Guest Opinion: Three tips for starting something
That leap when an idea goes from lightbulb moment to unveiling can certainly feel intimidating.
I recently cycled off my role as the founding co-chair of the Des Moines chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN Des Moines), and during the process of making way for new leaders, reflected on how the group evolved from a handful of people who met over coffee to more than 130 paid members and 1,500 “fans” in the course of three years.
So, how do you turn an idea into action?
1. Set a date, and tell people about it.
Create a deadline for accountability. It’s easy to say, “We should …” and then trail off without truly committing to the concept. Once you publish your launch date, you can work backward and more easily delegate tasks. Maybe it’s the former journalist in me, but nothing lights a fire like knowing people will be expecting a finished product by a certain date.
Create that Facebook event and tell as many people about it as you can. Book a venue, pull together the basics and then hustle like hell to figure out the rest by the time everyone shows up. Your accountability and reputation are on the line, which is a great motivator.
We had more than 80 people attend our official YNPN Des Moines launch party in January of 2013 — and to see the concept go from something we’d talked about as a small group to an organization lots of people (even strangers!) embraced made taking the next steps toward sustainability much more obvious.
2. Never underestimate the power of clear, consistent communication in starting a movement.
One of the first things an organization must do is find its voice. I describe the voice of YNPN Des Moines as informal, yet informative. Every entity will likely have a “fake it ’till you make it” phase, and at least sounding like you have a cohesive plan is step No. 1 toward coming up with one.
When we launched our group, it was little more than a handful of friends meeting for coffee. Investing time in our communications platforms changed that. We had a clear message and communicated with constituents on a consistent basis, through social media and a monthly e-newsletter.
3. Keep watch for others who share your “spark.”
You don’t need a mentor to tell you what the next step should be. For a while in my early 20s, I felt like I was missing that singular relationship that would propel me to the next phase of my career. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and was discounting the wisdom and leadership skills of people with whom I was already familiar.
Encouragers, collaborators and champions are all around. And sometimes, it’s working with people who are younger who have the energy and enthusiasm you need to achieve your mission.
Around the time we were getting YNPN Des Moines off the ground, I randomly sat next to and started chatting with another young nonprofit professional, Kristin Huinker, at a “Birdies for Charity” kickoff event. What started as a casual conversation and a no-pressure invitation to get involved blossomed into Kristin volunteering as our inaugural membership co-chair. Her leadership skills were immediately evident, and she assumed the role of vice chair for YNPN Des Moines this July.
Our collaborative team started YNPN Des Moines when we were on the cusp of career growth. I truly feel that the lessons learned and connections I made while founding our group with a bunch of smart, dedicated people have given me a deeper capacity for and understanding of success.
These days, success, to me, is walking away from an experience feeling not only that I contributed my skills or thoughts in a meaningful way, but that I met people who challenged me to look more deeply or differently at an issue, or introduced me to something or someone new and interesting.