networking

Community First, Then Marketing

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I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of mission founders or directors are lacking marketing experience. It's just not a typical precursor to starting an organization to feed the hungry or distribute clean water. But we can all agree that sharing our message is paramount to fulfilling our mission. The more people who care about our cause, and associate us with the solution, the more donors, volunteers, and talented team members available to scale our impact. Marketing is a bit of an intimidating word. It's often associated with advertising, events, radio and television interviews, published articles, and slimy people who launch a lot at bad jokes and drive black BMWs.

It's also easy to pigeon-hole ourselves in comparison to bigger, well-funded players. When you're relying on word-of-mouth or a few hundred printed brochures from Vistaprint, those tear-jerking American Cancer Society ads can make anyone feel inadequate.

How do you stay grounded in what you do best, while effectively spreading your message, so that you can grow your impact?

You may be surprised to learn that many small nonprofits are making waves on social media. A Nonprofit Technology Network article by Susan Gordon highlighted a interesting comparison:

Following the major earthquake in Japan in 2011, quite a large number of diverse nonprofits put out fundraising campaigns. In looking at those on the crowdfunding platform, Causes, the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, a relatively small organization with just over a million in annual revenue, had raised more than $400,000. Comparatively, the American Red Cross, an organization with more than $3 Billion in annual revenue, pulled in $322,540.

The most successful mission-driven organizations have built loyal and motivated communities.

Social media and online platforms simply provide an efficient (and inexpensive) method to mobilize your community (and their community) around your cause, even if your cause doesn't have cute pictures of babies to post on Facebook.

Social media can seem intimidating and ineffective at first. Most companies have tasked low-level interns to post inspirational italicized quotes on backdrops of flowers every few days.

Unlike this giant waste of time, organizations who engage in activities that build their direct community and then connect regularly with that community online through stories and relevant information take advantage of social media as an amplifier. An example:

A 45-year old banker who regularly gives $20 to various charities loses his 19-year-old son to an accidental overdose. Having previously distanced himself from substance abuse, "those are bad kids whose parents weren't around", suddenly finds himself personally connected to how insidious even a little experimentation can be. He becomes heavily involved over the next year with a local organization that offers prevention, treatment, and support services to his community.

The banker and his wife are now donors and volunteers for the cause and the organization is doing a great job engaging them in their mission. The wife connects with the organization via social media and invites her local church group and a dozen of her friends to donate with a few clicks. They do because they know the family well and are equally horrified at the loss of their son, a young man the same age as many of their children.

A social media ask is a lot easier to swallow for many of us. There is social approval involved in being associated with a good cause and the visibility of our association online can attract others in our network without even an invite. Many stories are so compelling that they go viral, enlisting thousands of unknown supporters in spreading the message and contributing to the need.

You can't duplicate this effect with a direct mail appeal or an event. We don't share the postcard with the hungry kids on the front with our neighbors, coworkers, and family. We also don't often talk about our charitable contributions or affiliations.

While a case can certainly be made that the older members of our communities may prefer a traditional appeal, on a human level we are all more interested in being part of a community, rather than an address on a list. It's not about the ask, it's about whether you provide a compelling space to interact and connect. Even if you engage on social media with stories, if you lack a genuine community on the ground, the few strangers who retweet you or like your page are likely never going to get more involved than that.

If you're struggling with concept of social media:

Instead of looking for strangers in the dark recesses of the internet, step back and evaluate your genuine followers. You may have a list size in the thousands, but do those people have a real connection to your cause and are you providing opportunities to interact? A few small changes in this realm may make all the difference, with the bonus of social media evangelists praising your work to all of their friends online.

4 Type-A Networking Mistakes

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My perspective on networking when I was working a salaried 9-to-5 was likely similar to most folks:

  • I don't have time.
  • I am doing just fine on my own.
  • What's the benefit to me?

When my career took a sudden and unexpected turn and I left said job, I realized my mistake with heavy regret. The understanding of what genuine networking consists of and where I had failed came in waves.

1. I quietly shined in the background.

I missed hundreds of relationship opportunities where I shined, but didn't connect. I rarely introduced myself to the key players in my industry or shared what I was working on. I sat at the table, listened, and performed quietly within my organization. I invested in my boss's approval and the relationships contained within a single company because I didn't plan on leaving and immaturely believed I could get things done best on my own. When I did network, I did so on behalf of my company, never connecting as an individual.

