Growing Good: Philanthropy Grows Your Network, Your Skills and Your Business

Are you looking for another option to add to your ongoing marketing and branding campaign, one that is neither content nor traditional marketing and yet has the potential to greatly enhance your professional network, increase your opportunities to acquire new clients and referrals and even allow you to enhance your skill set?  Add philanthropy to your marketing campaign, as expressed by volunteerism, corporate social responsibility, sponsorships and donations and watch your sales grow!

Corporate social responsibility is now considered a best practice and there is a growing expectation that business and civic leaders, in particular, will “give back” and make a contribution to their community.

When Freelance consultants and leaders of for-profit organizations large and small, participate in philanthropy, it is a carefully evaluated business decision that’s part of a long-term personal branding and marketing campaign.  Just because your payroll is small doesn’t mean that philanthropy will not deliver significant ROI to your brand and business.  The selection of an organization to support will be strategic.

The first guideline is that you affiliate with organizations that have a mission you can support.  Second, the organization should operate and be headquartered locally, to support your objective of  having an impact among the movers and shakers in your business community, people who could become your customers or referral sources.

Third, if possible, aim to lend your pro bono support to an organization that somehow is connected to your product or service, or will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise or strengthen skills you’d like to build.  Volunteering can provide avenues for professional development, as you take part in projects and committee work that allow you to stretch and acquire additional competencies.

For example, if your financial management skills are weak, merely listening to finance reports and discussions around them at board meetings can be instructive.  Finance Committees even at small not-for-profits are often headed by very astute professionals.

Getting started

Becoming a sponsor of a local charity event, from the Boy Scouts to an educational or skills development center, is an effective, possibly low-cost and minimal commitment method to get an inside look at an organization that interests you.   A business card size ad in a fundraising event program book is a useful entrée and might cost as little as $200.  Your ad will not hurt your marketing strategy and will be tax-deductible, as well.

Alternatively, you can take the sweat-equity route and volunteer your time and labor as an event day helper at a fundraising program.  This strategy will allow you to attend the event and observe how the leadership interacts with its largest and most devout supporters.  A board or event committee member will be appointed to supervise the volunteers, so  you will be able to meet an insider and ask a few questions, along with getting a sense of the working style of the leaders (a very important consideration, BTW).

Speaking of sweat, you might decide to run, walk, bike, swim, or play golf or tennis in an athletic event sponsored by your chosen not-for-profit and ask friends and colleagues to sponsor you and help you donate to the organization.  All gifts will be tax-deductible. Plus, you’ll have lots of networking opportunities and a good time.

Finally, if you can muster a larger philanthropy budget, you can simply call the organization, express your interest in its mission and ask to visit and take a tour.  The Executive Director or another senior-level staff or board member will be happy to oblige.  You may be recruited on the spot to join a committee, as a pathway to an invitation to join the Board.  Be advised that there may be an expected annual donation of perhaps $500 or more.

Build relationships

Your experiences in charity event participation or sponsorships, or in board or committee service, will over time bring you into contact with many people.  Meeting C-Suite professionals during your volunteer activities breaks down barriers and has the potential to facilitate building relationships with VIPs who will see you in action as you perform board or committee work.

If you need a well-placed reference, it will likely be granted and  you may receive a referral or two as well, which would help your client list.  You might even get so lucky as to find a well-connected sponsor who will champion you and your work and help you to grow your business (or career).

Publicize your philanthropy

Let current and prospective customers know about your philanthropic activities.  In your curriculum vitae, bio, website and LinkedIn page, make note of your philanthropy, especially if you’ve joined a board or become an annual sponsor of, or participant at, a charitable event.  In a 2013 study Cone Communications, a Boston-based PR and marketing firm and Echo Global Logistics, a provider of transportation and supply chain management systems headquartered in Chicago, found that 82% of B2B and B2C purchasers preferred to do business with organizations that practiced corporate social responsibility and 91% of responders said they would switch brands to one that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality.

I leave you with this: Luke Weil, founder of Andina Acquisition, which invests in companies in the Andean region of South America, encourages us to give without expecting anything in return. Your generosity and selflessness generate good Karma and positive energy and the spiritual benefits will do wonders for your psyche.  Pay it forward.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Woman Giving Alms (date unknown, private collection), by Janos Thorma (Hungary, 1870 – 1937)

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Build Your Referral Network With Board Service

Volunteering has for many decades been a way for aspiring socialites, self-made millionaires, traditionally employed professionals climbing the ladder and Freelance consultants looking to meet future clients to expand their networks, build strategic relationships, obtain social credibility, learn new skills and sometimes even support a worthy cause. Volunteering is the best way to do well by doing good and the money you donate is tax-deductible.

