Eidolons of Ash

Three Spheres of Buy-In

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Sacred River explores spirituality grounded in religious naturalism & progressive ethics that is both non-theistic and non-supernatural.


One way of looking at membership in a local community is in terms of levels of commitment, motivation, and participation (which together I refer to as "buy-in"). As with all models, this one is arbitrary, and should only be used as a way of interpreting reality without being mistaken for it. That said, I believe that it is possible to identify three levels or spheres of buy-in.

1) Core Members

The center represents those members that are highly active and committed, and are commonly body officers, clergy members, chartered initiators, or otherwise active with community projects. These core members have a high degree of motivation and quite likely a strong sense of personal identification with the OTO and/or the local body. On average, they will come to as many events as they can. In many ways, they are the heart and soul of the local body, providing energy, vision, and resources, as well as a sense of history and continuity.

2) Rank and File

The next sphere is what I call the rank and file. These are members who have a moderate degree of commitment and identification to the body. They can be counted on to show up to several events a year, but are less likely to initiate or lead them. More often than not there are certain events that they are especially interested in, such as Mass or inits, and this is where they'll be. While they generally do not provide the vision or direction of the body, they will often be willing to help them manifest (e.g. by helping with fundraisers, paying dues, putting in time and labor, etc.).

3) Satellites

The third sphere is filled with satellites. As you have figured out, these folks have the least amount of commitment and participation. They come to only a few events a year, rarely donate time or resources, and essentially do not put any energy into the community beyond what is easy and immediately gratifying (e.g. attending parties). Their interest and identification with the local body is minimal. I call them satellites because they orbit around the periphery of the community, every now and then swooping in, but never for long or to any great effect.

Interconnection of the Spheres

The effectiveness, climate, and general character of a local body will be largely determined by the relative population of its own spheres. Naturally, it is in the best interest of the local body to have many people near the center and fewer members at the edge. It is important to recognize that, in most cases, all three spheres will always be populated to some degree. It is unrealistic to try to have someone come in from beyond the circle (i.e. a new member) and expect her to dive straight to the center...it's not impossible, but it will be rare for someone to develop that level of commitment to a brand new organization and community. In the majority of cases, new folks will be satellites, not because they are advantage-takers or free-riders, but because they are wanting to test the community before investing themselves in it. We have to honor and allow for this process, within reason.

So, one of the things I've been trying to answer is: how do we create an environment that increases the pull towards the center? What can local leaders do to inspire buy-in, i.e. greater amounts of commitment and participation? The reality is that there are forces both pulling and pushing members in both directions, with resistance increasing further in. The big topic right now is, duh, local dues. By making them mandatory (either on the local level or by GL mandate), we are increasing one variable of participation, the financial one (again, I am in favor of mandatory local dues, always have been). However, doing so does not guarantee an increase in commitment. As vital as dues are to the functioning of a local body, they are only one aspect of the path towards the center. And in fact, it is important to realize that dues represent a cost, and as such act as a resistance to moving center. Therefore, it is necessary to balance out this cost with a gain, which in OTO largely comes from the emotional/spiritual fulfillment of being a member. Local leaders who expect dues must offer in return an environment that allows for those dues to be a rewarding, worthwhile expenditure.

A healthy, vibrant local body that is effectively fulfilling both individual goals and the general aims of the Order will have an increasing number of people heading towards the center. A body might be doing 12 Minervals year, but if those members stay as satellites, or perhaps move into the Rank and File for a short time before leaving again, then the overall vitality of the community will be stagnant. Although a certain number of members will stay near the edges, a good goal is to always have some members moving towards the center. But, how to do this?

Carrots and Sticks

The answer is to develop a collection of carrots and sticks designed to increase three things: one's personal identification with the group, a sense of trust, and the ability to affect the outcome of the group, while decreasing other things, like protracted advantage-taking, social insulation, and needless right-way battles. As important as sticks are in reducing unwanted behaviors, carrots are far more effective in inspiring initiates to travel towards becoming a core members.

Identification, trust, and effectiveness are the three vital variables that normally determine the degree to which a person will be committed and participate. Many studies in group dynamics back this claim up. The more a local body employs methods and develops cultural norms that are geared towards increasing all three, the more members it will have moving towards greater commitment and motivation. The more members it has near the center, the more people become available to share in labor, provide services and resources, and add to the overall energy and vitality of the group, all of which leads to greater effectiveness in meeting our goals. The other advantage is that when more people are moving towards the center, the more attractive those spheres become, so that over time more resistance to entry is automatically eased.

What I have presented is not the be all end all of local body membership. Certainly individual members have an equal responsibility to find their own motivation for commitment and participation. However, our local body leaders have a choice: they can either promote buy-in, ignore it, or even resist it. It is said that a responsible and effective group leader doesn't manipulate the members, but manipulates the environment. The question finally comes down to: what kind of environment are our leaders developing? One where increasing numbers of initiates are traveling towards becoming core members or one that makes staying a satellite more attractive? We really do have a choice, and if we want to manifest the Grand Vision of OTO, we will need as many long-term core members as we can get.