Citizens’ Climate is adapting to COVID-19. Some resources on this site may need adjusting to current circumstances. More Info.

Transformational Organizing Guide

No Image Description
This guide describes the five pillars of transformational organizing to help us strengthen our leadership development and capacity throughout the organization.
Press play to start the video
Audio length
Press play to start the audio
Usage Instructions

Practicing these ideas in our groups will increase the number of highly engaged and motivated people that we work with and enable us to reach our goals!

Note: For a more in-depth (11 pages) discussion for each of these pillars, click here.

The First Pillar: The Pyramid of Engagement

“Movements work by transforming what people think is possible.” (Dr. Hahrie Han)

In CCL, we transform what people think possible for  Congress to do on climate, and in the process transform what people think possible for themselves to accomplish. Regardless of the motivation or skills a person brings when they join CCL, we succeed when we help them take the next step as part of our movement: Because empowered volunteers help us  reach our big organizational goals.

The Pyramid of Engagement shows the different ways people engage in our work and take increasing amounts of responsibility. Starting from the bottom and moving up, we have:

  • Joiners who associate with us but take minimal  action or responsibility.
  • Task-doers who commit discrete amounts of time for specific actions.
  • Role-takers who take responsibility for an outcome or area of group functions.
  • Leadership developers who help other people increase their skills and engagement

Empowering Our Volunteers

As a transformational organization, CCL places citizen empowerment as key to our mission and strategy. We encourage the leadership of all volunteers  in order to match the size of the problem we are tackling. But often people don’t feel that their time or skills are up to the task. To support volunteers as they move up the engagement pyramid, it is essential to inspire people and help remove obstacles that hold them back.  Social scientists like CCL Advisory Board member Dr. Hahrie Han [1] call this empowerment cultivating agency. Cultivating agency means helping people reach their potential as leaders by developing skills and confidence.

When you help cultivate agency in your volunteers, you  help give them the knowledge and skills to complete tasks. You also give them room to try out ideas, makes mistakes, and learn from them. CCL provides training resources as well as a safe community to share and grow. When volunteers start saying to each other, “I can’t believe I just did that!” or “I had so much fun trying this new thing!” we know we are hitting the right balance of support and freedom. The remaining pillars are the guides to how to do that.

For more information on CCL’s pyramid of engagement and how to empower your volunteers read more about the First Pillar here!

The Second Pillar: The CCL Way

Creating a group culture that inspires, nurtures and motivates people

Culture is important

An organization’s culture is its identity. Research has shown that organizations with a strong identity or culture have more motivated people in it, and that’s important to our success.

When someone joins CCL, they have lots of questions, like when we meet and how our legislative proposal works, and how they can take action. At the same time, they learn how we work together —from the moment they first contact us, they discover the culture of our organization. We should teach people about our culture, “The CCL Way,” as deliberately as we teach them how to lobby or write a letter to the editor. Our core values are displayed on our website.

How to create a strong culture in our groups

That national organization provides several ways to build culture:

  • The monthly call not only provides information to volunteers but building a sense of community..
  • The introductory call and the Climate Advocate Training use quotes and stories to convey our culture to new volunteers.
  • The CCL blog uses stories to convey what’s important to us.

Remind volunteers of these resources at your meetings, especially newcomers, by sharing your experience with them, or pointing them out on the New Volunteer Handout.

You can build your groups culture in other ways, for example:

  1. Give people a chance to talk about what they care about during an opening or closing exercise. Small groups can do that as a round robin, and larger groups can do it with a partner. Start with questions like:  What do you love that you want to save? Who inspires you? What gives you hope for humanity? Or close with questions like: What kind of person do you want to be this month? What are you “for” this week? What actions will you do this month?
  2. Ask someone to briefly share something they did that models the CCL way.
  3. Ask someone to share a story from the group’s history or CCL’s history.
  4. Use quotes to say who we are, whether quotes you found or that you’ve heard through CCL.
  5. Convey your culture by integrating it into what your group does rather than telling people what to do or how to be.
  6. Create opportunities for people to get to know each other better.
  7. Invent a fun tradition for your group (for example, one group created commercials to demonstrate each value being lived out in their group). It’s okay to be silly!
For more information on CCL’s core values and appointing a culture builder in your team read more about the Second Pillar here!
The Third Pillar: The Conditions that Motivate

