or, “This year will be our best year because…”
2020 was a toughie. A global pandemic, widespread economic anxiety, an unfinished cultural conversation on how to address race and class tensions in America. A lot of really heavy work. A lot of shades of, “well we smashed all of the toothpaste out of the tube. What do we do with it now?” For groups that do community action work the question has been about how to keep doing good work responsibly, given that volunteers are stretched thin and meeting in person has been fraught if not impossible. Energy and time resources have been low for many of us. At the forefront of many a planning conversation this year: how to keep progress happening knowing how very little bandwidth organizations and individuals have right now.
Intention setting is iterative, not pass-fail
Today we’re focusing our conversation on community-action groups, non-profits, and other groups that rely heavily on fundraising, are seeking to attract new members, or are otherwise looking to establish a positive reputation in the community. Setting some New Years intentions about how to be more appealing and more inclusive is a good bet. Given the year we’ve all had, doing as much as possible to remove barriers to participation is a smart way to keep engagement high. Our ideas all have to do with adaptability, smart uses of technology, and how to make empathy an integral part of all group communications and events.
Our general ethos: how to be about it being better for all of us in 2021. If that sounds on target for where your group is wanting to position itself, we invite you to consider our ideas and then give us some feedback on your own! We’d love to establish a dialogue with our readers.
Facilitating this type of intention-setting discussion within your group or organization is a great way to keep everyone engaged and collaborating. What’s working and what do we need to do better next time? Asking these questions in a semi-structured dialogue will shed light on where the energy level in your group is, and on what pain points people are experiencing that are keeping them sidelined. Plus, if participation has been on the struggle bus, this is a great way to rally people to become reinvested.
This year, we resolve to:
1. Make inclusive language and content creation a priority
Language is one of the most foundational ways that humans have to create connection, understanding, and rapport with one another. Communication isn’t just about getting your point across, it’s also about packaging it in a way that makes it able to be heard by the people you are seeking to connect with. This requires us to understand that the lives and identities of others are not necessarily like ours. “Being conscious of your language biases and assumptions is an exercise of empathy, that can help you generate inclusion and increase diversity at your organization.”
How to commit:
- Stop using gendered language and making assumptions about gender. Defaulting to the universal male- “you guys,” “the best man for the job”- is dusty and avoidable. Avoid it! In addition, be sensitive to people’s preferred pronouns. Normalize stating your own preferred pronouns, and if you’re not sure what others prefer, ask! Using “they/them” pronouns only feels clunky the first few times you say it out loud, and the momentary discomfort of assimilating a new habit is worth it if it makes people around you feel seen and valued.
- When creating videos, use closed captioning! Bear in mind that people who are sight-impaired will be interacting with your content using screen reading technology, so caption pictures descriptively and helpfully.
- Stop using stigmatizing language with regard to mental health. Avoid using terms like “crazy,” “insane,” and “schizo” to derogatorily describe people’s behavior. Phrases like “Oh I’m just so OCD hahaha” trivialize real diagnoses in an exclusionary and shaming way. Don’t use real diagnoses as a casual metaphor to describe everyday behavior. Don’t make the lives of other’s harder.
More resources on how to level up your inclusive language:
Communicating with and about People with Disabilities
2. Shift towards efficient technology and smart uses of digital space
If the year we quarantined has taught us anything, it’s that shifting toward digital is a necessity and not a pet project or a luxury for when there is time. The time is now. Staying old school with paper copies of contact lists, meeting minutes, etc is a recipe for disaster when we are all scattered around and more isolated from one another than normal. Fragmented conversations spread across platforms, text threads, etc make it harder to keep your distanced group all on the same page and included. It’s critical to keeping everyone engaged, it’s critical for safety, and it’s critical to mitigate the risk of burnout when we are all living with lots of stress and free floating anxiety as it is.
How to commit to this:
- First, find an online group communication platform that makes distanced connecting easier. The nuts and bolts of how your group stays together behind the scenes is critical when getting together in person is off the table. Groupeasy gives you all of the tools to keep your group planning, sharing, collaborating, and deciding with one login. Find a tool to make virtual collaboration easy, sustainable, and stress-free.
- When you’re trying to grow your group or gather outside support online, start with a strong story. Having a clear cut narrative with a consistently communicated set of values makes you more trustworthy and appealing to people who are just getting familiar with what your organization does.
- Make it easy for people to donate money online! Set up a way for supporters to commit to small, recurring monthly donations. The easier it is for people to shuffle small, regular payments your way, the better. With the rise in subscription services like Netflix, Blue Apron, etc people are becoming more and more comfortable with this auto-draft scenario. Give people easy and creative ways to give contribute (more on this below). The less they have to think about it or go out of their way, the more likely it is that they will come through with their support.
