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The Five Biggest Opportunities For Nonprofits In 2015: #4

The Plenty Team
April 10, 2015

#4: Look To The Field

[This is the fourth in a series of blog posts expanding on this year’s peer-to-peer fundraising trends, as presented from the main stage of the 2015 Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum Conference and unpacked in our e-book, The Expansive Impact of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising]. 

About this time last year, we didn’t know it yet but one of the most exciting nonprofit peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns in recent memory was about to launch: The Ice Bucket Challenge. As an industry, we were stunned by how quickly the campaign went viral as well as by the level of public support behind it. In the months that followed, we at Plenty spent a lot of time helping other organizations understand how important the origins of that campaign were to its success: rather than being created by event staff, it came from the grassroots level and grew organically.

As organizations continue to try to recreate The Ice Bucket Challenge, it begs the question, is it possible? While we certainly like to think so, we can also guarantee success won't come from mimicking that campaign. Instead, your organization should look to the field - to your core constituent base - to surface the next great idea for your organization. 

To get you headed in the right direction, here are three ways to surface ideas from the field:

1. Leave your office.
Think about the people you most recently spoke with face-to-face at work. Maybe it was your boss or a colleague who sits near you or maybe it was a couple of people you ran into in the hall when refilling your water bottle. While there may be a few others you can think of, chances are that’s the extent of your list. For most of us, we spend our day behind a desk interacting only with the people in close proximity to us, which usually doesn’t include our constituents. And if our constituents aren’t in the office with us, that means we’re not interacting with them on a daily basis (maybe not even weekly or monthly).

If this is starting to sound like a problem, you're right, it is. We mentioned earlier how important it is to look to your field of supporters for ideas, but it’s actually quite difficult to surface ideas from volunteers and field staff if you’re not with them very often. If you’re going to surface great ideas from the field you have to do something about it. You literally have to leave your office.

Don’t worry - you can start small. For example, once a month you could spend a half-day working from the field office or another location where volunteers can stop by to talk to you. Or once a quarter you could treat your favorite volunteers to breakfast to start getting to know them.

These ideas are simple, yes, but they are an easy way to begin building relationships that will become the basis for being able to ask them what they would do differently or what they wish your organization would try. Sure, you can send a survey or email to your database soliciting those answers, but the best conversations about potential opportunities from the field will come from you actually being in the field to hear them.

2. Listen better.
So you leave the confines of your office, you go into the field, you engage with your staff, volunteers, and supporters and ask them all of your important questions. The hard part is over, right? Well, sort of. Most people think that listening just means taking it all in. And while some people can’t commit to doing that much, the truth is that you can do better. If you want to hear ideas worth listening to, ideas that could make an enormous impact on your organization's mission, you have to become a better listener.

Truly effective listening actually makes the person you are listening to more likely to keep sharing. When someone asks you a question, others are watching to see how that question is received. For instance, if Joe took a chance on sharing his great idea and you just smile weakly before moving on, Cindy now knows better. Thus, part of listening involves giving positive reinforcement so that others feel comfortable and know it’s a good use of their time to speak. Sometimes it takes people a while to build up the courage to share an idea that’s unusual or to be willing to emotionally invest in sharing their slightly off-beat, grand idea that they’ve been stewing on for a month. They have to trust that you’re not going to laugh it off, and that you’ll at least give it the consideration it deserves. They have to trust that you’ll listen.

3. Do something with what you hear.
Ultimately, to surface great ideas, you have to create a culture where ideas are truly welcome. It’s easy to say that you want to hear them and nod along with what people share, but if you want to impact the dynamic around idea sharing, you can’t stop there.

One way to show people that you’re serious about listening, is to do something with their knowledge. No one expects you to implement all the wacky ideas you hear, but an acknowledgement in the next volunteer newsletter or team meeting could go a long way to show that you appreciated their contribution. And don’t be shy - if it’s the best idea you’ve heard in a while, use it. There’s no better way to show appreciation than to take a recommendation and put it into action.

So much of surfacing ideas is just asking for them, and being conscientious about showing appreciation. It’s not rocket science. Yet with so many priorities sometimes these basics don’t make the ‘to do’ list. Do yourself a favor: the next time you are tasked with surfacing the next $500,000 idea for your nonprofit, look to the people who are creative, experienced, and already believe in your mission. Talk with them, listen to their suggestions, and don't overlook the deep insight they have on what your constituents are interested in. Don't ignore it, star it. One of those stars could be the idea you’ve been waiting for.

For a deeper look at the industry trends impacting your organization, and the concepts you and your team should be thinking about in 2015 download our e-book "The Expansive Impact of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising".

Download your copy here!

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