Our modern society is built on personal choice and freedom. The conventions and strictures that restricted and guided previous generations have fallen away. Social rules on everything from attire to dating to entrepreneurship have dissolved, leaving us with unprecedented opportunity, but also leaving us without guardrails and direction.
It can be exhausting to have to blaze every trail. This is why it is important to have an anchor.
In the 19th century, snake oil salesmen would travel the country selling “miracle cures.” There is actually a traditional Chinese medicine made from snake oil which has some pain relieving properties, but the snake oil salesmen of America were not so particular in selecting compounds with actual curative properties. Why go to the trouble of finding the real thing when the story will sell the product for you?
Today we see the same thing in social media. Digital social media marketing can be incredible effective if done correctly. It can be a medium cost, high bandwidth method of communicating with existing and new customers.
Like snake oil, however, most people peddling “social media marketing” wouldn’t know effective marketing if it made 12-15 impression on their face. They trade on the fact that you don’t know it either, so they flim flam you with buzzwords and fancy graphics so you don’t realize that your money is completely wasted on them.
Recently, a client asked me how branding, especially through community publications, would assist an SEO strategy. Internet marketing companies as a group are very good at convincing businesses that some form of SEO, SEM, social media, or some other kind of digital snake oil will magically transform their business. The fact remains that the fundamental principles of marketing will always apply, and these new strategies are only valuable in as far as they serve these principles.
Principle 1. People like do business with people that they know, like, and trust.
Principle 2. Customers have to be able to find your business when they need it.
For more information about services for Realtors from The Guy Who Knows a Guy, click here.
The more undifferentiated your offering, the more you need branding. The more competition you have, the more you need branding. Realtors face competition from hundreds or even thousands of competitors and seem to sell an undifferentiated product. Arguably more than any other industry, a Realtor must brand themselves in the market if they are to be truly successful.
In my business as a publisher, it is my job to know many Realtors. My publication is a great resource for them. However, out of the 1200 or so Realtors in my area, I could probably only name a few dozen. The rest have so completely failed in branding that even I, a marketing professional whose job is to seek them out, am not even aware of them.
Of course, it’s not their fault. They’ve been taught by countless seminars from companies that offer property marketing services that marketing their properties is much more important than branding and marketing themselves. While marketing properties is vital for doing your business as a Realtor, branding yourself is crucial for building your business.
As a publisher of an influential community magazine, I see a lot of non profit spotlights. Some are excellent. Some less so. While my content coordinator works directly with the content, I have learned quite a bit about what works and what doesn’t. Here are six crucial tips for making the most of your free media.
The tips below are intended to help you to keep your piece from being cut by the editor or ignored by the reader. Articles in a magazine reach a very different audience from a grant request or your web site. Your audience is sitting with a cup of coffee seeking some pleasant entertainment. This doesn’t mean that you can’t entice them to volunteer or donate, but it means that you must consider your audience if you want to reach them.
Some non profits I have encountered have difficulty writing great content because they leader feels the need to do everything. Writing is a great role to offer to a young, enthusiastic volunteer or new board member. They need to know the organization well enough to explain the mission and history, but they don’t need to have experience going back to day one. A team member may also have an unvarnished enthusiasm that is difficult for an exhausted leader to muster. Just something to consider.
1. Nobody Cares Until You Make Them
You care deeply for your cause, and you know that your organization is changing the world. Nobody else cares until you make them care. As a non profit leader, you are making sacrifices for your cause: your time, your money, your energy. It is your passion, and it can be difficult to understand why it isn’t everyone else’s. But that’s how every other non profit leader feels as well, and the public can be overwhelmed by so many causes, each of which is the “most important.”
What this means for you is that you must assume nothing. Even if you are literally saving the world, you need to accept that no one knows that. You must approach your writing from an attitude of humility. Editors will only run your article if you follow their guidelines and rules. People will only read you article if you make it interesting to them. Readers will only donate and volunteer if you capture their hearts and minds.