2. I saw networking as rubbing shoulders at events.

I held a naive view of networking as scheduled events where I could introduce myself to new people. This created so many barriers to genuine relationships. First, I didn't "have time" to attend events like this. Second, when I did prioritize an event, I didn't know how to take advantage of introductions. I told them what I did, they told me what they did, we swapped business cards. Once in awhile a relationship would form because the stars aligned at the right time with their needs and mine, but it was always a short-lived surface connection that died off when our mutual interests went in different directions.

3. I was self-centered and opportunities looked like work.

I was genuinely very busy at my job (due to hoarding the work in exchange for control). So, when I came across opportunities to volunteer, advise, or otherwise share space with other professionals, I saw them as tasks that simply added to my overwhelming to-do list. Why should I share my expertise with others? Why should I volunteer my time when my time is in such short supply? I certainly never went looking for this additional "work", let alone responded appropriately when it came looking for me. I stubbornly figured challenges out on my own to the extent that when I reached out to an organization with a successful model for a project I was leading, I was motivated to do so because it would look good on funding requests.

4. I thought well-connected people were born that way. 

To me, the popular saying, "it's all who you know" was said sarcastically under your breath after congratulating a snob on their unearned promotion. Their wealthy, well-connected parents obviously pulled strings with their golf buddies to get little Johnny that CEO title at 22. While this may be true at times, nepotism is totally separate from networking. I failed to realize that I too could "know people" and move to the top of the list for exciting opportunities, even after discovering that if I hired someone I knew, I always got better results. Hello, McFly?

I was fortunate that after I dumped a ridiculous amount of career nesting crap into the back of my car, an unsolicited introduction resulted in a wake-up call to the importance of relationships. One connection introduced me to another, who introduced me to another, resulting in the privilege of learning from a strategic relationship master.

This one relationship has led to at least a dozen high-powered connections and already several opportunities that have rounded out my skills and increased my value in the marketplace. Much beyond that, I got to reverse my past mistakes and begin investing in relationships the right way, which will lead to immeasurable benefits going forward.

I look back and wish I had found a way to benefit that original link who made the first unsolicited introduction, because the series of connections that she kicked off have added exponential value to my life and career.

Relationships are a little magical. You never, absolutely never, know where one will lead.

So, shine openly and beyond the walls of your office, invest in everyone you come in contact with all the time (even if it's just a quick compliment), appreciate opportunities to volunteer yourself as gifts, and remember that anyone can grow their network into an all access pass by generously listening and competently adding value.

The Keys to Superconnecting

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Nothing happens without people and unbelievable feats occur when a tribe pools their resources. Successfully building and navigating relationships is key to achieving extraordinary goals, both personally and in business. If you missed Judy Robinett's webinar on building relationships to build business on Thursday, you missed out on some gems. Robinett has spent years breaking down what she does naturally into a proven formula that anyone can use to build valuable relationships.

The steps are deceptively simple, but just like adding yeast to a few basic ingredients transforms them into a much greater result, Robinett's recipe for relationships will multiply your outcomes.

Confront your Fears

What's holding you back from starting those critical first conversations? Your assumptions are almost guaranteed to be wrong.

  • Shy? You don't need to be a gregarious extrovert, you simply need to engage. Focus on the other person.
  • Stranger Danger: The distance between a stranger and a friend or a mentor can be crossed with genuine conversation.
  • Lacking a Harvard degree in a room of brilliant people? No pedigree or silver spoon is required. Your experiences give you unique knowledge.

Four Prerequisites

You don't need a pedigree or a huge personality, but you must develop these areas in order to develop strong relationships:

  1. Become an amazing listener. Remember the details. Ask thoughtful questions. Start with a goal of learning about them, rather than trying to find commonality. This will come naturally.
  2. Be genuine. Like bloodhounds, there is a sensation that creates distance when you encounter someone who is  hiding something. Be you, regardless of whether you feel insecure.
  3. Don't rush it. Robinett compares networking to dating. You need to work up to the ask and then court for a period of time. The first conversation is not the time to ask for more than advice.
  4. Be value-driven. Be passionate about these cornerstones that guide your life. Integrity, accountability, and empathy will attract the right people to you.

Three Golden Questions

Don't try to make them yours right off. Try them out just as they are and experience the magic:

  1. How can I help you?
  2. What other ideas do you have for me?
  3. Who else do  you know that I should talk to?

Nurturing relationships is a marathon, not a series of sprints or hurdles. Your focus needs to be on quality, not quantity. Target the right groups and focus in on a few key people rather than trying to get your business card into the hands of every person present.

Attempting success alone places a very real ceiling on your potential. The people that are available to you hold the keys to connections, information, money, and opportunity. What do you have to lose?

Learn more about Judy here: www.judyrobinett.com

Follow her on Twitter: @judyrobinett