The Machiavellian among us may choose an organization that appears to have either the best business networking or most social-climbing potential (or both!), but I recommend that those in search of a good volunteer opportunity start with a review of causes that are important to you.  Some prefer social service agencies, others are inspired by arts organizations and still others gravitate to religious or healthcare institutions. If you’re not sure where to start, try lending your services to your alma mater, your children’s school, or your local Rotary Club.  Rotary Club

Board service is at the top of the volunteer pyramid and not everyone is invited to participate at that level.  However, most not-for-profit organizations plan a big annual fundraising event and extra day-of-event volunteer help is sometimes needed. That could be your opportunity to see a snap shot of the organization, as well as the event committee, up close, in action and celebrating the vision and mission.

Joining a day-of-event subcommittee is often a good place to start your volunteer journey, so that you can meet and work with one or two board members, meet the executive director and learn about the qualifications and possibility of joining the board.  Be advised that many boards come with an expected level of financial support that can stretch into four-figure sums (and beyond).  Visit the organization’s website and speak with the administrative assistant about short-term volunteer opportunities.

There are also corporate boards on which one may serve, but those groups are for the very well-connected and influential.  A path to corporate board service might begin with relationships developed during volunteer board service, but one still must have very formidable professional credentials and superior job titles.  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you contemplate your role as a volunteer:

Choose the right organization

You will feel much happier donating skills and money to an organization whose mission you strongly support and that should guide your choice.  Your work on the board should be for you a pleasure and a privilege and not a chore.

Be outstanding

Take your commitment to the board or committee seriously if you expect to be taken seriously by the influencers you hope to impress.  Be qualified to do the work.  Make the time to complete your pro bono work on time.  Be enthusiastic, if not passionate, and a good team player.  If you are sufficiently fortunate to be asked to chair a committee, graciously share credit for a job well done with your committee members.

Add value

While your volunteering may have at its core your professional or social agenda, you must nonetheless approach your volunteer service as someone who wants to contribute and make a positive difference.  Keep the organization’s mission and goals in mind, along with your own.  Raise your hand when leadership opportunities present themselves. Demonstrate how your unique skill set brings benefits to the organization.

Be a passionate visionary

As a board member, it will be your responsibility to prepare the organization to realize long-term goals that accurately reflect and enable the vision and mission.  Suggest that strategic planning be done, so that key staff members can join with the board and map out possible strategies for the future.  In any case, bring your creative energy and practical insights to every board meeting.

Be a team player

Make yourself look good and create the conditions wherein your fellow board and committee members will find satisfaction in their board service and find more success for yourself as you do.  Inspire fellow board and committee members to do their best work by modeling that behavior yourself.  Always acknowledge the good work and dedication of others on your committee and the board.

When you follow the guidelines detailed above, you will distinguish yourself as a superior board member who is a real asset to the organization.  Influencers who are in a position to refer those with your specialty will no doubt be eager to refer a colleague whose work they can personally endorse and your Freelance consultancy will reap the rewards.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Notes on Networking

I’ve been thinking about networking lately.  Last week,  I had a great meeting with a young lady I met maybe 5 years ago,  when I revived a volunteer relationship with her organization.  I found the volunteer activity personally rewarding and I took it seriously.  I sharpened a seldom-used skill that I find highly desirable and I saw to it that my work met or exceeded expectations.  Scheduling prevented me from donating services for a couple of years,  but I always responded to her outreach. When she asked to pick my brain about a program-related matter,  which turned into a request for a face-to-face,  I was happy to say yes.

Little did I know that the volunteer service,  that is pro bono consulting work,  will now pay a stipend.  There is also an effort to grow the program.  The organization has had trouble selling to the new target market and I was happy to suggest some talking points that should produce results.  She took lots of notes.  Sometime over the next few months,  I expect that I will be invited to provide more pro bono work,  this time with a very helpful stipend and a chance to gain access to individuals that I would like to add to my client list.

What’s the moral of this networking story? One,  strategic volunteering can pay dividends.  Two,  selectively network at both ends the organization chart.  Don’t assume that lower ranking people are never in a position to help you.  This young lady was the program coordinator,  not a decision-maker and she’s half my age.  Nevertheless,  I treated her with respect and always enjoyed working with her.  When asked,  I offered to give her some much-needed insights,  without knowing that she is now in a position to help me make money.