Simply dumping the facts on them will almost never inspire a reader to act. You must capture their imagination with compelling stories, engaging facts, and an inviting style.
Want to be sure that you are engaging your audience? Share your article with someone outside your organize who is not passionate about your cause to get their feedback. This will be give you a powerful understanding of your intended audience.
2. Facts Expire, Stories Inspire
The best articles I’ve seen have been built around stories. Humans are hardwired to love stories. It’s how we passed down history and lessons for thousands of generations.
Joseph Stalin is quoted as saying, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” A personal story grips the imagination, engages the heart, draws the reader. Statistics are math. 37% of statistics are made up on the spot, or they might as well be.
One of the most impactful non profit spotlights I’ve seen so far was a local horse rescue, Beech Brook Farm. They led with the heart wrenching story of an unwanted mare who was auctioned off twice, the second time while pregnant. Equine mother and child were cast into a cruel world, alone and unloved. Would they find a home? Would they even survive?
It was here that the article provided background about the rescue, what they do, and who they are. Only after that, was the story concluded with a happy ending.
Their article never asked for donations. They just shared what they did with a compelling story. Did they get donations? You bet they did!
3. Want Donations? Stop Begging.
Everyone loves to buy, but nobody wants to be sold. One of the best ways to turn off your audience is to ask them for donations. They know you need donations. They know they can donate through your website. (If they can’t donate through your website, stop reading this and put a donation button on your site right now.)
When people see something about “to donate visit our web site” or “we’re looking for donations,” they feel sold to. They feel guilty that they are not helping, which makes them want to disengage.
If your article is good, they’ll want to help, and they’ll figure out how. Instead of talking about donations, try something like “for more information…” or even “to see how you can help…”
The exception to this is if you are seeking donations for a particular purpose or need a unique kind of help. For example, if you are looking for donations of gently used children’s toys or coats, that’s something to mention. If you need to raise money for the playground you are building this summer, then it’s got a purpose.
It also okay to mention fundraising events as long as they are about more than just raising funds. Polar plunge? Cocktail cruise? Bicycle race? Hot dog eating contest? These are events that a reader might want to attend even if it weren’t a fundraiser, and they’d love to learn about it.
4. Follow The Non Profit Guidelines
If you are getting an article published, the editor is your boss. If you are given a word count of 250 words, do not send in 252 words. For pity sake, do not send in 350 words.
I know that, to you, your cause is the greatest cause in the history of all space and time. To your editor, it is one of many articles vying for space in the publication. If there are four articles for three spaces, the one that violated the guidelines is most likely to get cut.
Community publications love publishing non profit spotlights. It is great, feel good content that people enjoy reading. However, for publishing purposes, one spotlight is as good as another. Actually, that’s not true. The one that has a story and isn’t begging for donations is better than one with no story that’s all about money.
Editors are very busy, and they do not have time to go back and forth with content contributors. That’s why there are guidelines. Many editors will simply discard submissions. After all, they are giving hundreds or thousands of dollars of free publicity. The least you can do it follow the guidelines.
Guidelines does not just mean word counts. The guidelines may also include key points that they want addressed, tone and format of the article, whether you should or should not mention donations, and more. Follow them all. This is your assignment and you will be graded on it.
5. Photography Rights and Wrongs
Photos are hugely important in an article. An article with a photo is much more visible than one without. However, photography can also be one of the biggest headaches for an editor. There are two key issues: quality and rights.
Photo Quality Publications are printed at 300-600 dpi (dots per inch). Internet standard is 72 dpi. This means that your photo from Facebook needs to be printed at one eighth the size to avoid being pixelated. High quality magazines need high quality photography. Fortunately, most modern smart phones have excellent resolution, but you must make sure you are sending an uncompressed version of the photo.
A 2 inch by 3 inch image must be at least 600 by 900 pixels. A Facebook cover photo is 312 by 820. Always use the original photos.
