How Fundraising Proves the Importance of Communities

In week two of SIB, Richard Banfield, CEO of Fresh Tilled Soil, led a session about designing your a career to align with your passions and values. When it came to defining your true passions, Rich recommended reflecting on what you liked to do as a young child. It’s interesting to contemplate that there might be a correlation between the activities you naturally gravitated towards as a child and the passions you should design your career around.

After reflecting on this question, I couldn’t seem to derive any useful insights from my childhood. So I called my mom, told her about the session, and asked for her input. Her response was immediate, “You liked building things.” She reminded me of a carnival set with intricate little pieces that I would spend hours building, just to take down and start over. My preschool had a woodshop (weird and pretty unsafe sounding, I know), and I spent weeks working with my teacher to build a small table and two chairs. I loved that project. My mom hit the nail on the head (no pun intended), I do like to build things.

How does this relate to my career trajectory? Well, I did quit my job with the goal of joining a startup because I want to be part of building a company from the ground up. I guess I never really lost my desire to build, but I’ve found that what I love building now is relationships and communities.

As a major gifts fundraiser for a political advocacy organization, I learned the importance of building strong communities to strengthen donor relationships. Donors that have a continuous relationship with an organization are more likely to continue their support, but with our donors scattered across the country, keeping them engaged throughout the year was an ongoing challenge. Thus, we established Leadership Councils in Chicago and DC. Donors that joined these localized groups committed to attending quarterly events and agreed to fundraise for our yearly gala in their respective cities.

These donors formed relationships with one another and became brand ambassadors for NARAL Pro-Choice America. They leveraged their network to grow revenue for the organization and felt stronger ties to the organization due to their increased involvement. By establishing a community, we were able to cultivate relationships with these donors year-round in a way that would not have been possible on an individual basis. Generally, donors that joined Leadership Councils increased their giving. The benefits of dedicating time and resources to building donor communities were abundantly clear.

Forming strong communities is equally important in the business world. In fact, there is a whole profession dedicated to it: community management. I’ve been researching this field and networking with community managers for the past few weeks, and I’m learning that the tactics used are similar to the tactics applied when managing a donor community.

It’s the community manager’s job to foster relationships and give customers an avenue to engage with the brand on a consistent basis. A strong customer community can add value to both the company and the customer. It will provide more efficient customer support through peer -sharing, as customers will engage with one another to share best practices and answer simple “how to” questions. The community will provide constant feedback loops as they reveal current pain points and provide insight to the type of product they want, thus improving the innovation cycle. Finally, you will be able to identify and connect happy customers with prospects considering your product. There is no better marketing tactic than highlighting customers that are already using and willing to champion your brand.

 

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How to Become an Olympic Networker

You may think that Olympic Lugers and early stage angel investors have nothing in common, until you meet someone who’s done both, and he tells you it’s basically the same thing. Ty Danco, founder of eSecLending, and more recently of BuysideFX, stopped by Startup Institute this week to explain. Ty began his luging career in college when he identified the sport as both a passion and one with almost no competition–that is how he ended up at the Olympics, not once, but twice (1980, 1984).

“Go where there is no competition” was a major piece of advice he offered to a room full of students eager to join the startup community, and it is key component he looks for when starting a businesses and choosing ones worthy of his investment. He doesn’t look for businesses that will be entering in a highly competitive and saturated market, just like he didn’t look to become an Olympian by picking up a soccer ball for the first time in his college dorm room: he choose luging.

Like many of the founders we’ve heard from, Ty also spoke about the importance of mentorship. He explained that you can have all the skills and chops in the world, but if you’re not discovered, than it doesn’t matter. This sounded a lot like SEO to me. You can build the best website in the world for your business, but if you’re not ranking well in Google and don’t get any traffic, then it really doesn’t matter. One of the best ways to improve your search engine rank is to have highly authoritative websites linking to your site, and as Ty explained, the best way to improve your credibility as a highly capable person, is to have highly credible people vouch for you.

