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.
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.