Photo Rights Photo rights are even more important. In today’s litigious society publishers must be extremely careful about image rights. The easiest way to deal with this is to use photos you’ve taken yourself. If a photo is from a professional photographer, the editor may require a letter (or email) from the photographer declaring that they own the rights and granting permission to use them. Sometimes they will need the photographer to send an attachment so there is proof that they have rights to that particular photo.
Stock Photos Don’t send in stock photos. Stock photo sites have peculiar rights, but publications have access to their own. Your permissions are not usually transferable. If there’s a stock photo you want to use, tell them and they can find it themselves, but they cannot use you photo.
Follow the Guidelines Your editor will provide you photo guidelines for both quality and rights issues. Follow them to the letter. The photo from your friend’s Facebook page is not good enough, and there are no shortcuts.
6. More Ways to Help A Non Profit Thank Giving Money
Every non profit accepts donations, which is why it is so superfluous to talk about it. Most non profit organizations, however, can benefit greatly from other types of help: volunteering, donations of specific items and services, and even something as simple as liking and sharing their social media content.
Many people want to help, but their financial resources are limited. If you can provide them other avenues to serve your mission, they will be receptive. They might not be able to write a check, but they could give a few hours a month, especially if it is something they could do as a family.
Businesses can often provide more value in kind than they could in cash. Would you rather have 10 hours of donated legal services or a check for $500? Well, with most attorneys charging upwards of $250/hour, the offer of services could be vastly more valuable than the check.
Then there is the fact that, especially for smaller organizations, many of the donations come from board members and volunteers. Once someone has invested their time and energy into an organization, their sense of loyalty drives them to find more and better ways that they can help. Them more people you can draw into the ranks of your active supporters, the easier it will be to raise funds.
Rather than asking for donations, suggest those easy starting points that one can be involved with. Invite people to help out a few hours at an event or suggest valuable but easy ways to volunteer. Such an invitation makes your reader feel welcome and appreciated.
Best Practices for Non Profits
As a non profit, you have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars of free media. Just because you don’t have to pay for it doesn’t mean you don’t have to work for it. Most publications have far more content being submitted than they have room for. As a publisher, I can tell you that I love being able to help non profits get their message out to the community. However, it is crucial to remember that, as a non profit, you need these publications more than they need you. They could fill their pages with any variety of uplifting content, but you need to get on those pages.
Follow the guidelines, use stories, don’t beg for money, and respect the editor, and you’ll find great things will happen. Following the rules and guidelines is the best way to get this article and the next one published.
One of the mainstays of networking events from New York to Los Angeles is the Business After Hours event. Whether they call them “mixers”, “socials”, “After 5s” or any other creative name, the basic concept and format is the same.
Usually running weekday evenings from around 5:30 to around 7:30, the event is hosted at a local business who provides alcohol and food. Attendees mix, mingle, and network. There’s usually announcements and remarks from the host around the middle of the event, sometimes with a raffle. That’s the framework.
There are some variations between events that can work just as well. Some start a little earlier or run a little longer. Some have food spreads to rival a royal wedding, while others offer Bud Light and chips. Venues can range from accounting offices to ballrooms with a skyline view.
What makes a good Business After Hours?
Ultimately, as long as the event draws people, gives them a drink so they feel comfortable, and provides and environment in which they can talk, the event will be successful.
I have seen events with a couple dozen people that were great for everyone who was there, and I have seen events with almost 200 people that were a total waste of time.
The first thing you need for a good event is good people. This is highly subjective. Your perfect connection may not be of value to someone else. What is universal is that the people be friendly, outgoing, and open to networking. The wine helps with that.
An organizer can do a little to help things along. Many Chambers of Commerce have “ambassadors.” An ambassador’s job is to mingle at the event connect people. They talk to people and ask them whom they are looking to meet and try to connect them to the person in the room who is perfect for them.
