Monday, February 8, 2016

The Push forward :Small nonprofits have a lot to offer, too!

Over Christmas I've sent about 65 emails. I reached out to fraternities and sororities, to heads of departments at the local university with majors relevant to my nonprofit's needs and mission in order to generate some volunteer interest. And it worked: Today we have about 18 interns between our three core projects, with new inquiries every other day. You won't find people to help you unless you look. You won't get people involved, unless you ask. We were short staffed and unfocused this past semester, and we didn't really do a good job communicating our needs and our vision, and that's our fault. But if we were going to break the pattern, something needed to change. I took communications into my own hands. I've decided that I would give this concept just one more shot before I gave  it up. Hey, if something doesn't work it doesn't work, and maybe it wasn't meant to be. But it wouldn't be from the lack of trying.

 Hindsight is 20/20 and I don't want to dwell too much on whether we could have gotten here sooner. We did some of our own growing, some of our retooling, reshaping, refocusing of projects of ideas. If we had ten, eighteen, twenty interns six months ago I don't think we would have had much for them to do. I needed to reach that make it or break it point in order to move on from it. So, as other people were sitting down to their Christmas dinner I locked myself up in my apartment and sent out emails for three days straight. We needed help with Public Relations. For that we wanted to find communications students. We needed to develop our project ideas into sponsorship offers and presentations; you do that with marketing and business majors. Our three major projects were in the areas of architecture, filming and computing. So, I've started looking for architecture, journalism, game development and computer science students. I knew that if I created a framework, a roadmap and attracted young people to it, often with their own ideas, motivation and equipment, those projects will take a life of their own, often with very little input from me.

 And here's the interesting bit: I have students in business attire eager to meet me, wanting to make the best impression, hoping I'd take a chance on them. Sometimes I wonder if they are certain we are not paying them and why it matters so much to them. But here's what it is: They like the mission. They like that we are local, that you can reach out and touch us and that we are doing something outside of the box. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so we can do internships, community work, coursework credit just like the big boys. But with us there's no sharpening pencils, answering the phone or making coffee. Our students can get actual, hands on experience in areas relevant to their interest. And they can leave their own mark on the shape of their programs. I'd say the smaller the nonprofit, the greater the challenge to make it, the biggest impact one person can make. They learn from us, we learn from them and we build something together. LinkedIn is a great tool. But I was so focused on recruiting through it that I forgot I had other options. Here's what happened: As I emailed the departments, they sent out mass emails to their students or included a write up in their weekly newsletters. Some put information on their website- which some students later complained was difficult to find. Later, I used the University job posting system to look for more volunteers. We still used LinkedIn, to recruit mostly team leaders or people with particular skills (and from as far as Canada), but our emphasis was somewhere else. Let talented students , eager to get some hands on experience lend those talents. Build teams and let professionals guide them. At first I thought I was uniquely positioned because I live in a college town. But that's not it. Most of our volunteers don't need to be local at all and we're working on creating teams in a number of remote places. Here's the bottom line: nonprofits need volunteers, students need the opportunity. You don't need to be a big charity to have an attractive cause and you may even pose an attractive challenge because of your smaller size.

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