“The proper question is not, ‘How can people motivate others?,’ but rather, ‘How can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?’” –Edward Deci

A transformational organization is one in which the conditions are right for people to motivate themselves. And how well volunteers perform stems from what motivates them in the first place. So what drives individual motivation?

In their book Primed to Perform [2], the authors highlight the six key motivators that social psychologists have identified drive an individual’s involvement in activities.  These motivators fall into two categories: Direct motivators and indirect motivators. Direct motivators increase long-term motivation, which helps individual be effective and satisfied. Indirect motivators actually weaken long-term success, because they are based on things like emotional and economic pressure. These motivators are explained more below.

Direct motivators: Motives that strengthen engagement

Direct motivators help volunteers motivate themselves. This leads to more engaged, persistent volunteers and a fosters innovation foster the conditions within which people motivate themselves. They tend to allow for an engaged citizenship, room for experimentation, and an attitude of persistence. Three direct motivators are described in this section: play, purpose, and potential.

Indirect motivators: Motives that decrease long-term engagement

Indirect motivators often get in the way long-term of volunteers motivating themselves. They tend to be counterproductive to individual’s efforts in any organization and can include behaviors to avoid guilt, performing for rewards, and working out of habit. It’s important for all groups to identify when any of these motivators are setting in to talk about how to best adjust towards direct motivators.  The three indirect motivators described in this section are: emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia.
For more information on specific field-tested suggestions on how to cultivate direct motivators that encourages us have more engaged, higher-functioning, passionate and healthier teams read more about the Third Pillar here!

The Fourth Pillar: The Elimination of Blame

Blame kills motivation, experimentation, and the ability to learn from mistakes.

Despite all that we know about how to motivate people from decades of social science research, why don’t we have  better functioning organizations and workplaces? It turns out that human beings have a tendency to blame the individual when things aren’t going well, rather than the context or conditions within which they operate.It’s called the blame bias. But that bias isn’t hardwired. By understanding it, we can eliminate it.

Typically, we are more aware of the blame bias in other people than in ourselves, so the first and hardest step is to learn to recognize when we’ve fallen into blaming people. Once we’ve recognized it, we can choose to replace blaming with problem solving.

Not surprisingly, blaming the individual leads to a greater use of motivators that weaken motivation and performance. For example, managers or leaders fall into using emotional pressure to shame someone or use economic pressure by creating financial incentives or disincentives to promote the desired behavior. However, by focusing on the conditions or the individual’s context, we can increase the likelihood of self-motivation and learning from mistakes.

Rooting out the blame bias improves our relationships and effectiveness both in our chapters and in our lobbying. For example, when a volunteer fails to do a job they’ve agreed to do, we can blame them and shut down progress and communication, or we can treat it as a problem to be solved together, come up with solutions, and leave everyone more empowered as a result. Problem solving leads to a sense of playful experimentation, which is one of the highest motivators.

Similarly, we can blame our member of Congress when they don’t share our urgency about climate change or support our proposal, but that attitude only locks our differences in place. If instead we focus on understanding their situation and making even small changes in that context, it can lead to significant progress over time.

So what tools do we have to engage in problem solving without falling into the trap of blame bias? One easy method of learning how to move away from blame is through using the REAP Model, which helps us look at a situation objectivity and with an open mind. REAP stands for:  Remember, Explain, Ask and Plan. We REAP what we sow!