Especially at larger events, it is entirely possible to be in the room with your perfect contact but never get to speak to them. This is where ambassadors are fantastic.
How to screw up a Business After Hours event
As simple as a Business After Hours event is, there are quite a few ways you can screw it up.
Americans like to have a drink when socializing. It’s not so much for intoxication as comfort. It is a signal that we are relaxing. No drink? Now it’s work. Who wants to work after 5?
You’ve probably never seen an Business After Hours without alcohol. That doesn’t mean that people don’t try to host them. It’s just that no one shows up. I was part of an organization that ran morning networking events and tried to run an after hours event with no booze, just like the morning event.
Besides the hosts and the organizers, one person showed up. One.
Whatever your opinion of alcohol, the fact is that people expect it at an evening event. It doesn’t have to be a full bar. I’ve seen fine events where there was self serve table with some bottles of Barefoot wine and some cans of Coors. But there has to be something.
The whole point of a networking event is to network. Networking requires talking. If you can’t hear people, you can’t talk, and you can’t network. I don’t care how beautiful and hip the venue is. I care if I can make a connection.
Sometimes the venue is fine, but the hosts decide to add their own noise with a band or a DJ. For the host, this event is an exhibition of their business, and they want to put on a great show. This may lead them to think like a wedding planner: looking for splashy fun ways to set themselves apart, and a band sure is unique.
A band can also makes it impossible to talk. While some appropriate background music can create class and ambiance, too much volume is a disaster. I attended an event with a live band under a big tent outdoors. Fortunately it was outdoors because you could tell exactly where the speakers projected sound by where people were not standing. They were there to network, not to listen to music.
The result was an awkward event where no one stayed inside the tent with the food, only dashing in a nosh and dashing back out to talk.
Networking events should be fun, but it’s not a party. It has a purpose, and if the fun interferes with the purpose, you have a bad event.
Too much interruption
Fundamentally, the payoff of a networking event is the one to one interaction. That is the value that attendees are attending to receive.
The hosts and the organizers want to make the most of the opportunity of having all these influential business people in one place, and that’s why they have announcements in the first place. However, they’ve only got 5 minutes, 10 minutes max, to let people get back to what they came for.
The host can certainly speak for 3-4 minutes about their business, especially if they are sharing information that is interesting or that the audience doesn’t know. Hosting in a 200 year old mansion, you might hold their attention a few more minutes. Got a car dealership and telling me about great deals on new models? 60 seconds and I’m on my way to the bar.
Hosts are generally pretty good about keeping it quick, mostly because the organizer is MCing and keeps them on track. The more common offender when it comes to verbosity? The organizers. Some feel the need to tell you about every upcoming event, every new program, a few old programs, etc.
If they are rattling off a rapid fire list of events and dates and times, I’m not going to remember them, and neither are you. They’re on the web site. I can go find them (or in New London County get them from the Guy Who Knows a Guy mailing list).
There are some topics which do justify a little more length. Announcing new members is good because everyone likes to hear their name announced. Giving a few people a chance to share brief announcements of upcoming events is a great way to engage people.
Also, an interruption may be in order if there is some kind of activity which facilitates better networking. For example, one young professionals event I attended did a brief round of “speed networking. You got to talk to 10 people in 15 minutes, then afterwards you could seek out those that you wanted to connect with more. Very efficient way to find the right people. Well worth the time.
Other types of events
Of course, a Business After Hours event is just one kind of networking event. Ultimately, anything that gives people the chance to meet and mingle can provide a networking value. There are formatted referral based meetings such as BNI. There are speed networking events and other structured events. Networking breakfasts and lunches, often involving a speaker or presentation are popular. Some groups organize volunteering opportunities and other forms of outreach as a way for their members to connect while working in the community.
There is no wrong way to create a networking event as long as it gives good people the opportunity to connect and build relationships in a positive environment.