So how do you identify a highly credible person that’s willing to be your champion? Well, just like getting the New York Times or Mashable to link to your site, it’s not easy. Ty’s recommendation was reminiscent of the basic principles of inbound marketing: give before you get. As a networker, you must over deliver and prove yourself before you’re going to have a “highly credible” person as your champion. As a business, you must create great content and establish your company as an industry thought leader before you have a chance of getting authoritative websites to send you traffic.

All of this advice may seems a little lofty and difficult to implement immediately, but that’s the reality of building a strong brand, company, and personal network. It takes time, persistence, and hard work to improve both your sites page rank and your personal network, but if you’re proactive and continuously produce good work, both will improve. As the old adage goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

4 Lessons for Future Startup Employees

This past week, I attended Startup Institute’s monthly Important People Honest Conversations event. Sean Lindsay of TapJoy and Eric Newman of Simple Tuition joined us for a candid conversation about their experiences as a part of the tech startup community.

They had great advice for anyone  joining or already a part of the fast-paced world of startups. Here are the key lessons learned from this conversation:

  1. Be ruthless with your time. There is always so much to get done and you must learn to prioritize where you spend your time. Get comfortable with the fact that you will not get through you to-do list. Remember, the stuff you aren’t getting done is not as important as the stuff you are getting done.
  2. Do your homework. It’s extremely important when networking to understand both the company and the background of the person you’re meeting with. You should have an informed point of view. Try to identify areas where the company may be able to improve and make statements like, “Well have you thought about this…” It shows that you are eager, passionate, and thoughtful about how you can help their business.
  3. Optimize for learning. When it comes to accepting a job offer, the most important factor to consider is room for personal growth. You must determine if the the company hiring will make an investment back in you by encouraging and supporting continuous learning. This will better your future more than accepting an offer based on company mission or salary.
  4. Identify your outlets. In the demanding world of startups, it’s easy for your job to become all consuming. You cannot let this happen. Spend time doing the things you love, whether it’s going for weekend hikes, taking a cooking class, or practicing yoga daily. Always make time for you friends and family because that’s what matters most. They’re the ones that will be there for you if your startup turns into an epic failure!

On that note, it’s about time to wrap up my Saturday of cranking through some SIB homework and head to dinner with Dickinson friends! 🙂

Drinking from a Fire Hose

Sorry little blog, I know I’ve been neglectful over the past few weeks! Not to make excuses, BUT (yep, I’m about to write the excuse) I’ve been incredibly busy getting use to life back in MA. I spent the majority of the last two months helping out at EverTrue. They have an amazing team, and I learned so much about marketing and what it’s like getting thrown into a young company. It’s a figure it out as you go environment, and I was definitely learning how to “draw the f*cking owl.” I spent most of my time writing for their blog and my posts can be found here. I also wrote an eBook which should be published sometime in July.

Last Monday, I began Startup Institue Boston. It was a busy week, and like many of my fellow SIBers, I found myself working extremely hard, but being genuinely happy about it. I’m feeling confident that startup culture is going to be a great fit for me. Working hard is fulfilling when you’re moving towards a goal you truly care about.

On day one, I learned a lot about what to expect over the next eight weeks. Our class was told that we’re “drinking from a fire hose,” and that the program is intentionally designed to be an unsustainable two month sprint. We were reminded that this experience is about us as individuals; we need to remember throughout the process that the reason why we’re really here is for our own personal learning and growth. The thing about drinking from a fire hose is that it’s actually not possible. Sure you’ll get wet and will definitely be able to quench your thirst, but if you try to drink the entire stream, you will get knocked down. While it was never stated, it’s clear that the metaphor is there to remind us that we shouldn’t try to take on every single thing in the next eight weeks. We should focus our time and effort on learning the skills, and attending the events, that are of interest to us as individuals. I think that’s an important lesson to be heard loud and clear at the outset, and one I’ll be keeping in mind throughout the entire program.

Time to start week two!

Back in Boston

The past few weeks have been a complete whirlwind! My final days in DC were spent wrapping up my work at NARAL and spending some quality time with my friends. It seemed like every second was scheduled with something to do, but I was glad to spend time with friends and eat at some of my favorite DC spots before heading to New England. Now, I’m back at home and ready to embark on my next journey. I have a few weeks to kill before I begin at Startup Institute, and I’m eager to use them productively.

