Leading with a question #ev1leads
In Chapter 1 of "Everyone Leads," Paul Schmitz lays out the importance of working from a community perspective:
"To create lasting solutions to our most pressing problems, leaders can't just create isolated services. They must build community capacity, think systematically, and collaborate with others."
Natasha Golinsky is one of the co-founders of the new YNPN Vancouver chapter, and in this post she shares what she learned about the importance and benefits of engaging her community early in the process of developing a solution to a problem she identified.
Last year my friend Vanessa and I decided that we wanted to co-chair a new Young Nonprofit Professionals Network chapter here in Vancouver, Canada. We saw the joy that YNPs got from being part of other chapters and deeply felt that our community needed some support in the nonprofit professional development arena and wanted to help. Each chapter runs independently and many operate as their own registered nonprofit full with board of directors, fundraising campaigns and we were interested in doing the same.
Although our first reaction was to get our paperwork all in order and incorporate ourselves, we decided to take a breath and test our idea to see if there really was a need for this service or if we were just assuming there was interest. Both of us wanted to find out what our fellow young nonprofit professionals wanted before we invested tons of time building something that nobody needed (or that had already been done before and failed).
We tackled this community outreach through a few specific steps.
Step one: Talk to the leaders of active nonprofit professional development groups. What was working for them? What had they tried already that didn't work? What did they see was a need in our community as it related to YNPNs? Would they be willing to continue to stay in touch with us as we were planning? Is there anyone else you would recommend that we talk to?
Step two: Talk to the leaders of nonprofit professional development groups that had closed down because of low-results. Why did they shut their program down? What went wrong? What could they have done differently? What need do they still see that needs to be served in our community? Is there anyone else they would recommend that we talk to?
Step three: Talk to leaders of other YNPN chapters who were a few steps ahead of us and were having a lot of success. What did they do to set themselves up for a strong start? What would they do differently? Were there any resources they used to help them plan and market their organization? Would they be interested in coaching us? Was there anything we could do to help them?
Step four: Talk to the big influencers in our local nonprofit professional development space. We got a hold of the board chair of one of the most popular training organizations in our community, we talked to the Western Canada sales manager for a different nonprofit resources organization, and we talked to the fundraising department head at a local university. Both of us scoured our LinkedIn profiles for people that would have some good data for us about their needs and the current resources available to them.
Step five, the final and most important: Talk to the people we wanted to serve. We went through all of our contacts and identified those who hit our demographic profile and sent them a link to a survey we created using Google forms. We asked them to pass it around to anyone they knew who could have some valuable feedback on what they would be interested in seeing in a new local professional development group. We sent the survey to everyone we had talked to in the above steps 1-4 and asked them to circulate it too offering to share any data we found with them.
After two months of research, we had some awesome feedback and a clear direction of what the needs of our community were. Probably the most interesting take-away from this process was that we found that the needs of the young nonprofit professional community were completely different than we expected--even though we're both part of the community we're planning to serve! When I think back to our original plan of running out of the gate without having any data or community input to back our ideas, I feel anxious about how much time we might have wasted running in the wrong direction.
We also developed some amazing connections and some potential joint-venture partners. Without taking the time to consult with our community, we might not have encountered these resources and been able to work with them from the start. Not only did we get clear direction from consulting our community, we found some awesome partners along the way.
Natasha is the Founder of Next Level Nonprofits and is dedicated to helping passionate start-up nonprofit leaders develop the foundational leadership and management skills they need to enjoy a enjoy successful, sustainable and satisfying career. You can find her on Twitter as @ngolinsky.
A version of this piece originally appeared in Natasha's Next Level Nonprofits newsletter.