Seeing a man curled up asleep by the lights of a pharmacy one night while in Washington, D.C., I reached into my pocket and knew that the change I had wasn’t enough to make a difference. Walking away, I felt ashamed I couldn’t help him but was inspired to start thinking what I could do on a larger scale to help those like him. I didn’t have grant money to give but I did hold leadership positions within a council and several associations. By being creative with what I had, I came up with the idea to partner with others to host service projects at annual conferences. Here are four lessons I learned from those experiences:
Lesson learned: Prepare your case, but be patient and flexible.
Not every proposal I prepared was accepted readily by potential partners at first glance. I found it important to be patient with those who expressed doubt and flexible enough to negotiate changes when necessary. I had to be humble enough to realize that the criticism received in the early stages often offered valuable insight. Instead of being stopped in my tracks by it, I decided to use the input to mold the plan into something that would gain additional support in later stages.
Lesson learned: Professional conferences are a great opportunity to reach many professionals.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, be creative with what you do have. I realized that council and association annual meetings gathered a large amount of professionals that might be interested in helping others – the opportunity just needed to be offered. I already held several leadership positions in several of these organizations and realized I only had to ask other leaders to partner with me on the the service projects.
Lesson learned: Developing no-cost, short-term opportunities can increase project adoption and participation.
Service projects that call for in-kind donations like unused toiletries which are provided to conference attendees by their hotels are a cost-free way for them to participate. In addition, the collection highlights the topic of homelessness and the nonprofit that the collection is being held for. The service projects I have partnered on so far have been held at conferences that have brought in from 1,000 to over 3,000 attendees.
Lesson learned: Partnering with others is essential
In one instance, I realized that in order to be successful in gaining permission from headquarters to hold the collection at the conference, I had to gather enough support from member leadership beforehand. Identifying potential project partners who led groups that focused on an area that could be related to the homeless population, I sent out my emails. While not every email was answered, those who did often recommended other leaders that might be interested in supporting the project as well. From being initially supported by leaders who led a group of over 300 members, the project eventually gained support from leaders whose members numbered almost 3,000. With this in hand, I sent the proposal to association staff for their review.
In conclusion, instead of feeling powerless to help those that needed it most, I made the most of what I had.