My top tips to running a volunteer based movement
There is no shortage of people who want to make difference in the world, yet many ideas and movements have not been able to succeed due to their management culture. It is no easy feat to work in low-resource environments on difficult issues and lead a community of changemakers at the same time. While there is no one model that can guarantee success, the good news is that there are a lot of examples to learn from. You can tweak these models depending on your preference, vision and the nature of your movement. This is why Social Agency for Change and Practical Governance came together to help people explore and present different leadership models.
I have been volunteering with Chayn for 3 years now which prides itself on being a fluid and flat volunteer-led initiative combating violence against women. I have also been involved with EmpowerHack, a refugee tech initiative, and through that have become one of the leads for the Refugee Design Council along with two inspiring refugees. While I don't claim to have the recipe for success, I hope my experiences with these volunteer-run movements can help enrich your knowledge.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned:
Low cost technology: It doesn’t matter whether your team is tech savvy or not, most people use or can use Facebook. They might spend a considerable amount of their ‘off time’ here. Through Chayn’s work, we have noticed that women who are survivors of abuse often use this space to organize themselves in order to share information, express feelings and empower themselves. We do it inside Chayn too. We use Facebook to build our community, introduce new members, share opinions, update each other on projects, and ask for help. We also use Slack for communication within projects, Asana for project management, Groove for co-managing email inboxes, Google docs for hosting documents and Typeform for surveys. The best part? They are all free and easy to use.
Empowering people by co-designing solutions: Is empowering your team members one of the main aims of your manifesto? You can do this by bringing people onboard from beginning to build the movement. That’s why organization like Chayn, Empower Hack and Refugee Design Council are important as they are practical examples on how you can co-create solutions with underrepresented and marginalised people. A stronger and more able team will mean more success for your organisation. The challenge of empowering people online comes with the risk of excluding people who don't use social media or don’t feeling safe/comfortable using it. We have faced this problem at Chayn, and we had to accept this fact that at the moment, we will be missing out on some people. Another important consideration is to understand that you have to establish trust within members of your community and this, unfortunately, takes time and sincere effort.
Celebrate diversity: Be diverse and inclusive in building your movement. Challenge yourself and talk to people not in your usual circles, and bring them onboard. The more diverse your organization is, the more perspectives and experiences you will have, which would enable you to shape your movement. Immy Kapur nailed it during Losing Control when she emphasised on the importance of being inclusive from the beginning. In fact, diversity and inclusiveness should be one of the founding stones for your movement.
Owning the movement: Building a strong community and movement means everyone involved should have some form of ownership. Every person is an unique ambassador, adding their own kind of value. Show them your appreciation whenever you can and give them credit. Even the smallest of efforts should be celebrated as an achievement for them and for the team. However, beware of people who create a toxic environment in the group and if you cannot get them to change their behaviour, take them out. Negativity spreads like wildfire and the movement should be a safe space.
Invest in your community: This is one of the most important points. I really can't stress this enough: the more you give the community, the more it will give back. Train your team, help and support them. This can be time consuming and it’s never guaranteed how long volunteers will stay around. To reduce time and be more efficient, at Chayn, we have an in-house training program on teachable where we encourage our volunteers to learn how to lead a project, use social media, and how to build partnerships. This makes it easier to share skills, reduces training time, and in turn makes the movement sustainable.
These are my top tips to run a volunteer based movement. My favorite model is the one we follow at Chayn. And no one can explain it better than our brilliant founder, Hera Hussian. Let me invite you to read her detailed and inspiring blog on how to run a fluid movement.
Dina Ariss has been volunteering with Chayn for 3 years.
Chayn is a global network of over 300 volunteers which leverages technology to address the problems women face today in a dozen countries.
Last week around 100 social movement makers put their brains together for two days and shared best practice and strategies to successfully build social movements. Why? Well they were at the ‘Losing Control’ event organised by Practical Governance and The Social Change Agency as part of the Marmalade fringe in Oxford. Shared decision making was at the heart of many movements. Here’s three tips we picked up which can help community businesses make sure the whole community is involved in decision making, without (as many) headaches.