Is your organization looking to run a networking workshop or creative networking event like speed networking? Michael Whitehouse can advise you or even run it for you. Click here to contact him and discuss your ideas.
When you meet a lot of people like I do, you come many who are involved in network marketing or multi-level marketing. As an entrepreneur, I’m very open to opportunities which would allow me to leverage my connections to create revenues, but only if they really are opportunities.
Presently, I publish a local magazine, represent a local non-profit agency to help them find sponsorships, partner with a couple local consultants, in addition to my book sales, speaking fees, patreon. I’ve got a few revenue streams, but they all synergize so they make sense together.
I use a web site called Shapr, which could be described as Tinder for networking. It puts 15 people interested in networking in front of you every 36 hours which you can swipe left or right.
Just like on Tinder, it’s pretty hit or miss. You can make some high quality connections, and you can find people looking for the quick hook up. In the case of networking, the quick hook up is often the networking marketing opportunity.
I met “Susan” (not her real name) on Shapr, and tried to recruit me to ACN. Of course, the approach was not nearly so direct, so I let it play out because you never know when something good may come of a connection, and all I lost was 20 minutes on the phone before discovering that this was not for me. In this case, she suggested that she could get me in front of an audience of 20,000 to educate about networking, which is quite an opportunity, since my 2019 goal is to reach 1,000.
As you might expect, her “business partner” knew nothing about this speaking bit when he started pitching me on “opportunities.”
In fairness to networking marketing
In fairness to ACN (which is not the ACN from the Newsroom), it looks like they are a legitimate company that legitimately provides energy, telecom, and security services. They just market through an MLM format. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you understand that joining them is starting a business, not just adding a simple stream of revenue.
I know some people who are extremely successful with Isagenix. I’ve met at least one person who makes a living from ACN (who wasn’t trying to recruit me at that moment). I have also known people to do very well with Vector Marketing. The opportunity is absolutely real, and if you are in a bad career place and ready to work your face off to build a business, these platforms can do well for you, although I’d personally recommend Best Version Media over any of them.
However, if you already have a business (or four), then you probably don’t want to take on another.
Network marketing red flags
There are a few red flags when someone is trying to recruit you to a network marketing business.
1. No LinkedIn profile
Yeah, probably should have figured it out when I searched for Susan on LinkedIn and found no profile. Anyone who is serious in business has a LinkedIn profile. It may not be terribly active or fully up to date, but not having one is like not having a business card. It tells me that you’re not really a business person.
2. “Let me introduce you to my business partner.”
While it is possible that someone might be interested in recruiting you to their non-network marketing business and would want you to speak to their business partner, the phrasing is suspicious. Usually the “business partner” is their upline who is better trained and presenting and closing the opportunity.
Instead of “partner” they may say “coach” or “consultant” or “advisor” or anything similar. Same idea.
3. Non-specific business
If you have a business partner, your business has a name. As a solopreneur with multiple projects, I may introduce myself as associated with a few different businesses because I do so many things. However, if I’m recruiting someone, I’m recruiting them for one project, and that project has a name.
When they are vague about who they are, what they do, even what industry they are in, that’s a big red flag.
4. “Are you open to new revenue streams?”
Network marketing recruiters love this question. It’s basically saying “if I were to hand you a bag of money every week, would you want it?” Of course you do. I’m open to new revenue streams. That’s why I have six of them. But it doesn’t mean I want to launch an entirely new business and tie up my reputation in this company.
5. “You can do it a couple hours a week.” and “This works with what you’re already doing.”
You can learn French a couple hours a week, and in 90 years, you’ll be able to order a meal in Paris. There is no real business that you can build in a couple hours a week. There are some businesses that are natural synergies. A personal trainer selling Isagenix or Beach Body can increase their revenues without increasing their workload because they are selling a complementary product to their main offering. That’s not a new business, it’s adding a product line.
Don’t try to tell me that selling discount electricity and security systems synergizes with marketing and networking education. I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.
