How to nominate a Fellow - RSA

The world is divided into two kinds of people: FRSAs, and those about to join


  • Picture of
  • Fellowship
  • Fellowship in Action

As staff, we are encouraged to nominate people whom we think would make a great addition to the Fellowship. As Engagement Manager for the Catalyst Grant, I have been privileged to see the vast range of FRSAs around the world, and what projects they are running to sustainably affect social change. This exposure to the diversity of the Fellowship has shown me how *everyone can be a Fellow*: in the last year, I have nominated 67 people and 30 of them have joined the Fellowship. This is possibly the most long-term impact I could make here: enriching the Fellowship with new voices, expanding the Networks across the world, and securing over £5,000 a year of ongoing support.

So, you’re a Fellow; what is stopping you nominating others?

For those not familiar with the RSA’s work and its influence throughout history, it is hard to know where to even start explaining what goes on here. Blue Plaques? The ATM? Policy-influencing research? Showcasing the first use of the lightbulb this side of the Atlantic? Girls’ Education? A Network of worldwide Fellows who believe in the same social change as we have since 1754 and identify each other through a complex secret handshake?

Astonishingly, only one of those things is not quite true (we showcased the first telephone), and yet still we have to spend a lot of time convincing amazing people why they should join the Fellowship: we have a ‘Nominate a Fellow’ function on the website to make things easier, we have a ‘Nominate a Fellow’ box in our Rawthmells coffeehouse. We encourage our Fellows to grow the networks, but we understand there can be barriers.

As one of the top nominators within the RSA Staff, I will share what I have found, and some insights on how to invite more people to join us and create even more opportunities to collaborate on worldwide social change and connect with others who want to do the same.

Here are some things I have learned:

  • Our Fellowship is 32% women, so I have made a point to nominate more women – particularly women of colour – resulting in 42 nominations for women and 25 men
  • Out of the 42 women, 16 have become FRSAs; out of the 25 men, 14 have joined the Fellowship. 38% conversion rate of women vs 56% for men
  • Investigating this a little further, I have found that generally women get stuck on the application form, usually questioning “What could I possible contribute?” whereas many of the men simply agree with the work and are excited about getting involved

If there is an initial issue with the financial contributions, try to find out what empowers them about the RSA, because then:

  • they understand it is also an investment in their own future,
  • or that it is being a part of something bigger,
  • or you are contributing in some small way to something you believe in
  • this shifts perspectives, and thus possibilities.

This is why it is worth investing your time in your nominations; show how you relate personally to the RSA, and how your nominee can too, the potential in collaborating, and their own future in the Fellowship.

Here are some places I have talked to people about becoming a Fellow:

  • At conferences
  • Networking events
  • At dinner parties
  • Sliding into the Twitter DMs of people I admire
  • In a bar in Berlin after a Guns n’ Roses gig

Here are some immediate objections I have heard, and some potential responses you can use:

"Isn’t it really elitist?"

  • Historically, you could argue, yes; which is why we need you to help us see a new perspective
  • When he became CEO, Matthew Taylor actively addressed the ‘stale male and pale’ nature of the Fellowship, insisting that we diversify our nominations so that the ideas are more multi-faceted, diverse and subsequently improved
  • We may have ‘Royal’ in our name, but ‘21st Century Enlightenment’ is our game, and that is categorically not elitist

What could they possibly want with me?"

  • Everything. Your unique experience will give us insight into how that area of society is functioning/an innovative way to address the issues/challenge our current work and approach and force us to consider further areas of research

"Oh, so you just want my money?"

  • Partly, yes: we are a charity, and although we partner with funders on certain projects, our FRSAs keep the staff working hard for them, convening networks and providing tailored project support
  • It also ends up being your money; every year £100,000 of Fellows’ contributions fund Catalyst Projects around the world, it supports areas of research to enrich the society we all live in, and hosts Events for everyone to attend and share ideas.

Here are ways you can make connections with what we do and your nominees’ work:

  • If they run their own project, they can
    • Apply for the Catalyst Grant
    • Create a Crowdfunding page
    • Write a blog for the website to raise awareness and invite collaboration from the Fellowship
  • If they are a new graduate or starting their career or want support in developing their ideas somewhere, there are 29,447 Fellows here to connect with
  • Wherever you are in the world, there is likely a Network or RSA Connector ready to hear your idea or question or campaign or protest and will work with you to see where it can go next
  • If they are researching or working in anything to do with economy, environment, employment, infrastructure, technology, sustainability, education, creative arts, culture, learning, heritage, produce, social change, digital, community, cognition, young people, empathy, gender politics, automation, citizen power, inequality, deliberative democracy, the media, migration, science, maths, collaboration, blended learning or history … there will be something here for them
  • If they don’t work in any of those areas, and are simply curious, they can come to any of the Events that are happening around the world to hear what others have to say about them

We have always believed in democratising ideas, they needn’t belong to one set of people; so, let’s grow this set, get more ideas in, and continue to change society in a way that creates a better future for everyone.

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