The Networked Change Report from NetChange evaluated 47 of the most effective campaigns, ranging from the NRA to Occupy Wall Street, and concluded that campaigns that worked in partnerships with self-organized networks of people and nonprofits with clear goals and targets made an impact far beyond their level of resourcing. The magic combination was the traditional nonprofit that provided a centralized campaign structure and a unified rallying message to distributed groups of stakeholders, including individuals, as free agents.
In contrast, traditional organizations that controlled every aspect of the campaign couldn’t scale their campaigns, and loose networks of individuals who didn’t partner with traditional nonprofits lacked the infrastructure to make the impact they intended. The report also found that campaigns that actively consult their audiences and draw on their collective intelligence have access to new assets and power. In other words, nonprofits that facilitated grassroots participation were more innovative and made a greater impact faster than traditional “command and control” models and networks of people without a centralized plan.
Nonprofits can encourage these kinds of actions by intentionally building up their super volunteers, advocates, and participants who want to do more to than sign a petition or donate. By providing a structure for these highly competent volunteers to do a job without forcing control of every aspect of their actions, they will rise to the occasion and get their own networks on board.