Book Excerpt — Purpose Power: How Mission-Driven Leaders Engage for Change

Purpose Power provides inspiration for action. Whether you’re itching to start a movement, in the midst of building a mission-driven brand, or rebranding an organization with a storied history, this book will inspire you to imagine new possibilities. The book explains the Heptagon Method, a seven-step framework that helps you take big ideas from ideology to action. It instructs how you can motivate your allies to become advocates for your cause. Often, when you’re focused on sparking change, the natural instinct is to rush to action. This bias toward action and against analysis paralysis—the antithesis of enthusiasm and momentum—can be a real asset for organizations motivated to make a difference. But leaders should also be wary of haphazard action leading to inconsistent results. This book clarifies the strategic sequence of action required to catalyze a movement.

The book explains the Heptagon Method,
a seven-step framework that helps you take
big ideas from ideology to action.

Infused with instructive elements from the author’s life story, Purpose Power illustrates the incredible capacity of narrative to shake advocates, volunteers, and donors out of their apathetic slumbers. Stories take us by the hand and lead us into a new perspective so we can more clearly see what matters. We can all become champions of higher purpose. In a world where some of the mightiest can’t help but wonder if bending the arc towards justice is really worth the effort, Purpose Power offers a much needed message of hope: we can learn as much from our failures as from our successes and really, it’s only fun if you’re not sure it’s going to work.


Three Challenges Leaders Face

After spending ten years in the social sector developing brand strategies and fundraising campaigns on behalf of nonprofits (including PYXERA Global), I left to serve as a field organizer in Florida for the 2016 Clinton campaign. Following the election, I realized that three major challenges often hold back mission-driven leaders in their efforts to achieve their goals.

First, they converge too soon, rushing to action, launching an ambitious fundraising campaign before they have laid a clear pathway of engagement. When such efforts do not deliver the desired result, they believe the failure was with the campaign, whereas very often it was in the failure to lay the appropriate groundwork for success. Second, many organizations approach marketing and communications haphazardly, launching new tools and tactics as circumstances arise. They lack a framework to guide effective strategy. Lastly, many organizations often assume that their supporters share the same core understanding of mission, vision, and values, rather than taking the time to validate their shared conviction.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs. In marketing and communication, just as much as in community organizing, this allows leaders to insist that the thing that has always worked will continue to work, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In 2008, the Obama campaign was ahead of the Republican Party in its use of technology. By 2016, the Hillary Clinton campaign assumed the same advantage was still at play. Once you have come to expect an approach to work the way it always has, organizations often have to learn the hard way that the paradigm has shifted, yielding diminishing returns.

Volunteers Alicia Bonner Ness coordinated in Broward County Florida.

The next problem mission-driven leaders face is a false sense of urgency. In most organizations that run on shoestring budgets where every dollar counts (both nonprofits and political campaigns), most people are underpaid. Everyone is overworked. This combination of circumstances yields an overwhelming “house-on-fire” environment that drives you to default to the “tried-and-true” solution your confirmation bias insists will work, again, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Urgency stymies efforts to consider new alternatives, instead insisting that people simply put their heads down and do the work—you can ask questions later.

The third challenge arises when confirmation bias and the house-on-fire conspire against you. Taken together, the “do-it-now!” mandate paired with a clear default option makes it even more likely people will miss the most critical question: Why are we doing this? It can be tempting to assume that we are all equally passionate about the same things, inspired for the same reasons, pulling in the same direction, because we are all hoping for the same happy ending. This assumption, as they say, makes an ass of all of us.

In many ways, the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election diverted animus and attention away from a thorough and searching after-action review. Instead of looking at the popular vote—yes, Hillary Clinton got two million more votes than Donald Trump, and the Special Counsel’s indictments—yes, Russia did attempt to interfere—and chalking up our loss to bad luck, I decided to take a different tack.

Political campaigns are the flimsiest of endeavors. Like the circus, they seem to appear with great fanfare and disappear overnight. Though fleeting, when done well, they still manage to stoke the ire and inspiration of the masses. So, what is it that makes them work? In 2016, both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump had clarity of ideological conviction that Hillary Clinton’s campaign lacked. Your advocates must clearly understand the shared beliefs that underpin your mission. This knowledge provides a critically important foundation for impact that many organizations both inside and outside of the political arena deprioritize or postpone to their detriment.

Your advocates must clearly understand the shared beliefs that underpin your mission. This knowledge provides a critically important foundation for impact that many organizations both inside and outside of the political arena deprioritize or postpone to their detriment.

In the months following the election, I set out to define a framework that could help mission-driven organizations of all stripes inspire their advocates to engage for change. The result is the Heptagon Method, the foundation of Purpose Power. Rather than haphazardly using tactics that respond to the fire that flames up on any particular day, it offers a clear series of steps that lead to results. My hope is that the structure of what to do first, and what to do next will help you quickly answer the question, “What do we do now?” I also hope that this framework will protect you from defaulting to the safe option you have always relied on and allow you to imagine new possibilities. Most importantly, perhaps, this framework is based on a starting point of ideological clarity, from which you can clearly understand—and articulate—why your mission motivates engagement.

I spent the weeks and months that followed the 2016 election wavering between being motivated to get up and do something, anything, to improve my little corner of the universe, and unproductively wallowing in despair. Purpose Power is my attempt to offer a pathway for progress out of circumstances that can feel insurmountable.

As you embark on the road ahead, I hope you’ll embrace the need for change. As scary and uncomfortable as it may be, change is ever-present. It is the beating heart of what makes us human, animal, alive. Rather than staying stuck in the ugly awkwardness of this moment, you have the power to move the needle. So do it. Set your eye on the horizon. Articulate your conviction, and get started putting that vision into action.

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