1) Horizontal communications
A bit jargony but ‘horizontal communications’ is all about sharing knowledge so people can make decisions based on the same information. Many organisations mentioned Slack as a free online platform they use to share news and views, and engage their community in a conversation rather than broadcast. Community members will just need an email address to join.
Some social movements are taking platforms like these a step further and using them as online co-working spaces. Dina Ariss from CHAYN, an organisation run by 300 volunteers from around the world that create opensource toolkits for women to fight domestic abuse without a lawyer, explained how they use Slack to work on a specific document together. Paul Steedman from Friends of the Earth said they use it to co-design campaigns with active members. So plenty of scope for community businesses to suit the platform to their needs.
2) Shared decision making tools
One of the challenges of a community business is having to share the decision making with so many people. The democractic voting model can work but sometimes it feels like the same people are always in the minority. Andy Goldring from the Permaculture Association and Kayleigh Walsh from Outlandish explained their organisations both use ‘sociocracy’, ‘a collaborative governance method based on effective organization, distributed authority, and inclusive decision-making.to make shared decisions’. It’s an inclusive way of setting up a community business, or re-aligning your priorities.
Many movement makers mentioned they use Loomio, an online decision making tool started by a workers’ cooperative in New Zealand. Tamas Hovanyecz from Social Fokus on Technology gave us a live demo and showed how you evolve the discussion from a platform like Slack to giving people the opportunity to vote (and ask questions) about a proposal on Loomio. You set deadlines for decisions but you also set the percentage of people involved who need to vote for the decision to count. So for example, you could say if 35% of your members vote, then the decision is valid. The more members you have, the more people that would be.
Another tool that Tamas mentioned which could be useful for community businesses when making funding decisions is Cobudget, a collaborative funding tool. Worth a look.
3) Who isn’t in the room?
One of the barriers to using these tools of course is being confident with computers. Many people in communities still aren’t, or don’t have access to a computer which means they are being left out of debates and decision making that directly affects them. This is why giving your community internet access and training, as well as face to face communication and engagement is important. And as Paul Steedman from Friends of the Earth suggested organise activities such as gardening or cooking to attract an array of people, not just ‘meetings’ which might intimidate people. You could always enlist the help of a Community Organiser. Finally, Immy Kaur from Impact Hub Birmingham highlighted two common barriers which are often overlooked – providing free childcare and travel stipends can really make a huge difference to who is able to attend.
Charlotte Cassedanne is the Communications Manager for Power to Change, an independent trust that supports and grows community businesses in England.
Last week our first movement building conference, Losing Control, put on together with Practical Governance, was in full pelt.
Day 1 was devoted to the sharing of skills and experiences of funders and people from the front line.
Our first panel welcomed funders from the Power to Change Trust, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Lankelly Chase Foundation. We asked our funders what challenges they faced in fundning social movements, and how they overcome them.
We welcomed Vidhya Alakeson from the Power to Change Trust, who described the ideal relationship between funders and movements as one of ‘trust-based collaborative partnerships’. We heard from Alex Sutton from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, who emphasised that funders should ‘act in solidarity’ with movements and ‘be comfortable with failure’. Finally, we spoke to Jess Cordingly from Lankelly Chase, who candidly spoke about the challenges facing funders who fund social movements, rooting this in the organisational model of many social movements in which there isn’t just one person who has decision-making power.
The tension for funders lies in trying to encourage partnership while finding the right balance between micromanaging and playing the expert. When there is no single person as decision-maker, how do funders know what to expect? This is where trust, being comfortable with failure, and acting in solidarity come into play. Movements will evolve, there will be no solid project plan, but rather than seeing this as too much of a risk, funders can (and already do!) see this as a powerful partnership that has the potential to change society for the better.