6. “You don’t have to sell the products, just ask people if they’re open to new income streams.”
I was almost open to the idea that ACN’s offerings might be a fit for my business. After all, I do talk to business owners a lot. If the products are good, I could promote them with my newsletter. Then I saw their true colors. They don’t care about selling products. Recruit, recruit, recruit. That’s a pyramid scheme. Eventually there is no one left to recruit and it’s game over.
Maybe I would be getting in early enough, but I refuse to sell an opportunity that is no longer available.
I’m quite open to representing a variety of products because I connect with a variety people, but I have no interest in representing your “opportunity.”
There are many opportunities to leverage your network. Your best bet is to find local businesses seeking clients. Get a good understanding of their business and arrange a fair finders fee arrangement.
In some cases, these network marketing opportunities can function in the same way, but make sure that you are either prepared to take them on as an additional business or that you can execute on them with a minimal expenditure of time and energy.
We all have challenges and troubles in our lives. Sometimes we are overwhelmed. Sometimes we are broke. It can be hard to think about helping others at such a time, but I believe that such a time is exact time to think about helping others.
In the TV series Babylon 5, there is an excellent parable.
You know, before I got married, Emily used to come by sometimes and help me clean out my apartment. Well, I asked her, “How come you’re so eager to help clean up my place when your place is just as bad?” She said, “Because cleaning up your place helps me to forget what a mess I’ve made of mine, and…when I sweep my floor, all I’ve done is sweep my floor. But, when I help you clean up your place, I am helping you.”
When you help yourself, you are just helping yourself. You are reminded of every limitation, every challenge, every flaw. When you help another, you see your power, your resources, your abilities in a new light. You see them from the perspective of another who needed your help to overcome their challenges.
Whether they needed a fresh set of eyes or particular skills or connections which only you can offer, you offered something indispensable. You feel empowered. You feel stronger.
Sometimes when I feel stuck, I’ll make a post on social media asking people to share their problems with me so that I might take a crack at solving them. While it is a nice thing to do, it’s not altruistic. It’s for me. It helps me get unstuck. I solve some problems for others, and it resets my spirit to take on my own challenges.
Solving the problems of another gives you a new perspective. It provides new energy. And, it is not unheard of for the process of doing something for another to open a door which solves that which you could not solve before.
So, if you are feeling stuck in your own rut, try pulling someone else out of theirs. The worst that can happen is you let a friend know you care. The best is that you might find a way out of your own rut.
When thinking of what your networking approach should be, recall the immortal words from President Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961, with a small paraphrasing.
“Ask not what your network can do for you. Ask what you can do for your network.”
In every networking interaction, you should be seeking ways to help your counterpart. This does not mean that your own needs should be a well guarded secret. You can certainly mention what you are looking for, in much the way I might casually mention that I’m looking for speaking opportunities. Your focus, however, should be on finding ways to help the person you are speaking to.
Do not be a Despero
In The Guy Who Knows a Guy, I introduced the concept of Despero. Despero is exactly what you do not want to be. He is the desperate, pushy salesman who makes you feel claustrophobic. All he cares about is what he needs to do to make a sale. He’s looking for his next meal, and you’re on the menu.
You may remember Ned Ryerson from the movie Groundhog Day. He is the epitome of what I’m talking about. He sees a friend from high school for this first time in decades and goes straight in for a close. Not only will this not close a deal. It will close off the relationship for all time.
I am chairing the Rotary Builds Business effort here in Southeastern Connecticut. Networking and community service used to be hand in hand in Rotary until the 70s and 80s brought a generation of Desperos and Ned Ryersons in to clubs across America. In response to a wave of desperate salesmen, Rotary became a “no networking” organization.
It solved the immediate problem of people trying to push their wares in Rotary meetings, but ended up weakening the organization over time. It diminished the ability to tie together the greatest needs of the community with the most important members of the business community. This is why, after many years, we’re carefully trying to reintroduce the power of networking to Rotary.