More resources on how to talk about your group to the outside world:
4 critical steps to getting the group to adopt new tech
Leadership 101: Create compelling mission and vision statements
3. Give people creative ways to contribute
Studies show that even in the COVID year, people continued to give back. Even with many facing joblessness and economic insecurity, people found ways to contribute their time, money and resources in creative ways. Nearly 50% of households gave indirectly this year, “for example by ordering takeout to support restaurants and their employees or continuing to pay individuals and businesses for services they could not render.” Thinking proactively about how to make it easy for people to contribute what they can is a great ongoing priority to adopt or keep.
How to commit to this:
- Recognize the value of non-cash, in-kind donations. Send a thank-you just as you would a cash gift.
- Make recurring monthly donations possible and easy (see above)
- Come up with creative ways to raise funds that are in keeping with your organizations mission and goals. Giving Tuesday has become a popular online giving trend. Have someone in the group be the point-person for fundraising marketing. If you don’t promote your fundraising initiatives well on social media, you’ll be placing a huge and unnecessary limitation on the whole project.
- Use crowdfunding sparingly. There’s a time and place for well-executed crowdfunding to be sure, but it creates fatigue and resentment when over utilized. It should not be the ONLY way your group fundraises.
- Consider selling merchandise like reusable shopping bags or face masks (read: inexpensive items that most people consider necessities), or setting up an Amazon Smile account. Don’t neglect to come up with ongoing, passive ways for people to contribute mindlessly. While the individual dollars you make on these transactions may not seem like a big deal, they accrue quickly and require very little effort and attention from the group.
More resources on creative fundraising for groups:
6 Easy & Engaging Virtual Fundraising Ideas for Groups of all Sizes
How can I find Sources for In-Kind Gifts?
4. Remove barriers to participation for at-risk members and volunteers
Putting aside the fact that we all live with a certain amount of health risk when we move through the world at this time, there are some who are at much higher risk. We’ve talked about inclusivity in the way we speak and create content. But, what about baking inclusivity into the group process for those group members who are most at-risk?
How to commit:
- Make in-person events handicap accessible. If possible, make provisions for hearing and sight impaired folks.
- Make a visible and proactive effort to keep everything clean and appropriately distanced. Have folks commit to not showing up if there’s even a question that they are feeling under the weather or if they may have been exposed to COVID. Normalize verbal agreements and accountability around health matters.
- Provide members with easy ways to stay involved from a distance. For people who are uncomfortable showing up to distanced meetups, find some other way for them to stay involved. Set up a live feed of the events they can’t attend. Delegate group work that can be done alone and at home. Give them the reins to head up an initiative that they do feel comfortable with, like phone banking, content creation, archiving group photos, etc.
- Create an environment where members can speak up and ask for things that would make their participation is an ongoing project, but a valuable one. This has to do with building trust and open feedback loops into the group process, a high value project pandemic year or no.
More resources on this:
Fostering Healthy Feedback Culture: Do, Dont’s, and Questions to ask Regularly
Boosting Group Morale during COVID: 5 actionable tips
5. Make authenticity and adaptability core parts of our messaging and brand
Of all of the generations, Millenials in particular can smell phony messaging from a mile away. The goal for public-facing groups is how to consistently use messaging that is genuine, appealing, and approachable all the while seamlessly taking advantage of rapidly evolving technology and social media opportunities. Building authenticity into your brand is important for groups and organizations ESPECIALLY in terms of communications that are happening completely virtually or at least from a distance. Now more than ever, people are looking for genuine, relatable, and honest brand messages. How can you cut through the chatter and clutter and really form a relationship with your audience?
How to commit to this:
- When you create piece of promotional content, ask these questions: Does this feel relatable? Is this true to our values and does it reflect our honest stance? Will this help our audience feel like we truly GET them?
- Pay attention to the responses and engagement you receive from the content you put out. Basically, if one thing works well and another well-intentioned thing completely tanks, figure out why.
- As you figure out what works well, stay consistent. The pieces of your identity that attract people to engage with you are what you should crystalize and stick with.
- As new tech trends come onto the scene, make sure there is someone in the organization whose responsibility it is to learn how to leverage new tools to your advantage. Don’t fall behind!
More resources on how to connect (from afar):
How to get People to Like You and Trust You
How to Build Brand Authenticity
6. Up our networking game with other folks in our sector of expertise
Because resources for non-profits and community groups are limited, it seems that there’s often a sense that organizations are battling for the same tiny pie slice. What if we reimagine a landscape that isn’t based on zero-sum thinking. The more time we spend sharing knowledge, skills, and expertise, the better off we all are.
How to commit to this:
- Understand that “individual missions are not as important as the collective community.” At the forefront of your group or organizations founding was the idea that a group of people had a set of ideas on how to improve quality of life in their area of influence. Don’t lose the plot.
- Adopt an abundance mindset. Believe in the value of your contribution and mission.
- Find conferences and local meet-ups where you can meet others in your group or organizations field
- Signal boost other great organizations in your social media. The confidence and generosity of spirit is infectious and magnetic. Others will do the same for you.
More resources on this:
9 Principles of Community-centric Fundraising
The team at Groupeasy