Our next session welcomed the voices from the front line. Many spoke about their different methods of governance which have contributed to their success. We listened to the likes of the inspiring Dina Ariss from CHAYN, who described how the non-hierarchical structure of CHAYN has led to its global success. We heard about Carver Governance from Andy Goldring, about the wholly flat structure of Suma Wholefoods from Bob Cannell, and about co-operatives and sociocratic decision making from Kayleigh Walsh’s experience of working at Outlandish. We also heard about funding tensions and love for the outcome over the attribution from Immy Kaur, and about the controlling tendencies of large organisations from Paul Steedman.
Each story ignited passion and welcomed interrogation from other participants. Questions of diversity, leadership, challenges of suffocating under the weight of the problem darted across the room. A common theme weaving through all of these diverse talks was that each one is veering slightly from the traditional organisational model, to the success of their organisation. A key nugget to take away from these talks was that no matter how large the challenge may seem, immediate steps can always be taken. It’s important to face these challenges head-on, to recognise the issues and immediately make improvements.
Our final session of the day was a chance to build on those questions, to provide the skills and tools to overcome the questions and challenges people were facing. We had roundtables dedicated to sharing and learning skills and tools for movement building. This day aimed to prepare the movement building organisations and others to face their own challenges on day 2, well equipped with stories of people who have been in their positions before, and have the tools that they emerged with.
Day 1 finished with participants a little tired, but eager to get stuck into applying the skills and tools they learnt to their own movements. Participants, keen to carry on the conversation, came together for pizza and more chat in the cafe of the Old Fire Station that evening. Scars were shared and stories swapped as new collaborations and friendships grew across diverse causes.
Day 2 saw the beginning of The Hack. Each of our 8 movement building groups refined their objectives, and they began to implement their learnings from the past day to the challenges they were currently facing. This was the beginning of turning the tools and skills learned into something concrete. By the end of the day, all groups had a solid plan that they were ready to implement, be that to introduce a new type of technology to the organisation, to implementing a new, long-term comms strategy, to re-thinking the whole theory of change of the movement or organisation.
What’s key to take away from this event - whether or not you participated - is that funders are keen to find new methods of supporting social movements that works with movements’ varying organisational models. There are many different models of leadership, each have their own challenges, but the traditional organising model is not the only one out there. And, finally, collaboration is powerful. Collaborate with your peers, with your competitors, with people across your network and across other networks. You never know what you’ll learn, but it’ll almost certainly be powerful.
And, that’s a wrap!
Today is hack day. We’ll all be subsumed by a process which enables our hive minds to tackle the big challenges facing our fellow movement builders.
Over the last two days, our eight movement building groups have been learning from the vast array of speakers and specialists. They’ve been finalising their objectives, ready to hit the ground running today.
There are posters around the room detailing each movement building group and the skills that they’re looking for. Each person has put their name and photo next to the group that they think they can offer their skills to.
The eight movement building groups are:
Community Organising Company:
Community Organising Company is the national body established to support the training and development of community organising in England. Its key objective is to build a more active, just and democratic society where all people feel and are able to participate in the world around them and challenge constructively for change.
Community Organising Company are looking for how to build and support a successful peer network. They want to know how to keep it locally rooted and relevant nationally, and to ensure they’re truly member led.
The Real Ideas Orgainsation
RIO are passionate about solving social problems and by working with individuals, organisations and sectors to harness the power of social enterprise to deliver real and lasting social change. They are coming with a particular focus around their work in Plymouth.
RIO want to find ways to create mass participation, building on the fabulous start that’s already there but generating a life and a momentum of its own. They're looking for strategies, actions, targets, ideas and resources to encourage leadership and responsibility.
Dadly Does it
Dadly Does It builds on an exploratory project in Little Hulton in Salford led by Unlimited Potential, whose aim was to find new ways to improve the wellbeing of disadvantaged fathers and to understand whether this can improve the wellbeing of their children. Using a ‘positive deviance’ approach, the original project was co-produced with a ‘Council of Dadz’ (now Salford Dadz - Little Hulton). They have created both male-friendly spaces where positive role models talk openly ‘shoulder to shoulder’ and also fun dad-child activities that enable bonding.
Dadly Does it are looking for strategic help in expansion. They're also interested in how to use social media effectively.
