– Brian Sooy
The first words I heard from my colleague were “There are no chance meetings. I was supposed to come to see you.”
Whether guided by divine appointment or the intent of purposeful relationship, there are no chance meetings for those who are champions for a cause. Every interaction is an opportunity to spread an idea, stand up for what you believe is right, or invite another into your story.
The Mark of a Champion
My colleague showed me a blue wristband with these words: No One Fights Alone, and explained its meaning. He shared his personal experience with prostate cancer, and how he wanted to learn to raise greater awareness of the issue and motivate others to action.
What moved him? The threat of a disease that claims thousands every year? A desire to raise awareness? What moves him is that he (and many mutual acquaintances) is a survivor, a man given a second chance. HIs wristband opened the door to his story of why he believes so strongly in his cause, why he is a brother to those who have overcome cancer and a champion for those who are at risk.
Symbols are Conversation Starters
It’s apparent that someone wearing a colored wristband has identified with a cause and wears the wristband as a symbol of their devotion to that cause. No further proof is needed beyond the ubiquity of bright yellow wristbands that display one word: Livestrong. Despite the broken reputation of the founder, the purpose and values of the organization have endured because of those whose lives are positively impacted by the organization. The symbol and color signify strength, determination, perseverance, and a desire to overcome, the qualities of a champion.
Is it the symbol that moves us, the individual who is a champion, or the idea that compels us to believe? When Paris suffered the horror of a terrorist bombing in late 2015, the world rallied around a peace symbol with two strokes added to make the symbol recognizable as the Eiffel Tower.
How does your organization empower its supporters to become champions for the cause? What symbol do champions wear as a sign of their commitment and devotion? What symbol is a unique and memorable visual representation of your purpose and mission – your logo, color, mascot, icon, or even a tattoo?
While you may be the director of an organization representing a worthy cause, your advocates, supporters and champions own the idea. It’s their personal connection, the way they feel, the meaning it evokes, that compels them to believe in your cause. Your role is to create a story framework, a case for belief, and let your champions run with it. After all, how can you be a champion for a cause without being connected to the idea and people the cause represents?
Symbols Represent a Champion’s Identity
A symbol represents how we want to be identified. Symbols help us connect with one another and are visual clues to what we believe in and the tribe to which we belong. The recognition of a symbol starts conversations, opens doors, and begins relationships. When you share the story of what a cause means to you, you open your heart and touch somebody else’s. You create empathy, build affinity, and nurture loyalty.
The Power of a Symbol
Symbols are powerful visual representations of an idea or movement that transcend the wearer, gaining meaning over time when worn and shared by your champions. Compelling ideas often have a cult-like following of devoted followers who seek change, community, and action.
From the Christian cross to the Red Cross, to the ribbons associated with myriad causes, symbols identify a cause and its champions through color, shape, and the meaning behind the visual expression, a powerful identity symbolizing an idea. This is precisely why design matters: a strong and memorable visual identity or symbol becomes a visual representation of the idea. Words are no longer necessary; when visualized, the power of the idea and its meaning is aimed directly at the heart.
The power of symbolism draws from design’s ability to inspire, move, challenge, and persuade us. Design matters. When you lead with design, everything else follows. When you combine a powerful idea and a memorable symbol, you have doubled the potential for moving people to action.
Champions are Born, Not Made
What motivates your champions? Why do they believe in your cause? What compels them to spread your ideas? A champion defends the honor of the cause in the place of somebody who is unable to speak on its behalf.
You must create a story framework and a visual vocabulary that empowers your advocates, ambassadors, and champions to embrace your cause and make it their own. And when they take the idea and run with it, encourage, educate, and celebrate it!
Keep these insights in mind:
- Champions for your cause are won (and lost) by how you communicate and motivate.
- Champions will identify when you have helped them achieve their goals.
- Champions make your mission part of their story.
- Champions will work toward the greater purpose and help you achieve your mission.
Your supporters may define themselves in these ways:
- Advocates share the facts. They’re passionate about the cause. They want to take action and make things happen. They try to influence as many decision makers as possible.
- Ambassadors speak with the voice of the cause. They represent the organization and its values, and when asked to state a position on an issue which impacts the organization, they put aside their personal agenda and speak with the voice of the organization. They know the basic messages and use them to promote the organization. They effectively represent the organization in the community and to their personal and business social networks.
- A champion speaks from the heart and invites you into her story, because the cause makes a difference in her life and her experience with the organization is part of her story. Champions can turn a conversation to the cause and why the organization is its voice. The cause is top-of-mind, and they’re always looking out for its best interests, by influencing, acting, and being a voice for the cause.
Who are your champions?
- Founding champions’ personal experiences make them fervent advocates and enthusiastic ambassadors.
- External champions believe fervently in the cause, because personal experience or desire for doing good has aligned them with your cause or organization.
- Champions could be those who are grateful for how your organization touched their heart or changed their lives.
- Survivors’ personal experiences compel them to join as a believer in the cause.
- Participants become champions. Champions are not observers.
What can you do to empower your champions?
- Connect them with the greater good or impact your organization aspires to. Let your organization be a path to helping them achieve their dream or fulfill their desire to serve. You may gain a lifelong supporter who has fulfilled their personal calling while engaging with your purpose.
- Recognize that your mission may be a step to an individual’s success, and that the experience they have will help your idea endure.
- A champion makes it possible for others to succeed, and you must make it possible for your champion to succeed. Their success on your behalf becomes your success, and their story becomes your story.
Champions are made when an individual has identified with your cause so thoroughly that it is part of their personal story and a meaningful aspect of their life. Your cause excites, motivates, and inspires them.
Ideas become movements when we believe in a cause, when our passion and purpose align with an idea that touches our hearts and inspires us to action.
Indeed, there are no chance meetings. Raise your voice. Empower your movement.
Brian Sooy is the founder of Aespire, an Ohio-based branding and digital agency empowering leaders and organizations to align their brand and purpose with the communities they serve. Brian is also the principal designer at AlteredEgoFonts.com, author of the branding guidebook Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto, board member of Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, and plays a Ken Smith bass – because the world has enough guitarists. aespire.com, Twitter @briansooy, linkedin.com/in/briansooy
This article is reprinted from Vol. 3, No. 1, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today.
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