RSA was started 250 years ago in the coffee houses of Covent Garden.
Problem is, as one friend of mine put it, “why should I become a Fellow of the RSA when all the excellent lectures are free, and I can do more with my Twitter friends than I can through Fellowship?”
Amy makes that point more strongly:

The RSA, like many other organizations, suffers because of a lack of the most powerful aspect of its branding.  I do not plan to accept the Fellowship invitation because I have not, whether online or in person, from the invitation materials or conversations I’ve had with others, gained a clear understanding of what being a Fellow even means.  Furthermore, and most importantly to me, I have not been shown how a Fellowship will help me in my work at changing my community and the world.

Yes, slogans and colors, font and everything else are all important parts of the branding.  It’s true. But the RSA is missing the most important part, at least in bringing me on board: proving to me that being a Fellow will help ME and not just that my membership will help THEM.

As folks mention in the comments on Matthew’s piece, I don’t need to build my resume (for better or worse, I’m fine with it as it is).  But I am completely open to any and all, whether organization or individual, ready to help me make our local communities and the global community as great as possible.

I must say that I have found the RSA useful in moving forward and amplify some ideas … particularly the membership project started by Simon Berry and I,  now being further developed by RSA and NCVO. I think there’s great potential in the regional networks now developing, and I’m putting some volunteer effort into the online network for London. Do join – it is open to anyone. There’s (real) free drinks on July 2. At the moment we are rather inwardly focussed on elections to the Fellowship council, but the relationships and ideas developed through the conversations will lead to more practical results, I’m sure.

In addition the RSA is starting some really interesting work promoting the development of local community web sites, as I’ve written before. I’ll be helping Nick Booth and Will Perrin on July 10, with some ideas of my own. We are particularly keen to recruit other RSA Fellows interested in setting up local sites or otherwise using social technology in their community …. you can sign up here.

I think that the rebranding solution is quite simple … well … the first steps are. Stop having internal meeting with consultants, and instead ask the Fellows to tell stories about the way that the RSA has helped them achieve more in the world than they otherwise might, whether as individuals or with other Fellows and friends of the RSA. Or how it might. I know, from the connections that I have made, that there are already great stories to be told. Use the emerging city and regional networks as a place to do that, through events, or online. Make it fun … offer prizes … whatever. Maybe even create a central blog for Fellows instead of limiting contributions to comments on Matthew’s … which may not get through. That’s why Amy had to post to her blog. Stop talking at people … help them speak for themselves. In the age of Twitter people expect no less.

Time for a cull of memberships. Reflectively.

I’ve written a fair bit about membership organisations and the impact that social media may have on them, and also helped start a project on the subject that’s now been taken forward by NCVO and RSA. The Carnegie UK Trust is also investigating civil society associations. read more »

Rethinking RSA networks, playfully

About 30 RSA Fellows and friends enjoyed an afternoon last week playing – very constructively – with Lego and plasticine under the guidance of David Gauntlett, Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Westminster. I’ve written before about David’s metaphorical modelling, and this time we were discussing the future of RSA networks and other activities. Excellent reports from Mike Amos-Simpson, Leon Cych and Tessy Britton.

Clay Shirky: nonprofits must become new-style convenors – or lose their members

Clay Shirky really pins down what any organisation relying on members or supporters for its life must do if it is to stay in business as people increasing network online. That means change for campaigning charities, trade associations, and membership bodies who may have worked in the past through a mix of newsletters, events and perhaps not very special services. If they don’t offer more value, members and supporters will stop paying their subs. I’ve suggested this before, Clay says it much better.

Clay is currently promoting the paperback edition of Here Comes Everybody, which he sums up as “Group action just got easier”. It’s all about how people can use the Internet to organise without organisations, as he explained in an extensively covered presentation at LSE last week. Further examples here.

Amy Sample Ward interviewed Clay on a topic close to her heart: what impact will social media have on nonprofits … those charities, memberships bodies etc.

In the video Clay tells the story of a campaigning organisation – the American Civil Liberties Union – that tried to stop members using the organisation’s name when arranging get-togethers through meetup.org. They were saying, in effect, you may have shared values and concerns, but you can’t organise around them using our name. The story has negative and positive aspects.

