Never Doubt The Power Of Small Groups (they can turn into movements)

This October, I’m reminded of a company effort to battle breast cancer, started by a handful of passionate people in Canada.  We focus so much on the power of one person, super-woman, but forget that more often than not it takes a core group to really move the needle.

This is why Margaret Mead once wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  She didn’t say a person, she emphasized a group.  

Here’s a good example from CIBC, a national bank in Canada. In 1997, the community relations group of the Edmonton, Alberta, branch signed on to sponsor the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s annual Run for the Cure fund-raiser. The sponsorship program offered a modest amount of financial support and encouraged CIBC employees to participate either by running in the event or pledging money to those who did. The program received a pleasant reception but was not deemed strategic to the company’s core interests.

For the next three years, hundreds of tellers from Edmonton to Toronto—mostly women—signed up to run for the fund-raiser. They organized individual teams at each of the bank branch locations to strategize how to increase participation and raise more money. They took advantage of available corporate resources and participated in corporate promotions, putting up posters and wearing T-shirts and pink ribbons provided by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. They talked up the fund-raiser to coworkers, friends, and family.

Involvement became a point of pride. By 2001, with thousands of CIBC employees now program participants, the fund-raiser was a major source of job satisfaction. Bank executives asked the brand-marketing group to research the impact of the company’s sponsorship; the resulting data suggested that it was driving the bank’s popularity with customers, especially women, and that a side benefit was a boost in employee retention.

Because of these efforts and their results, bank executives re-classified the Run for the Cure sponsorship program as strategic to the company and moved it from the community affairs department to the powerful and well-funded brand marketing group, which upped the ante by approving an additional $3 million in sponsorship money to promote the event through television, print, and Web advertisements.

In 2001, approximately $10 million was raised for the Run for the Cure. By the following year, more than 140,000 people participated in the program, due largely to CIBC advertising. Later that year, when new management took over the bank, they continued the support. Today the Run for the Cure is the largest breast-cancer fund-raising event in North America, all because a few hundred passionate tellers decided to use the workplace to organize an event about which they truly cared.

(This was an excerpt of Saving The World at Work, my third book)