The Ladder of Engagement is All About Self-Selection

Ten Steps

Quick thought: when advocates, fundraisers and organizers talk about the “ladder of engagment”, we usually speak in terms of “moving people up.” I.e., we’re getting our supporters to take higher-value actions over time, yielding more in practical results. Each time they do, we boost them another rung up the metaphorical (and clichéd) ladder building their connection to our campaign or cause (we hope).

But that makes US the heroes! We’re the ones doing the “moving” in this telling of the tale, and it’s on us to persuade a Facebook follower to join our email list or coax that first gift out of a non-donor. The masses aren’t exactly clay in our hands, but that’s the underlying logic — it takes a push for someone to go up the ladder.

Here’s another way to frame the concept, though: the ladder of engagement is all about self-selection. Rather than herding people along, we provide them with chances to CHOOSE to become more involved and engaged. They move THEMSELVES up the ladder, and our job is to give them enticing opportunities to take another step.

The distinction is semantic, of course, and you may not see much of a difference between this formulation and what I describe as the norm. But to me, thinking of our supporters as a self-selecting group changes the lens through which we perceive them. Our job is to encourage, not to push: each higher-value action we dangle before them is an opportunity.

Another implication? Not everyone will take the next step! Many will be content to follow your cause on Facebook and Like or Share the occasional post, completely ignoring your repeated requests to sign a petition and hand over their precious email addresses. And that’s okay! Our job then is to provide them with substantive content and actions that fit their place on the ladder, so that every supporter has good options, not just the high-climbers.

Think of the rungs as “tiers of engagement”, like ledges on the side of a mountain rather than rungs of a ladder. Some will choose to scale the heights, and we do our jobs well when we give them compelling reasons to do so. Others will sit tight where they are — and we need to give them substantive things to do, too. Whether or not they might ever give us a dime.


Written by
Colin Delany
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