Three years ago, I was preparing for a meeting that would change the trajectory of the Strong Towns movement. As I flew home from CNU 26 in Savannah this past weekend, I reflected on that meeting and the bold decisions our board of directors made then. This week is our member drive and I want to kick it off by renewing the promises I made back in 2015 when we made that important pivot in direction.
The greatest operational challenge we’ve had as a movement is saying “no” to things. Ever since I started writing back in 2008, we’ve had more requests for our time and energy – more opportunities for taking action as an organization – than we’ve had capacity to perform. From requests to craft legislation and lobby decision makers to opportunities to consult with cities and write white papers, the list of things we could be doing is long.
That’s why the meeting three years ago was so important. That was when we developed our Strategic Plan, a process that not only defined what we were going to do – our theory for making change – but, perhaps more importantly, identified those things we would not being doing.
Our theory is simple: We believe that the more people who are exposed to the Strong Towns message, the more positive change we will witness in our cities, towns and neighborhoods. So we transformed our organization to focus on doing three things: (1) Create content around our core message, (2) distribute that content broadly, and (3) nudge people to take action.
Here’s the key to this plan, and it goes to the promises I’ve made to all of you: Our success depends on our audience being willing to support the growth of the movement. One of the key actions we nudge people to take is to become a member, to do your part to give us the resources we need to share this message with others.
I promised our audience and our members back then that, if they supported us financially, we would use those resources to implement the plan and grow this movement. We would hire the staff we needed and equip them with high return-on-investment support systems. Back then we had one person – me – implementing this plan. Today we have seven, with two more to be added in June, thanks to your support.
Most importantly, I promised then that we would maintain our focus, no matter what. By anchoring our business model to membership – not foundations, major donors or consulting revenue – we ensure that we remain focused on our mission. If we cease being relevant to what is happening in our cities, towns and neighborhoods, if increasing numbers of people are not motivated by our message to support us financially with a membership, then we go away. It’s that simple.
Back then our annual audience was a mere 180,000. Now, we've reached nearly 1.3 million people in the past 12 months. Three years ago, we had 600 members. Now we are approaching 2,200, with a need to get much higher than that this week.
My friends, it’s working, and it’s translating to real action in our places in a big way. If you are inspired by what we are doing here, help us share this message with others. Become a member – at whatever dollar amount you're able – and do what you can to grow this movement.
Today I’m reaffirming all those past promises. I promise that we will continue to make strategic, high-return investments to spread the Strong Towns message. We will continue to maintain focus on our mission and the three core actions of our strategic plan. I promise that we will continue to resist temptations to distraction, that we’ll continue to say “no” to those things that do not adequately grow the movement.
I promise these things, and I once again put my faith in you – our audience – to step up and be part of the Strong Towns movement. If you value what we are doing, become a member today. We need you.
(Top photo: A gathering of Strong Citizens following a Curbside Chat in Colorado Springs, by Charles Marohn)