  • Remember: Whenever you find yourself blaming an individual for a situation, stop yourself and remember these words: “Assume positive intent.” This simple statement should remind you that the person probably means well.
  • Explain: Before addressing the situation, come up with alternative scenarios that could explain the behavior without assuming a problem with the individual.
  • Ask: Assuming positive intent, mention what you observed and ask why to start a discussion centered on problem-solving.
  • Plan: Identify the true root cause and develop a plan to remedy it.
For more information on the importance of working towards eliminating blame and a specific example of applying the REAP model for your own group read more about the Fourth Pillar here!
The Fifth Pillar: The Empowerment of Volunteers

Doing things together, helping people determine a role for themselves, and checking in periodically lead to greater engagement by our members.

There isn’t a formula for empowering people, but we have pulled together some things we can do to help people develop their capacity and commitment to action.

Doing things together

Although setting people up to work alone on tasks can be fast and efficient (and often feels easier), in the long run research shows that people engage more deeply over time when they work together. We don’t have to be rigid about this, but it will strengthen your group to ask people to work in pairs or in teams. Co-leaders can keep the work from becoming overwhelming and provide support and accountability to each other. Adding a second person to a job or role enables more people to gain useful skills and experience, and creates a backup for when your point person has a time conflict or life crisis.

Start with tasks and move to roles 

People come into the organization at different levels. Your group needs to have a system for getting to know newcomers and to find out more about what they want to offer the group. Many people want to start out with a simple task they can do. Help newcomers leave your meeting with a clear and easy next step for themselves, for example “Go home and learn how to log-in to Community” or “I will write my members of Congress this week.” But after a few months of doing tasks, it’s time to start thinking with them about the outcomes they want to work for, and the role they want to play in that. A simple approach is to have a conversation soon after they’ve attended their first meeting, or after their first few months, and ask questions to determine (1) what motivates them, (2) what would they like to contribute or achieve, and (3) what their next steps are. There are additional resources on CCL Community, including a more in-depth approach used successfully by some groups.

Here’s a simple format for defining a role:

As ___________________ (insert title)

I will __________________ (outcome)

By ____________________ (activities)

For example, “As chapter meeting host I will make everyone comfortable by making sure we provide coffee and treats and by providing social opportunities for our members . I’ll circulate a sign-up sheet for the refreshments each month, recruit a few extroverts in the group to seek out people on the edge at our meetings and talk to them, and plan a social event once or twice a year for our group.”

Check in with your people

Supporting the people in your group does not have to take hours and hours of your time, but it is essential. When someone is first getting to know CCL, having a guide or mentor is really helpful to them and communicates that their participation is valued. When someone has taken on a role, it’s really helpful to them to have a chance to periodically reflect on how it’s going, solve problems, or figure out the next steps.

A check-in call is like coaching(for a more in-depth discussion click here for a training on supportive coaching). A quick review of coaching is provided below, which has three interconnected domains:

  • Motivation: Providing encouragement, getting over discouragement, helping people articulate their commitment to their objective.
  • Skills: Helping volunteers decide if they have the skills they need to accomplish their objective and what resources (including people) you can connect them with.
  • Strategy: Identifying a clear path for achieving goals and making a plan of action.

In a coaching conversation you are doing three things: finding out what they need (is it a skill, motivation or a strategy), finding a way to fill the need, and then coming back to reflecting on how things went. Ask open-ended questions like “How are you feeling about your progress on __________” and “Is there anything you need to be able to be as effective as possible?” Listen for what kind of support is needed and think together about how to meet that need. Plan how and when you’ll check in again to see how it’s going.

For more information on the process of developing and nurturing relationships in your team read more about the Fifth Pillar here!

Transformational Organizing Summary Transformational Organizing Summary (2-page PDF)139 KB
Transformational Organizing Full GuideTransformational Organizing Full Guide(.pdf)244 KB
Five Pillars of Transformational Organizing PresentationFive Pillars of Transformational Organizing Presentation(.pptx file)9920 KB
Chapter Organizing
XPresentation, XStudy, Presentation, Other
File Type
Image (.jpg, .png, .psd), PDF (.pdf), PowerPoint (.pptx), Word (.docx)