The Migrants' Movement: Migrants' Rights Network, Migrants Organise, Right to Remain
These three organisations want to explore how they can facilitate the creation of a network of self-organising groups that remain firmly migrant led, but that draw on a wider pool and both individually and collectively build momentum to campaign for migrant’s rights.
They're looking for tips on how to support migrants to self organise, and to support migrants in Britain to feed into a public enquiry into immigration.
Tiber is working to develop a 5 ½ acre piece of land into a community arts, sports and education facilities, in the heart of Toxteth, on Lodge Lane, which is one of the most deprived areas in the U.K.
They want a way forward in developing a governance structure that can help deliver a joint vision but includes a range of existing organisations and opens them up to greater ownership, involvement and influence from people right across the local area. They're looking to excite and engage people in their diverse local community
Open Book aims to break down the barriers that discourage people from entering higher education.
What Open Book would like to understand is how they might support and encourage groups to self-form, self-fund, and self-organise - how might that work in reality - and specifically what core set of values, and decision-making processes would be needed to continue to bind that network, keeping it true to the overall vision and ensuring the ‘whole' remains greater than the sum of its ‘parts'.
Expert Link is a national project to amplify the voices and views of people with direct experience of homelessness, mental health issues, substance and alcohol misuse, offending, domestic violence and abuse.
So they are looking for a plan for growing their network across all parts of the ‘system’ and techniques for organising their work that will allow us them to cede control without losing the power of their collective voice and influence. They're looking for comms skills and tips on governance.
Youth Rights movement, MAP, Undivided and TrustYouth alliance (run out of the Foyer Federation
This group of three organisations believe young people feel disenfranchised and unable to influence things that will impact on their lives. They want to understand how they can define this movement, agree shared values and work together.
They're looking at how to better create a movement. This begins with the identification of whats going on. They want to learn how to share resources ideas by understanding which platforms and forms of communication they should be using.
And we have one more surprise group...Welcome New Internationalist!
New Internationalist is an multi-award independent, non-profit media co-operative. For over 40 years, they've specialized in investigative reporting, publishing magazine and books on human rights, politics, social and environmental justice.
They're interested in question of how to do governance of cooperative globally.
It seems that some key themes are weaving through the inspiring talks of today. They’re questions of approaches to leadership, methods of organising, diversity and privilege, and tools of movement building.
On leadership, the question that consistently resurfaces is: how do you best lead your movement or organisation? The answers have been diverse, from facilitation within hierarchical organisations to completely non-hierarchical flat structures to something in between. But what they all have in common is that they’re veering away from the traditional organising model. They’re sharing their learnings and tips of how new models of organising have furthered the goals of the movement immensely.
On diversity and privilege, the question that permanently exists within this sector is whether our movements are inclusive of all. But today, these ideas were really interrogated, with some candidly speaking about their experiences in an organisation which saw the changemakers as instrumental to further the brand of the organisation, but did not value them as those who are actually the people who make change. Other things were importantly highlighted, such as having the voices of those affected in the inception of your movement rather than as an afterthought. And, finally, it’s important to recognise the work we are already doing and the small and immediate steps that we can make – so that we don’t suffocate under the huge challenge that this poses, but rather immediately take action.
On tools of movement building, this afternoon is dedicated towards sharing and learning skills and tools for movement building. We’ve got roundatables on sharing the skills of communication, strategy, crowdfunding, technology, organising and facilitation. On each table is a specialist in this field, but – as emphasised by Esther in the morning – this is a peer to peer space. It’s a space to learn as much as you can, but also to give what you can. The atmosphere right now is one of enthusiasm and passion – and we’ve still got a whole day to go!
Stay up to date through our twitter and blog posts!
The best way to talk about movement building is to hear from the people who are doing it. We'll be talking to 6 people talking about their experiences of building a movement.
First up is Dina Ariss from CHAYN.
CHAYN is an open-source project that leverages technology to empower women against violence and oppression so they can live happier and healthier lives. Running solely on the passion of skilled volunteers, Chayn leverages technology to address the problems women face today. Dinas discusses how CHAYN has grown from an idea to a global network of volunteers
Everything they do at CHAYN is done by and for victims of violence and oppression. “Everything we do is by us, rather than people designing something for us.” CHAYN has developed to a global network through the use of tools such as Facebook and Slack.
