If you want to change the world, then engage your network
When people think of networking, it is often associated with job search, career advancement and new business development. In fact, these career and business drivers are powerful motivations to advance your networking skill and competence. There is another motivation, personal drivers, that is perhaps the most exciting and powerful of all. Quite simply, if you aspire to change the world for good, you can do it through your network.
You don’t have to go it alone
At some level, we all desire to do meaningful work and to leave a lasting legacy. We may or may not be lucky enough to find that fulfillment in our “day job.” If not, don’t despair… you can fill that higher level need by involving yourself in charitable causes, either as a donor, a volunteer and/or a board member. In addition to your time, talent and treasury, you can create greater value by engaging your network as well!
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”- Margaret Mead
What Margaret Mead is referencing in this quote is a network of motivated change agents. That could be you, if you want it to be. All you have to do is to mobilize your network and ask people to join you in working to create greater social justice and positive change.
Imagine having this kind of force behind you…
Last week, I had the opportunity to facilitate a half-day workshop with a motivated group of change agents: the staff and selected board members of The United Way of Greater New Haven, Connecticut. Headed up by the charismatic and dedicated leader, Jack Healy, this team is definitely out to change the world – starting with a focus on their local community. Think global, act local is what they practice on a daily basis.
You may have participated in a United Way workplace campaign in the past. You may recognize the United Way brand. But you may not know the details of the important community role that they serve. It’s worth learning more about the specific work that the United Way does and the impact that this organization is having in your community.
The United Way of Greater New Haven addresses the income and achievement gaps in this region by focusing on education, income and health — the building blocks for a good quality of life. Their role is unique as they bring people together to work on shared goals, mobilizing the community for the long-term benefit of all. They are all about collective impact.
“Our staff is our best resource. They are natural ambassadors for the work we do. The workshop, Mobilize Your Network for the Greater Good, facilitated by Kathy McAfee, helped our folks understand the importance of connecting their personal network to the potential benefit of our organization, and gave them the tools and the confidence that they need to reach out effectively. Our staff was responsive and engaged in the workshop. Yes, it’s a cultural shift, but one that we hope will have a big payoff.” – Jack Healy, President and CEO of The United Way of Greater New Haven, Connecticut
The Art of the ASK
One of the biggest obstacles to mobilizing your network for the greater good is getting over the fear and hesitation of asking people to contribute financially to your cause. I have experienced this myself. I’ve seen it in boardrooms, even among the most confident and mission-passionate advocates. I know this to be true, because I’ve also been afraid to ask donors for money, even when I know the cause to be worthy.
I remember one specific business lunch a few years ago with a nonprofit consultant. He was coaching me in my new role as a sponsorship co-chair for a major non-profit fundraiser. The conversation was going smoothly, until he openly challenged with the question, “So, what’s been the biggest donation you have ever asked for and received? Is it $50,000? $25,000? $10,000?” I was silently horrified, because by my quick mental calculation, I came up with figures more in the $500 range. If he was using reverse psychology on me, then it worked.
From that moment forward, I became a student of the ASK. I was determined to practice asking for larger donations, so as a board member, I could be more valuable to my nonprofit organization. This became my new mantra:
“Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you.” – Matthew 7:7-12
If you don’t ask, you won’t get
For some reason, asking for help is one of the most difficult things for human beings to do. Perhaps this hesitation comes from a fear of rejection, or embarrassment or even pride; perhaps it’s just lack of practice and experience. The fact is that if you need something and have exhausted all other possibilities, you are going to have to ask for it.
There are many ways to ask for something that you need. Some ways will be more effective than others. Experimentation and practice will help you build confidence and success. During the workshop, we examined different ways of asking potential donors to get involved in the charitable organization. We practiced:
- Direct versus indirect asks
- Active versus passive asks (and the role of social media)
- Request versus demand-style asks
- Push versus pull asks
- Confident versus hesitant asks
- Open-ended versus close ended asks
Timing is everything
Remember that “no” doesn’t necessarily mean forever. It often means “not now” or “I need more information.” If you get a “no” at first, don’t give up. Your ask may have arrived at an inconvenient time. Keep on asking and inviting your friends and contacts to engage with The United Way organization. Frequency will help to ensure success.
Think of a time in your past when someone had to ask you multiple times until you finally got involved?
How would your life be different now if they had only asked you once and then went away without your agreement, leaving you without the opportunity to engage?
Wise words regarding “The Ask”
You’ve probably heard about Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics. Throughout the years of her life, she shared wise words on how to cultivate and build relationships for consultants to grow their beauty business. Much of her advice can be used to enhance the success of your nonprofit organization by engaging and enrolling people in its mission through contribution and volunteerism.
- “Everyone has an invisible sign hanging around their neck saying ‘make me feel important.’ Never forget this message when working with people.”
- “No matter how busy you are, you must take time to make the other person feel important.”
- “Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone, don’t keep it a secret.”
- “Don’t limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, you can achieve.”
- “Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it, so it goes on flying anyway.”
- “If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Other keys to an effective ask:
- Whenever possible, ask in person
- Always, always, always be true to your word and follow through
- Lead by example. Your donation of time, money, and effort to your nonprofit organization of choice must come first, before you can ask anyone else to contribute
Your Networking Goal for the Week
This week make an ask on behalf of a nonprofit organization. That means that not only will you make a financial contribution of your own and/or attend a fund raising event, but also you will enroll someone in your network to do the same. You will be asking people in your network to follow your lead. You will be testing how much courage you have. You will also be testing how much equity and influence you have built up in your networking relationships.
If you find yourself unable to ask because the right words are not coming out or you feel awkward asking someone for something, then you have work to do on yourself. If you find that everyone in your network turns you down, then you have work to do on building the strength of your networking relationships.
If you are motivated by the idea of changing the world for good, then you have to overcome external obstacles, as well as internal obstacles. You can’t mobilize your network if you fear rejection, or you’re worried that you might overstep your bounds, or you’re concerned about embarrassing yourself.
Mobilize means move. Start moving your network towards the greater good. We have a world to improve.