Growth: How big can (or should) we get?

Growth. It’s a blessing and a curse. More people means more political heft and greater reach. But a larger group risks becoming less cohesive and requires more attention to internal processes.

While public companies are structured to pursue growth, local political groups have a choice to make. Should we encourage growth, welcome it when it happens organically—or even actively discourage it? Should we have a growth strategy? How do we even approach these questions?

Start by setting your sights high: How big could you get?

Be ambitious. Scope out the max size you might reach, and put some numbers behind it.

Think about the area you cover: your town, your congressional district, your neighborhood, your school, etc.—whatever your scope. Take the number of people who live there, make a plausible estimate on the percent you think might get involved, and multiply it out.

That’s your stretch goal, if you want to go for broke.

But allow for people to be involved at different levels.

Pop quiz. What’s the best way to judge your size? The number of people who:

  • Subscribe to your email list or follow social media feeds
  • Show up at your biggest events
  • Come regularly to meetings
  • Provide active leadership

The answer, of course: all of the above!

And that means you can have different goals for each. Your list of subscribers/followers might come close to the stretch goal. Attendance at your biggest events will be be a fraction of that. Same with regular meeting attendance and those providing active leadership.

Do a gut check on the ratios in light of what you want to accomplish. Maybe you need to recruit more people into leadership to keep up with the new members coming in. Or maybe leadership has gotten so big that you can turn some of that energy toward membership growth.

Growth isn’t steady. Capture it when you can.

Many local groups saw a surge of interest after the election. Some tried to capture it, but some saw it dissipate as well.

Expect that sort of cycle around major events like primaries or in the wake of scandals that focus people’s attention on political action. If you want to leverage that interest into growth, find more on getting new members hooked here. (Tl;dr – Help them connect. Agree on why you’re there. Tell them what’s next. Follow up, follow up, follow up. And remember that not everyone can come every time.)

Nest groups within the group.

A large group can get unwieldy, leaving members feeling small or unimportant. By nesting groups within the group—whether those are standing committees, pop-up teams, neighborhood chapters, or something else entirely—you can make engagement more manageable.

Getting people on small teams within the larger group helps them be more effective. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos coined the “two-pizza rule”: keep teams small enough to be fed by two pizzas. That’s maybe 6-10 people. It’s big enough to get something real done, with some diversity of skills and perspectives on the team; but it’s small enough that members will get to know one another and feel accountable for the work.

(Alternatively, think of it as the “living-room rule”: the number who can comfortably fit in a neighbor’s living room.)

Work can also happen across teams, or aggregate up to the broader efforts. The two-pizza/living-room rule shouldn’t limit your overall group size; it’s a way to let the group get bigger without getting unwieldy.

Be strategic. Not all growth is the same.

If you decide that growth is a goal, think about what kind of growth you want. Do you want to broaden the base—geographically, racially, politically, in other ways? Or go deeper with the base you already have? As usual, there’s no single answer.

Either way: think about your messaging and your outreach channels.

Messaging should build on the assumptions and worldview of the potential members you want to reach. If you’re deepening the base, that should be easy, because you’ll be recruiting more people like your current members. If you’re broadening, then you have to listen hard to understand viewpoints other than your own. Someone who doesn’t care about the environment might still care about the health impacts of environmental protection. Someone who doesn’t mind Trump’s style might still care about corruption. Find the points of common ground and build from there.

Outreach channels need to match the potential members as well. Flyers in bars will reach a different crowd than flyers in churches. Where do your target members currently spend time—both offline and online? Meet them there.

Partner and align to be bigger than you are.

Expanding your membership isn’t the only way to expand your reach. You can also do a lot through partnerships (find tips on building partnerships here) for by aligning with national efforts (like Indivisible, Beyond the Moment, Organizing for Action, or ACLU People Power).

This sort of expansion lets you maintain the cohesion and trust of a small group, while ensuring that your efforts add up to something greater. One more tool in your toolkit for making change happen.


Photo: Eric Garcetti, Women’s March Los Angeles, via Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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