Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Building Influence. Building Networks.

I frequently see this quote from Margaret Mead quote in my Twitter feed: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

However, have you done much thinking about what the membership of this small group looks like? Of how they might help you?

To answer the second question first, a leader is constantly seeking to influence the actions of others. If you have an idea for solving a problem and realize you can't do it all by yourself, the first thing you need to do is begin reaching out to invite others to become involved in the work. I posted this article about "intentional influence" a few weeks ago. I hope you'll read it.

Once you realize you need help from others, a map showing the type of help you need could be helpful.

The map below is one I created many years to to serve as a worksheet in my own efforts to build this "small group of people". I've shared it often because I think others could also use it to show the wide range of talent and skills needed to launch a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program and keep it constantly improving (good to great) for many years.

If you were to do a survey of people helping you now, and categorize them by talent, or by areas of influence, would your map show you have all the skills you need, along with the civic reach needed to get your message to resource providers, media, policy makers, etc? If you're not sure what I'm talking about, read this article titled "Building Philanthropy Capital to Fuel Good to Great". Toward the end of the article is a link to a Stanford Social Innovation Review article titled Increasing Civic Reach.

Most small non profits don't have all the talent they need, not at the beginning, and not as they mature. It's why so many, including the ones I led, struggle so much.

I started Cabrini Connections and the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1992 with six other volunteers. I had been leading a volunteer based tutor/mentor program for the previous 17 years, but was only able to draw a few of the people from that group into support for my new effort, so my initial mail list was about 400 people.

By 1998 that was up to 12,000 people. This was before I began to build an internet community. The graphic below is a worksheet I developed in the mid 1990s. Here's an article I posted on the Cabrini Blog in 2011 with this graphic. Here's the same graphic in an article on the Tutor/Mentor Connection forum.

This worksheet is useful because if you ask someone to give you 5 names to add to a mailing list for an event or a newsletter, they struggle to come up with five names. One reason may be that there are so many people to choose from. If you use this worksheet, you can look at each sub category, such as family, neighbor, college, etc. and look for one person who might be interested in knowing more about your ideas. One person from each category represents 8 to 10 people. As I did this in the 1990s I began to add groups of people, like my college fraternity brothers from the years I was at Illinois Wesleyan.

If you use email, or a printed newsletter to tell stories of your work, why it's important, what you accomplish, how people might help you, some from your network may offer their own time, talent and resources. However, if a few pass on this message to their network, you may reach friends of friends who have an even greater potential to help.

Even with the worksheet motivating others to map their network and constantly reach out asking for support is difficult. People don't like asking friends or family for money. That leads to the next steps in this strategy.

Because of my background with the Montgomery Ward corporation in the 1970s and 1980s I often draw analogies from those experiences. For instance, I think of a mentor-rich youth organization as a "retail store for hope and opportunity" which needs to have a variety of age-appropriate learning and mentoring experiences that motivate youth and volunteers to participate weekly, and for multiple years. Here's one article where I explore this idea.

If you think of a single program like a Walgreens, then my web sites serve as a "shopping mall" or a "department store". When you first visit a new store, or mall, you just take a walking tour, visiting the different shops so you know what's there. Later you go back and take more time browsing the stores that were most interesting to you. Thus, if you set up a web site with information related to your mission, or the problem you're trying to solve, your blogs, social media, Twitter and other forms of daily communication serve as "advertising" intended to draw people to your ideas.

The Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC and Tutor/Mentor Connection.org web sites serve this purpose. This PDF essay shows information a youth tutor/mentor program might want to have on their web site to show shoppers what they do and why they should be supported.

This last graphic is one that illustrates your role in facilitating the involvement of a growing number of other people. Over time, this can result in many people, with many different talents and a significant level of civic reach, working to help you make a difference in the world.

If you'd like to have me visit and talk to you about these ideas, or others shared on my blog and web site, let's find a way for me to do that.

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