Jun 27, 2017

Small Acts of Participation

Vibrant communities are organized around Small Acts of Participation. These are activities that bring like minded people together to contribute to the organization’s mission.

My definition is a little academic, but the concept is really simple. Small Acts of Participation are the most visible and central activities of organized communities:

  • Habitat for Humanity organizes teams to build homes for people in need.
  • Days for Girls facilitates sewing groups to create reusable feminine hygiene kits.
  • BNI forms local groups of entrepreneurs and professionals that meet weekly to network and share leads.

A more obvious example of a Small Act of Participation is “going to church.” Christians go to church on Sundays to worship and reinforce their faith.

Small Acts of Participation are not the purpose of the organization, or even how it delivers value. Rather the activity is a community building block. It brings people together to participate in the organization’s mission.

Small Acts Lead to Meaningful Outcomes

It’s easy to ignore Small Acts of Participation, because they can be so central to an organization. For instance, what would Habitat for Humanity be without a home build?

Habitat for Humanity could be a valuable NGO that raise funds and awareness to achieve its mission of “housing for all.” But the build — bringing a group of volunteers together to help a family build a home — is the linchpin of the community. It’s a Small Act of Participation that enables people to get involved in the cause.

A Small Act of Participation generates several benefits for the organization:

  1. Member Growth: People recruit their friends and family to participate in the activity. Often times people will have no prior experience or knowledge of the cause, but they get involved because they were asked to by someone they trust.
  2. Brand Awareness: The community grows and reaches new audiences, because participants share their stories. The activity is a point of pride, and becomes something to talk about.
  3. Deeper Engagement: The Small Act of Participation is a stepping stone. Some people will choose to only do the minimum level of participation, while others will choose to go deeper. This is key, because the participants who go deeper are the ones that get involved with the true value proposition and work of the organization. But to find these active participants, the organization has to cast a wide net and engage lots of people.

By baking build projects into its funding and delivery model, Habitat has grown into one of the most successful NGOs on the planet. Each build becomes a multiplier for participation, recruitment, fundraising, and fulfilling the organization’s mission.

3 Elements of Small Acts of Participation

With the rise of social media, it’s never been easier to engage a large group of like minded people. But not all activities are equal for community building. Events, social media campaigns or blogging may appear to spark engagement, but they may not be enough to foster a community.

Small Acts of Participation deliver three outcomes for participants:

  1. Connection: The activity links participants to a peer group. They get to meet new people, build relationships, and have fun with others.
  2. Contribution: The activity provides participants with meaningful outcomes. There’s a clear “why” to doing the activity, and participants feel like they’re achieving something through their efforts.
  3. Recognition: The activity is visible and participants gain recognition through their efforts. This can be delivered personally through a simple thank you, or through public acknowledgement of their contributions. Regardless, the activity delivers a small badge of honor.

Connection, contribution, and recognition helps the activity become the connective glue of the community. They transform mundane projects and tasks into Small Acts of Participation.

Activate Your Community with a Small Act of Participation

To activate your community focus on one central activity.

Small Acts of Participation are unique activities, because they bind the organization’s mission with a visible activity. The activities can vary widely from organization to organization:

  • Peer mentoring group
  • Make or build something
  • Achieve a certification
  • Share an idea or message
  • Work towards a goal or project

You can find countless ways to engage people in practical activities, but what matters is the experience participants gain. When you bind an activity to the mission of your organization it can engage people in unexpected ways. This is the central idea of how to grow a community.

What do you think?

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