I’m thrilled to be in contact with the team at EverTrue, one of the many Boston based startups that partners with SIB. EverTrue has developed a mobile networking platform that connects alumni with their alma mater and one another. By integrating current fundraising software with Facebook and LinkedIn, EverTrue provides development professionals improved donor data with remote access at their fingertips. I was fortunate to connect with founder and CEO, Brent Grinna, last month when I was in Boston visiting the Startup Institute. I have been in contact ever since about ways I may be able to help out in the next few weeks. EverTrue’s marketing efforts are focused on developing thought leadership for advancement professionals, and I’m hoping to lend a hand by authoring a few blog posts.

In addition to building a relationship with the EverTrue team, I’m going to be taking a few classes at Intelligent.ly, which started a year ago next month with the goal of offering classes to help professionals “learn what you need to win, from people who’ve done it before.” It’s a community of motivated individuals trying to better themselves by learning from some of Boston’s most respected business leaders. This week I took my first class: “Creating Content that Drives the Entire Consumer Lifecycle.” We learned from Rebecca Corliss from Hubspot about the role that content plays in marketing. She explained the different stages of the marketing funnel, and we learned how to map content to guide prospects through the funnel. We covered a lot of material in the hour and half class, which was extremely engaging. I was also happy to meet two SIB alumni that had wonderful things to say about their experience.  All in all, I really enjoyed my first Intelligent.ly class, and I’m looking forward to taking another!

SkillShare offers online classes for just about anything, and they’re a great way to learn a new skill from the comfort of your own home. I signed up for “Facebook Marketing for Beginners” and watched my first online lecture this afternoon. I learned some good tips on how to use Facebook to build your brand’s page, but I do prefer the classroom environment at Intelligent.ly. Personally, I feel more connected to the coursework when the class is in-person.

Today marks one week of being back in Massachusetts, and I’m still adjusting the change of pace, but I think I’m well on my way to figuring out productive ways to spend my time between now and June 17. Hopefully, I’m getting a jump-start at learning the ropes of digital marketing.

Startup Institute Boston

Finally, some good news: I was accepted into Startup Institute Boston! I’m on the marketing track of the summer session, and I can’t wait. SIB is a career accelerator for career changers and recent college grads that teaches the skills needed to thrive in a startup company. Their primary objective is to “align passion with profession, and usher student’s into a life they love.” I’ve always been driven to find a career I love, and I’m excited to join a school that will help me get there.

While there have been many wonderful aspects of my position at NARAL Pro-Choice America, I realized that a career in development isn’t the career I’m passionate about. I’m not excited about the work and started to feel like I was just going through the motions of my job. I hate that feeling and couldn’t see myself staying in the field long-term. This past fall, I started reflecting on what I’m interested in, what I’m good at, and where those skills fit in. Eventually, I identified marketing as the place where research, analytics, and communications converge, and I set out a mission to make a career change.

There is no doubt that making a career change can be an uphill battle, but I knew I had to do it. I started networking and talking to everyone and anyone that was willing to chat with me and offer advice. In February, I lined up several meetings, took a week off of work, and traveled to Boston to have those conversations. It was on this trip where I met Ryan Burke, VP of Sales at Moontoast (a startup—naturally), and he told me about Startup Institute. I did some research and quickly realized that SIB was a great match for me. My experience is in development, but my interests are elsewhere; I need to learn about marketing and build the skill-set to qualify me to take on a marketing position. SIB identified the disconnect I was experiencing and created a solution to the problem with their school. I’m thrilled to be a student this summer and can’t wait to hit the ground running.

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

I resigned from my job today. Holy crap! I’ve been networking, job searching, talking and thinking about this decision for months, but it feels weird that I actually gave notice. I don’t see myself having a career in development; it’s not where my interests reside, and I’m not passionate about the work. In light of all the change that’s happened at NARAL—a new president, a new development director, multiple staff turnovers, and shifting priorities—it was important to me that my decision was not viewed as a reaction to these changes. My decision comes after months of reflection about where I see myself in the long run, and the path I want my career and life to be headed.

