Is your agency’s executive director out of the office enough?
Raising Your Profile; Building Your Credibility
By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofit evolution blog
I was running a Boys & Girls Club in Texas, when I was offered the Executive Director position for the Boys & Girls Clubs in Akron, Ohio. I knew the President of the Akron Community Foundation and not another soul in town. Thankfully, my Board had a plan.
One Board member, who isn’t the mayor of Akron but could have been because he knows everyone, started setting up lunch meetings. We went to lunch with every community leader in town and:
- We told them of our struggles
- We told them about our kids and what they needed to be successful
- we told them our plan to ensure they were, indeed, successful – and that our Club was as well.
After 6 months, I, too, knew everyone in town.
What’s the lesson for your organization? There are actually a few:
- Who is on your Board and who do they know?
- Will they introduce you?
- Do you have a story?
- Can you tell it in a way that engages people?
- Who picks up the tab?
Now you might think it was silly of me to include the question of who pays for lunch on my list of lessons, but I cannot tell you the number of people who have asked. It matters. The question of what is a good use of agency resources is a blog for another day, but for today, it’s worth having the discussion and being clear about the answer before you ask Board members to set meetings.
Once you do, start having lunch, coffee and breakfast! Get to know people in your community and let them get to know you.
Program officers of foundations are incredibly generous with their time and are interested in learning about your organization. Community leaders, by definition, care about the community. Go talk to them. You will be pleasantly surprised by the number of people who say yes to your request for a meeting.
Profile building can and is partially done over lunch, but it only starts at lunch. It doesn’t end there.
To build your profile, you also have to build your credibility and the credibility of your program. Obviously, it won’t be enough to talk about your program if your program isn’t providing excellent services. Impactful programming is critical. Benchmark similar organizations, find and implement best practices and monitor and communicate your impact.
Speak in the community. Most service groups have a speaker at every meeting. Recruit and train a “public speaking team” to present at service group meetings and in the community. It is a wonderful opportunity to get your message out there.
You should also blog about the issues that impact your clients, write op-ed pieces and meet with local politicians.
Is there a Leadership group in your city? Leadership Akron was an incredible experience for me. It contributed to my professional development and knowledge about the city in ways that I could not have replicated on my own. It also provided incredible resources for my organization. Now that I live in Columbus, I am a member of the Leadership Columbus Alumni group. Consider participating in your local group. Most leadership programs offer scholarships for nonprofit senior leaders and it is an incredible investment of your time and resources.
Figure out the “must attend” event in town, and attend. And when you do, walk around and greet everyone, introduce yourself to people you haven’t been able to get in front of and ask if you can call them for a meeting. Again, you’ll be surprised at the number of people who say yes.
Finally, join groups that coalesce around the issues you care about. Most communities have nonprofit executive director groups, monthly or weekly educational forums, and leadership organizations. Find one and get involved. If there isn’t a group, start one.
We invited all the leaders of agencies that offered after school programming in Akron to a meeting. Akron had almost two dozen after school programs, yet there was no ongoing discussions about programming, best practices or service gaps. The discussion that started at that first meeting continued and our group later became the After School Council of Greater Akron.
You can do it! Profile raising, like everything else that is worth doing, takes time — lots of time. Spending the time will pay off in spades, for your organization, its mission and the community it serves!