The negative aspect is that organisations must accept that their members can link a brand and their cause and use tools like meetup.org to get together face-to-face, and then Facebook, Twitter and other online tools to keep connecting. Or vice-versa: connect online, then meet.

The positive aspect is that smart organisations can realise what’s happening, and revise the offer that they make to members and supporters to add more value than DIY networking can offer.

The old model, as explained by Clay is that organisations would offer a one-way relationship: sending out a newsletter, for example. Then they might offer a return channel – give us feedback.

However, these days members and supporters are able to communicate laterally with each other. I’ve previously used this diagram to illustrate typical arrangements – hierarchies, clusters, and networks – with different propositions: join us, join up, join in.

Here’s how Clay puts it. He says that the old model is – we call you a member, and you give us money, and we will give you a newsletter. It’s a outbound model, with the organisation at the centre like a star, broadcasting light to its members.

However, in the age of social media people have got used to being able to talk back, so the model is updated to allow a return track.

But the line back is much less radical, and represents a much less dramatic shift than the lateral lines, the lines drawn between members that are in a way using the idea of (the organisation) as a platform for co-ordination but don’t need help or permission from (the organisation) to come together.

The biggest determinant for the role of the nonprofit is what do you do about those lateral lines.

The negative thing is, if your principal role is to stop those lateral lines from forming you’ve got a wasting asset, because your membership base will start to move away – because things that they expect in a room will be in every other aspect of their lives.

The positive goal, says Clay, is to help work out which of those lateral connections will be most useful to the organisation, to the cause and to each other at particular times and in particular circumstances … because we don’t want to be connected at all times to everyone. We don’t want to be on a mailing list of 100,000 people getting everything.

What organisations can do is to help their members with particular interests, in particular locations, find each other and get together.

Having some sense that you all care about the issue – you all share something in common, whether it is geography or outlook or skills – and only we as an organisation can see into both of those kinds of values …

… that I think is the really radical convening function. Not just passive convening – use your membership in Greenpeace as a dating network for like-minded individuals – anyone can spin off that idea.

It’s really when a nonprofit can say we think you will find value from associating with these particular groups at this particular time.

But it requires a really dramatic shift …. and saying actually, in the same ways as we talk about the members of the body, we are made up of you, not just made up of your money and our executive committee, we are made up of you, the members, as our existence.

You then start to figure out ways to coordinate the members in ways to create the kind of value that we couldn’t have gotten to in the 20th century … but is now becoming not just available, but cheap, trival and expected by people.

I think Clay’s great strength as a writer and presenter is to link his analysis of the changes that the Internet and social media is bringing, with short, compelling examples. He tells stories we can identify with, and starts the conversations that we need to have.

I became interested in the potentially changing role of membership organisations a couple of years ago, and with Simon Berry started the Membership Project, but we lost momentum last year after some initial work with RSA and NCVO. It now looks as if the research side of the project will be relaunched, and I’m hoping to link up with some parallel practical work on what membership organisations can do to explore their new convening roles.

The RSA networks project has been a rich source of inspiration on these issues, as you can see from various posts here and here. Next week there’s a workshop, hosted at the University of Westminster, to explore where next for RSA-related networking. I’m sure we’ll be touching on the issues Clay has raised. There are a few tickets available here, and online discussion here.

See also from Designing for Civil Society, and Socialreporter

Social reporters (and anyone else) as social artists

I’ve come away from the Powering a New Future conference in Lisbon with three interlocking reflections on developing the concept and practice of social reporting – and a new conclusion about what it means to be a social reporter.

My conclusion, inspired by Etienne Wenger – above – is that social reporters can aspire to be “social artists” who help create social learning spaces where people can work together on social issues. It’s something anyone can do, with the right attitude and some skills, but I think social reporters should definitely make it a key part of their work. read more »

Tools for collaboration at RSA: blog + Tuttle

Last night the 254-year-old RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce) took another step along the inevitably bumpy road to re-inventing itself as a network of thought leaders and civic innovation activists.
The backstory is here: how Matthew Taylor took over as CEO with a vision to transform an old-style hierarchical organisation by bringing the 27,000 members (Fellows) into the middle of policy and practice, with extensive use of online networking. Big problems in trying to do several things at once: change culture, promote projects for civic innovation, develop new online systems … while also running the main business and creating the best open, free events programme in the UK. read more »