Of course,  we all dream of meeting a powerful person who will miraculously agree to become our sponsor and shepherd us into a fabulous career.  That happens for some people,  but it has yet to happen to me.  For example,  for more than a decade I regularly attended Mass and sat at coffee hour with a very wealthy and well-connected lady who frequently discussed the professional success she had had before her retirement.

The lady was well aware of my need for clients and yet she never lifted a finger to help.  She who had never walked through a door that was not opened for her,  deliberately withheld from me.  Yet,  she never failed to enlist my help with her Sunday amusement—the New York Times crossword puzzle.  It is interesting,  because she sought me out for conversation and volunteered information about her career and connections.  I should have been golden.  Oh, well.

But how does one network successfully at the top of the organizational chart?  As detailed above,  interacting with someone who is inclined to respect you is rule #1.  Remaining aware of the difference in power and status is rule #2.  Understanding how you can be a valuable asset to an individual who has many resources and most likely doesn’t need anything from you is rule #3 and effectively communicating to Mr. or Ms. High-and-Mighty whatever value proposition that you think might be appreciated is rule #4.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for networking up the food chain,  but despite my fruitless experience,  which I will say is unusual,  networking with the higher-ups is best done at volunteer board meetings,  houses of worship,  at the fitness center,  or in other non-work related venues.  There are many people tugging at the sleeves of the well-connected.  It’s probably best to get to know them in a social situation that facilitates participating in a shared experience that can lead to organic relationship-building.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Strategic Volunteerism: Doing Well by Doing Good

Within three months of losing my corporate job back in the late 90s,  I got the bright idea to plunge into volunteering. I instinctively knew that keeping my hands busy with good work and meeting new people would help keep my spirits up as I figured out my next move.

Along the way, I also learned that volunteering provides opportunities to develop new competencies or resurrect dormant skills.  Plus,  I enjoyed the camaraderie and feeling of satisfaction that grew from joining with others to advance the mission of an organization we felt provided important benefits to our community.   More than a dozen years later,  I am still in at least occasional contact with several people I met in my first significant volunteer experience.

Volunteerism is de rigueur for Freelancers,  business owners,  corporate professionals and even students seeking acceptance to prestige schools.  Consider it additionally as a pathway to creating more business or entering the C-suite.  Volunteer projects allow important others to witness first hand your talents,  professionalism,  commitment and collaborative spirit.  Volunteering is an excellent way to beef up your CV and bio,  meet prospective clients and expand your referral network.

Strategically and purposefully volunteering one’s time is an essential component of smart networking and PR strategies. Volunteer to participate in  (or sponsor)  a noteworthy community event and create the perfect reason to write a press release and alert the media to your activity.

Carefully select a volunteer opportunity that will achieve specific objectives.  To get started,  ask yourself some questions that will clarify your reasons for volunteering,  help you choose the right organization and assess how much time you can contribute:

  1. Decide what you would like to achieve.  Do you want to showcase certain talents,  develop or strengthen certain skills or boost referrals?
  2. Decide who you’d like to meet and interact with.  Do you want to develop relationships with industry peers,  or promote a cause while you meet prospects?
  3. Decide your preferred time commitment.  Can you appear at monthly meetings over a two or three year period and serve on a board of directors,  or is a short term commitment on a special project committee more suitable?

Next,  identify volunteer opportunities that will produce the desired ROI.  Whether you are most interested in professional associations or not-for-profit organizations,  investigate and ask questions.

If you are not yet a member of the professional group that has captured your interest, visit its website,  learn the purpose of the group and the types of programs it sponsors.  Attend a program,  meet members and officers and ask what they value most about membership.  Make discreet inquiries about committees/subcommittees to figure out which would best showcase or build your skills.

If you are drawn to the NFP sector,  be sure to choose an organization whose mission aligns with your interests and values.  Visit the website to find out who is on the board and check out past and upcoming events.  Attend one and meet the staff and board members you’re thinking of working with.

It’s good to first test the waters by serving on a short term special project committee,  so that you can learn useful information such as upcoming available slots on the board,  the expected financial contributions of board members and if its members are expected to sell tickets to events or recruit financial donors.

Once you’ve started your volunteer journey,  be sure that your level of participation is in line with that of other board or committee members and that the benefits you’re receiving are fulfilling your objectives.  Strategic volunteering means that you recognize volunteering is a two way street and you exchange your time,  talent and money for opportunities to highlight or strengthen your skills and make some useful contacts while you do it.

So are you meeting the right people?  Do you work on projects that interest and showcase you?  Are you having fun,  or feeling frustrated?  If it’s the latter,  do not be ashamed to resign.  There are numerous volunteer opportunities available and one,  or perhaps more,  will be a good fit for you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim