Her secret? She volunteered some of her time to a non-profit -- she gave in order to get. She first invested several days researching dozens of local non-profits. Her criteria:
1. She had to care deeply about their mission;
2. The non-profit had to be small enough that they would value her contribution and she could work directly with the executive staff; and
3. She needed to be able to leverage the organization's executives and board members.
She found a good fit and contacted the president. When they spoke, she didn't focus on what she could get from volunteering; she focused on what she could give. She treated it like a job interview. She stressed her strengths and unique skills. She sold herself and told them she wanted to be a part of their organization.
(I'd fall out of my chair if I got a call from someone who said, "Hello, I love your mission and here are all of my skills. I'd love to volunteer my time. How can I help?")
After a few in-person meetings, she asked them where they needed the most help. Turns out they had been talking about expanding into a neighboring city but weren't sure they had the right people to do it. Guess who volunteered her time and skills?
My friend went from not knowing anything about the organization or anybody in it to leading the expansion into a new city in a matter of weeks. She is now the "face" of the organization in the new city, which happens to be where she lives. She has organized several events and has become a mini-celebrity in her town and an invaluable member in the charity.
She has access to all of the non-profit's executives and board members. They love her and want to open their Rolodex to help her. Again, this didn't take years. It took weeks and an investment of her time. Here's how to use the same approach:
- Stay local. Look for non-profits in your community. These will be run by locals -- exactly the people you want to meet.
- Focus on mid-sized organizations. If you're a tiny fish in a huge non-profit pond, you probably won't have access to the people you want, and your contribution may not be recognized as much. Likewise, if the non-profit is too small, it might not have the right type or number of executives. Stick to mid-sized charities that are big enough to have the executives and board members you'd like to meet but not so big that your work gets overlooked.
- Research the board. Go to the charity's website and review the management and board member bios. Would you want to meet any of them? Are they the movers and shakers in your industry?
- Leverage your passion. This is a must. Don't volunteer your time to an organization that you aren't passionate about just to get an "in" with a board member. Trust me on this one. It won't work well for you. You must have a genuine interest in the mission or you'll look and feel like a fake.
- Do good work. Just because you're not getting paid doesn't mean you shouldn't do your best. If you volunteer your web design skills, you'd better come through on a great looking website. If you do event planning, make sure the events you put together are flawless. Pretend you are getting paid twice your normal salary. The work will reflect that, and you'll get noticed.
It worked for my friend. She took her best skills and offered them to a grateful charity and in return has expanded her professional network and made new friends. She has since started her own business and immediately had a network of raving fans ready and excited to promote her.
Where can you volunteer some of your time?
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