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Les squires

The Four Dynamics of Building the transition movement


The Context: Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent over many decades by marketing consultants and nonprofit fund raising consultants, university development and endowment departments and charitable trade associations to glean the four indisputable truths of reaching the customer, the donor or the joiner of a movement and deepening that person’s commitment. The same four dynamical truths apply across retail sales, fundraising and movement building. My belief is that we need to heed these “rules of the road” to maximize the speed and intensity of building the transition movement anywhere.

1. RECENCY: The potential of the individual for the next step in the movement, giving the financial gift, or buying the product, is heavily determined by the recency of the last transaction or encounter. In movement building, we talk about the three stages of awakenment, formation and demonstration. The highest potential to move a person from exposure and awakenment to demonstration – neighborhood gardening, retrofitting homes. Car-pooling, permaculture, etc is within the first few weeks of initial exposure. This is why follow up events and follow up one on one’s are so critical. In the language of the transformation and organizational development community “Openings close.”

A person who becomes exposed to a new paradigm like transition will close down that awakenment over time without reinforcement, deepening of his or her context and practical next steps. What is most needed is “hands in the dirt” grounded engagement in the mission of transition. Events alone are not sufficient. Getting to the second stage of movement building –demonstration – means that the person needs to personally take action – create a residential garden, retrofit his or her house, join a gardening apprenticeship program, go to the Transition Training, run for president of the neighborhood association, etc. To reframe the quote “all politics is local” we can say in truth that all Transition is local. Your own neighborhood. Your block. Your street. Action removes the doubt that theory cannot solve.

2. FREQUENCY: The more often the person buys, donates money, or participates in the practical doing and actualization of the transition movement -- on the ground -- at the neighborhood level, the more valuable that person becomes as a customer, financial donor, or movement builder. In retailing, it is called the repeat buyer. In fundraising, it is known as “the multi-donor. In transition, it is known as the individual who is “deeply in”. Living the transition rather than just talking about it because his house is retrofitted, his front and back yard garden are yielding organic fruits and vegetables, he is car pooling or bicycling as a way of life.

The breakdown of the frequency principle can be seen in not acting out or fulfilling the vision and context of the movement. A good example I know up close and personal is Lifespring. It did awakenment events and had more than one million graduates who had taken the basic, the advanced and leadership courses. But there was no formation or demonstration. No taking it out in the world and putting it into practice. Awakenment, and yet more awakenment does not a movement make. We need to remember it and take it to heart. You have to march across the bridge in civil rights terms. You have to get in a boat and stop the whale killers in Greenpeace terms.

You have to go to the war zone and deal with the wounded civilian casualties if you are “deeply in” with Doctors without Borders. The women’s movement didn’t just do awakenment events. They went block by block, city by city, state by state to win the right to vote. They got the Violence against Women Act passed; they held teach-ins in local schools for girls to shift the paradigm.

3. SEASONALITY: Retail marketing, fundraising and movement building is heavily driven by this dynamic. Sales spike, money raised increases and movement gatherings dramatically increase in size around special times of the year. In both retailing and fundraising, it is Thanksgiving and Christmas. Groups like Church World Service and Catholic Charities take in over 70% of their total money raised between November 15th and January 15th. Environmental groups see surges of financial support and movement gatherings around Earth Day, etc.

4. SEGMENTATION: Who is the most likely prospective customer, financial donor, transition movement participant? The answer is usually found in the demographic pattern already being displayed. In retailing, it is called market segmentation. In nonprofit fundraising, it is called donor segmentation. Groups like Amnesty International with over 500,000 U.S. members have a detailed demographic of several pages. They have multi-paged statistical profiles by gender, age, zip code, ethnicity, single givers, multi donors, high dollar donors, planned gift donors, etc. They know which neighborhood in Denver, Colorado will yield the most money from a house party.

They know which nursing home in Missouri is giving the most money to the cause. Of course the transition movement is for everyone! And yet, at a strategic level, where do we post our flyers? Who do we email or call? After all, we have limited time and resources since we are running on our own volunteer energy and our own wallets. So the question becomes, given my limited time and resources –who are the people most likely to come out for this event, workshop, panel or apprenticeship program? It’s pretty likely at this stage that teenagers and people over 75 are not going to show up in large numbers. Maybe later...

We know already that our movement draws women in far larger numbers, and also draws males and females in their 20’s and 30’s. And then there is a clear gap. Then we see a lot of people from their mid-50’s to 70’s showing up.

As they say “Life is not a dress rehearsal” – so go ahead – get out there on the front stage of history. As Robert Kennedy said “Bend history.” Or as MLK Jr. said: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards Justice.” Share your wisdom with all of us. Thanks!

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