Desperos harmed one of the greatest forces for good by a terrible networking approach. So don’t be Despero. Don’t be that guy.
A better networking approach
If you’re not hustling a sale, what should you be doing?
Everyone is eternally interested in solving their own problems. They are only secondarily interested in solving yours. So, get them to talk about their problems. Get them to tell you everything in their life they would like to solve.
Then put your thinking cap on and find a resource you have that solves that problem. The resource could be someone in your network. It could be a piece of advice. Or, perhaps, the solution may, in fact, lie in something that you do sell, at which point it is entirely appropriate to mention it.
The difference between the Ned Ryerson approach and suggesting your product to solve a known problem is profound. You are not being pushy. In fact, were you to refuse to mention that your product solves their problem, wouldn’t that be a bit rude? After all, you have a solution. Why would you not share it.
They would not feel they are being sold. They would feel that you are trying to help, especially if your approach is gentle and consultative.
Even if they do not have a need to which you sell a solution, it is still quite beneficial to solve their problem. Naturally, it is beneficial to them, but it is also beneficial to you. If you have started a relationship by solving a problem, it is a much stronger relationship.
You could later call upon this individual to solve a problem of yours, or to offer you referrals.
Not quid pro quo
While most people will return the favor when you assist them, not everyone will. Perhaps they do not feel obligated. It is also possible that they simply forgot. It happens.
Don’t keep score.
If you do enough good things for others, good things will come back to you. Certainly, if you have solved a problem for someone and they are able to help you, you may gently remind them of your assistance. Don’t do it like you’re calling in a marker. Nobody likes to feel beholden. You’re not the Godfather (I assume). A gentle reminder is sufficient.
What do you do if they don’t reciprocate? Don’t worry about it. Keep solving problems and doing good in the world. It all works out very well in the end.
There are all kinds of great reasons to volunteer. It does good for the community. You can set a good example for your children. It supports causes you care about. Volunteering can also be a great way to build your network if you do it right.
I hope that you are volunteering for more reasons than simply to build your network. You may take on different volunteering opportunities for different reasons. The purpose of this article, however, is to discuss how make volunteerism a part of your networking strategy. This is a win-win because it helps you to build your resources while also doing something positive for the community. I hope that, as your network grows and your resources increase, you will take advantage of those resources to give back in other ways.
A purist may look at this and suggest that I am corrupting the purity of volunteerism by doing something so crass as trying to derive benefit from it. But, as I discussed in a recent Michael’s Motivationvideo, everyone who volunteers does it to gain something. It may be a good feeling. They may seek the respect of their boss, neighbors, or family. Perhaps they desire exposure. It may be fun or a feeling of importance. Connections could be the goal.
In this article, we’re focusing on the last of these. My hope is that you will learn ways to make the most of your volunteering so that you can do the most good and so that you will want to keep doing it.
Whatever the benefit, nobody does anything that they aren’t getting anything out of, an important lesson for anyone seeking to recruit and retain volunteers, but that’s a discussion for another article.
Volunteering on work time
There are many wonderful ways you can volunteer that do incredible things for people who need your help that will not help your network. I hope you will do those things as well. They can return dividends far greater than the greatest business success. These are wonderful things to do, and I hope you will dedicate some personal time to helping.
What I’m talking about here is the kind of volunteerism that justifies taking “work time” and dedicating it to volunteer efforts. Your time is very valuable, and if you are to spend it on anything, you should have an expectation of return.
This concept that volunteering is good for your business is well known, but too many people do not stop to think about where will provide the most benefit. They put their efforts into the wrong places. Tragically, the conclude that helping the community does not help their business. In fact, it does, but only if done the right way.
Ultimately, in any networking activity, it is all about whom you might meet in your work. If you are tutoring children, it is very rewarding work, but your time will be spent with children. These children are likely not well connected in the business community.