I recently read Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg’s new book that offers valuable advice for women in the workforce. In her first chapter, she talks about doing what you would do if you weren’t afraid. For Sheryl, writing her book and speaking out about the challenges women face balancing their personal and professional aspirations was what she would do if she weren’t afraid. For me, embracing this phase of my life and taking a risk by leaving my job at NARAL for the unknown that awaits me in Boston is what I would do if I weren’t afraid.

I am afraid. It is scary to leave a job without having another lined up. I am afraid that things won’t work out that way I hope, and I’m afraid that I may not find happiness on the other side of this journey, but I have to believe that I will. Fear is a complicated emotion; it can paralyze one from taking needed action. I decided to not let this be the case for my professional choices. Rather than letting fear immobilize my ambitions, I’m using it as a call to action. My fear will be a motivating and driving factor as I pursue career opportunities in Boston. Regardless of whatever obstacles stand in my way, I will not stop trying until I find what I’m looking for. Today, I’m leaning in; I’m leaning all the way.

Girl Rising

Last night, I went with my friend Tracy to see Girl Rising–an inspired documentary about the lives of girls in developing and impoverished nations and the power of education to create positive change. There are 66 million girls who are not in school; 14 million girls under the age of 18 that will be married this year; and 150 million who are victims of sexual violence each year. These are the sobering statistics we learned at the outset of this film. The power of Girl Rising comes from the filmmakers use of storytelling to illustrate the lives behind these staggering numbers. We are brought inside the lives of 9 girls, in 9 developing countries, where they are denied access to education and fundamental human rights. Despite being forced into slavery or married as children, these girls are relentless in their pursuit of an education, as each has discovered that education will empower them to lead a better life.

I was particularly struck by Wadley’s story. She was seven years old in 2010 when the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti destroyed both her home and school. Her mother could no longer afford to educate her daughter because there was no money for food, let alone education. Wadley realized that her teacher was still educating some of her peers in a makeshift tent school and decided to joined the class. The teacher asked her if her mother had paid, and since she had not, Wadley was turned away. But she went back. She went back and told the teacher she would come back everyday until she was allowed to stay. Her world had collapsed around her, but her spirit of determination and thirst for education could not be broken. At such a young age, Wadley knew to speak up and to never accept “no” as an answer.

I could go on and on about the inspirational stories in Girl Rising, but you should just see the film instead! What I must say is that all of the girls featured in this film are rising from their circumstances, they are the blades of grass that sprout from beneath concrete. I shudder to think of those we don’t get to meet, those that have been paved-over and can’t break the cycle of poverty, injustice, and abuse that exists in their society. I hope they hear the voices of those that overcame, because they are role models for all, they are powerful catalysts for seismic change. These girls are rising and together they will change the world.

Too many peeps

I generally think January, February, and March are the worst months of the year. They are long (I know February is short, but it feels long, just go with me), cold, and nothing all that exciting occurs during them. But then I remember, it’s time for my favorite candy season: EASTER CANDY SEASON. Cadbury crème eggs, jellybeans, mini eggs, peeps—it’s just all so good!

Unfortunately, last year, I overdid it, in a big way. I entered a peeps eating contest at work. A contest, I thought I easily had in the bag, due to my extreme love of candy and natural ability to consume mass quantities of it. I was competing against my boss (a fierce competitor, but still one I knew didn’t stand a chance) and two co-workers. Our challenge was to eat as many peeps as possible in a four minute time period with the other eight members of our department watching and keeping count.

I started slow—figuring slow and steady wins the race, and because I was amused that we were actually having a work peeps eating contest. I felt like I was starring in an episode of The Office. At about the two-minute mark, I realized my co-worker was making some serious headway—I had to pick-up my game. I was stuffing those sugary little marshmallow bunnies in as fast at I could, but with 10 seconds left on the clock, I couldn’t manage to get down enough. I ate 22 peeps, and Tracy ate 23. I did not win the official Peep Queen title and crown, or the lifetime of pride that went with it. The moral of the story: don’t ever under-estimate your competition; it’s an amateur mistake. Also, don’t enter a peeps eating contest. You will not feel good for days. I haven’t had one since.

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the remains from our peeps eating contest