Want to Drive Big Impact? Start Small


by Lily Mathews

Jessica Rudnick had big ideas when she joined a Net Impact chapter last fall, ready to make an impact on campus. But she quickly discovered it wasn’t going to be as easy as she’d hoped.

The sophomore, currently studying environmental sciences and engineering, found the Net Impact Washington University (St. Louis)undergrad chapter “tight-knit and dedicated,” yet lacking in numbers. The question loomed: how do you reach folks who haven’t integrated social and environmental values into their everyday habits? For Jessica, the answer was found in one of Net Impact’s newest undergraduate programs to date, the Small Steps Big Wins Challenge.

Even if you’re out of school, you can still learn from Jessica’s experiences. If you’re finding it difficult to enlist new people to your cause – whether it’s launching an impact initiative at work, or growing your Net Impact chapter – take heart. By employing some of the Challenge’s best strategies for success, such as starting small and identifying common ground, you can quickly find fresh faces to bring on board.

What’s your point of entry?

The secret to big success? Start small. It’s an idea often cited in social psychology and business lit. As Chip and Dan Heath explain in Switch, “Small targets lead to small victories, and small victories can often trigger a positive spiral of behavior.”

This is the guiding philosophy behind Small Steps, an undergraduate competition that awards points and prizes for taking a series of simple social and environmental actions. Cumulatively, these small decisions add up to big change. Last semester, students took more than 4,200 actions. Now in its second semester, over 50 campuses have joined on to the challenge to vie for experiential learning opportunities with executives at Kiva, as well as gift cards for REI or Timberland.

After last semester’s struggle with chapter participation, Jessica became a Small Steps Campus Director in the hopes of enlisting new students. She quickly saw that the idea of starting small resonated immediately, and discovered a lot of enthusiasm for the campaign beyond her current network. “I was surprised how much support we found among the student body outside our chapter,” says Jessica. Now Jessica’s campus holds first place on the Small Steps leader board.

Because the Small Steps actions run the gamut – from reusing a mug at the coffee shop to organizing a campus volunteer day – participants from many backgrounds can find an entry point that suits their ambitions. Whether you’re driving change on campus or in the workplace, it’s important to offer opportunities that start small, but can easily scale up.

Leveraging alliances

So you know to start small – but how do you find your target audience when recruiting for a cause? To start, it’s important to establish common ground. For Jessica, partnering with other campus organizations has been a boon for participation. The group realized that students who haven’t taken part in social change activities may very well want to take part, but might not know how.

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