Dina describes CHAYN's non-hierarchical leadership as the roots of its success. If someone has a proposition, it’s discussed collectively as an online group. She also discusses some of the challenges CHAYN are facing, namely that across their network they lack some skills, but also, as it is a volunteer organisation, it’s very difficult to retain volunteers.
Next up is Andy Goldring from Permaculture Association
Andy talks to us about how the Permaculture Association has adopted some unique governance models and tools both within the organisation and across its network to grow its impact.
In particular, Andy spoke about Carver Governance, which consists of
Andy points to his 3 ultimate learnings which are:
There'll be a chance to ask our speakers any questions you might have - do non hierarchical models truly exist? What has failed about traditional governance models and what are the challenges with new models?
Immy Kaur from Impact Hub is up next.
Immy Kaur is a co-founder of Impact Hub Birmingham, a network of citizens, makers, doers, entrepreneurs, activists and dreamers committed to building a better Birmingham and better world as well as a co-founder of Dark Matters Labs.
Immy made some incredibly insightful observations about the whole notion of movement building. Firstly that we need to be able to create authentic invitiation to a shared challenge that’s much bigger than any of us.
Immy talked about how organisations need to learn to lose central control; there must be more of a love of the outcome than there is the attribution. “We’re part of people, to grow a momentum of multiple actors. The problem is when it comes more about the organisation than the cause."
Immy also highlighted the tension between growing a movement which involves thousands of voices and yet is constrained by a funder’s vision. How do you still speak that truth to power when you’re suffocating due to funder’s demands?
They also remind us that it’s ok to be imcomplete in this space, its ok to be in this journey, and that genuine movement building is driven by relationships.
A really important topic was highlighted by Immy, that of diversity. I’m just going to quote Immy as I couldn’t put it into better words myself:
“Unless there is a wide ranging diverse group of people in your leadership, positions where decisions are made, you can’t retero fit this afterwards. IF you start with a homogenous group of people, that is how you’ll continue to grow. These system perpetuates themselves”.
(Disclaimer: I was too engrossed in this speech and forgot to take a photo of Immy)
Next up is Paul Steedman from Friends of the Earth
Paul candidly shared his experiences leading FoE’s recent ‘renewal’ of the organisation’s strategy. He shared his ‘cautionary tale’ of his organisation that lost its way and – like many organisations – gravitated towards accumulating power and control.
Paul talked about the fact that controlling tendencies are amplified by people recruiting people who look like them, rather than investing in the vast network of change makers. He also highlighted an issue that across the sector is highly apparent – even if we’re not quite ready to accept it. That is that, the people within our networks, the people whose power actually make things happen – are not nurtured within the top levels of an organisation. Staff find them frustrating, annoying, and difficult. As Paul states: ‘Our power to make change happen resides in millions globally who want to make that change happen’.
Paul ended on a positive note – namely that his organisation has worked towards viewing themselves as enablers and supporters of change.
Next up is Bob Cannell. Bob talked primarily about his time at Suma. He described the the co-op management approach, stating ‘ management is a function, not a status.’ He claimed that executive hierarchy is the most dangerous aspect of an organisation, and the goal should be to disempower the executive.
Bob argued that the values that underpin a good co-op are:
Next up is Kayleigh Walsh.
Outlandish is a technologist workers co-operative. They build digital applications and websites for companies, charities and universities that make their lives easier and then invest all surpluses into projects that help achieve their goals. Rather than traditional closed departments, Outlandish use circles to make sociocratic decisions which are open to participation for whoever is interested.
Kayleigh described the empowering nature of having unspecified roles within the organisation long as it allows for someone to explore all their different skillsets, rather than being pidgeon-holed into one job description. She emphasised the importance of collaboration over competition and values the ‘sociocratic’ method because it means ‘egos are left at the door.’
