Ah, the ladder of engagement. Your stairway to Heaven. A beguilingly simple idea that forms a central core of the book’s method. 

The idea of the ladder is that your NPO will plot a series of steps for a potential supporter -from the simplest level of involvement, say liking a Facebook post, to a more active commitment -perhaps sharing it with their friends, all the way to becoming a volunteer in a leadership role. That way your NPO is building a relationship with your supporters and asking them for increasing levels of effort and attachment.

Here’s how author Beth Kanter portrays it:

From the Networked NonProfit by Beth Kanter and Alison Fine

What your ladder will look like will depend on the mission and goals of your NPO.  The classic ladder of engagement that we all know about is the fundraising ladder used for President Obama’s first campaign in 2012.

Image from the New Media Campaigns blog

Like all well-designed ladders, it has early steps that are fun and draw in the supporters at a low ask threshold. Here are some other suggestions for alluring bottom rungs

In the book there are some clear case examples of ladders used by NPOs. The most compelling examples are for web-based advocacy NPOs –like MomsRising or Community Catalyst– where one of the ultimate social media asks is for supporters to send a personalized letter to a legislator. 

Grist is a comic environmental news agency that spreads free online content to its growing readership. Their ladder moves readers towards more sustainable personal behaviour and ultimately towards influencing environmental policy changes.

Chart from Measuring the Networked Non Profit

Easy to see why this ladder concept has been broadly adopted across the sector: The planned incremental changes are logical and doable. However, not everyone likes the ladder metaphor. Some commentators  have stressed that progressive engagement should not be viewed as a static one-route climb, but is best envisioned as a dynamic web that adapts to shifting priorities.  Furthermore engagement strategies are only effective to the extent that they reflect each stakeholder’s interests as well as build organizational capacity in the long-term.  In my view, not every ladder needs to achieve everything and this is a useful framework for mapping campaign strategy and linking it to impact.