So, in addition to your tutoring work, how could you help these children and build your network at the same time? You could serve on the board of the organization that supports the tutoring. Your network and other skills could support the organization or help in fundraising efforts.
Here are three key things to consider when allocating your on-the-clock volunteering efforts.
Spend time with the people you want to connect with.
Make the most efficient use of your time.
Support causes that you care about and enjoy working on.
Spend time with those you want to connect with
Just like any networking effort, you want to make sure you are connecting with the right people. If you are looking to connect with business owners and people of influence in the community, you may find that a non-profit board of directors or event committee is an excellent place to be.
Take a look, for example, at the board of the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition. What an amazing group of people, all donating their time to support this cause. If you are a business owner who is looking to build your business in a community, it is not a question of whether you will join a non profit board, but a question of which one(s) and how many.
If you are still building your business or career, you may not have great financial resources to contribute to a cause. You may not have extensive experience. What you do have is time to contribute. If an attorney whose time bills out at $350/hr can make time to serve, you can too, and your time could be just as valuable to the organization as the attorney’s.
By supporting great causes, you will make connections and build relationships in a non-business context. The more points of contact you have with a person, in other words the more you have done together, the stronger your relationship will be.
Make efficient use of your time
Many people in business would love to make volunteering a part of their networking strategy but feel that they don’t have the time. Chances are that there is something you have to offer which you have a relative advantage in. In other words, there is something you could do in 20 minutes which would take someone else hours of research and planning to do.
Like most of you reading this, my time is at a premium, but I am able to leverage my 20 years of event experience and my network for Dinner in the Dark. I attend the event committee meeting and listen for areas of difficulty I might be able to assist with.
As it turns out, my I was able to be most valuable because one my connection to a now defunct company called Such Publicity which created a service which created a live slideshow from an Instagram feed. We were able to use this to create an exciting and unique experience at the dance after the dinner. For anyone else to do this would have taken many hours of research. For me, it took an email.
After Such Publicity shut down, I was able to leverage my technical experience to find an alternate solution that worked just as well without needing the third party service. We kept the party on the big screen, and I had fun doing it.
I worked my network and experience to help bring some fun elements to an event that raises money to help children get their vision back. In the process, I made connections that built my network to give me greater resources to help others in the future. What a great return on investment!
The Renaissance Gala
In another case, which I discuss in my book The Guy Who Knows a Guy, I was working with a local Rotary club who was planning a Renaissance themed gala dinner. They had a great idea, but they had no idea where to find suitable performers. I happened to meet one of the organizers at a networking event. During the course of conversation he mentioned his challenge.
“How many do you need?” I asked.
“How many performers do you need? Five? A dozen? I could probably find two dozen, but it would take more work.”
“Um, two. We really need two.”
I connected him with three and they were able to choose the two that worked best. It ended up being an incredible event, made all the better with fantastic entertainment.
The whole effort took me less than half an hour. It saved them countless hours of research and hunting around, probably getting them much higher quality performers in the process.
Support causes that you care about
There is no guarantee that you will ever see a business benefit from volunteering. If you are giving your time and resources, you should give them to a cause you feel good supporting. This prevents the idea that you “wasted your time” if you don’t see a return. If you want to invest, buy a restaurant. While there is likely a benefit to your network, you primary purpose in volunteering should be the work itself.
That said, your payoff could also be your enjoyment of the work. Personally, I love helping run events. It’s fun for me, especially well run events. This is why I work with Dinner in the Dark. LCA is not necessarily a cause that I’m personally passionate about, but allowing children to regain their sight is a great cause, and the team that Laura Manfre has built at Sofia Sees Hope is a joy to work with.
That’s the real key. There are things that you will have to do in business that you don’t like, maybe even dread. If your volunteer work is one of those things, you’re doing it wrong. There may be some hard or unpleasant work, but the overall experience of volunteering should be positive before any business or networking considerations come into the conversation.
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