Esther Foreman and Bob Thust officially kick off the day with our first panel! We've got Alex from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Jess Cordingly from the Lankelly Chase Foundation and Vidhay Alekson from the Power to Change Trust.
Alex discusses the term ‘social movements’, whether this is the best term to use when they’re so diverse in nature and use a multitude of tactics. He speaks about his foundation (Paul Hamlyn) recognise that organisations need core support beyond funding. He states: “It’s about acting in solidarity with movements and be comfortable with failture”.
Jess discusses the difficulty facing Foundations funding social movements as the fact that there isn’t one person in charge. “The usual project plan goes out the window. We’re used to working with plans, budgets, outcomes and lines of accountability. If we take these away we don’t have a way to make decisions.”. Jess discusses the need to develop a different approach to how to make decisions in different organisations.
Vidhya states that we’d do more good if we did more collaboration with funders. She talks about the tension between having to narrowly define the movement as a funder and trying to create a broad enough movement that people feel like they belong. She discusses the balance between the power that the funders have and the legal constraints that they face. Ultimately, she argues that trust, based, collaborative partnerships are the goal.
There seems to be a common theme here of an urge for more partnership between funders and social movements, but a recognition of the tension between micromanaging and playing the expert.
What do you think? We’ll be taking questions for the next 20 mins!
Day 1 of Losing Control and we're minutes away from starting the day! The team have been expertly setting up with flowers, post-its, polaroids and choccy. Posters around the room speak of movement building groups, sharing skills and resources, and a whole wall is dedicated to every attendee describing why we're Losing Control.
I'll be here as your live blogger throughout the two days. Every session will be relayed back to all of you who can't be there (or even those of you who are here) - and I'll be taking any questions you'd like to ask the speakers via Twitter.
We'll keep you posted as the event rolls out!
Funders can play a powerful role in supporting social movements. They can offer the resources and support to enable social change from the grassroots. But, often social movements struggle to stay afloat due to an inability to find sufficient funding.
In the days leading up to our 2 day event Losing Control, I caught up with Jess Cordingly from Lankelly Chase - one of the sponsors for the event. We talk about organisational structure, trust, and patience.
JY: What do you think the biggest issue facing funders who want to fund social movements is?
JC: A lot of the time it boils down to organisational structure. Many social movements are incubated by larger organisations because as funders we need that reassurance of a solid organisational structure, rather than just an individual. Of course, this raises the issue that these movements are then owned by other organisations - and who holds those organisations to account?
JY: How have you dealt with these issues at your foundation?
JC: We understand that social movements aren’t necessarily charities. They can’t do the typical charitable fundraising of offering a solid project plan, because as the movement develops, it will begin to evolve and define itself. We recognise that it’s really hard to support something when you can’t see the whole project plan.
What you realise is that funding social movements is based on trust. Many social movements can’t have a project plan because they need that flexibility in their early stages. We work closely with the movements that we fund, so that it becomes more of a partnership rather than a top-down funding approach.
JY: What advice would you give to other funders?
JC: Trust. Don’t just trust blindly - we build a relationship with people, learn about all the aspects and come together as partners. See yourselves as part of those movements - and be patient with them. We understand that not all funders can be like that, especially the larger ones. But I’d emphasise that partnership agreements hold people’s behaviours to account.
JY: Why is this conference important to you?
JC: Change isn’t going to be directed, isn’t going to come from a small group of people who think they have the answers. It’s a fundamental power shift. People creating their own power. Social movements creating their own power. That’s how change happens. If you genuinely want change, if you have any power then you have to lose control and lose power.
Jess raised some important questions. Namely, do we need to think of alternative structures that can offer funders the reassurance that they need, without encouraging social movements to dissolve into larger organisations? This could look like having a neutral body to support the back office of social movements, thus ensuring the autonomy, while reassuring funders.
We’ll be exploring this in more detail at Losing Control in less than 24 hours! If you can’t make the event, you can sign up to content here so you don’t miss a thing.
Welcoming: Immy Kaur from Impact Hub Birmingham - a community of purpose-driven doers, makers, entrepreneurs and activists committed to building a better city and world - to Losing Control!