If there’s one thing philanthropy-minded people have in common, it’s passion. But, not everyone shares the same passion. One of the most frustrating positions to be in is when you have the spark of an idea, but no one else can see your genius; it can be difficult to translate your excitement into a movement others can (and want to!) get behind.
Whether it’s something as simple as implementing a better way of running meetings at your organization, or a bigger initiative like collaborating with other area funders, if your plan involves getting others involved you need buy-in, affinity, and trust. In short, you need to sell your idea.
The first pitch.
It may seem like the first people you should approach are the decision makers, the people “at the top.” But keep in mind that Board Members, Executive Directors, CEOs, etc. are often faced with multiple asks, coming from many directions. The early, “big idea” stages may be too vague for them to seriously consider. They’ll want to know how this idea will play out and what your plan is before they can get behind it.
While it’s important to get leadership on board as early as possible, you also don’t want to risk turning them off of your idea before you even get started. So, unless you have a clear strategy in mind and can communicate what it will look like, start with the folks “on the ground” first.
Who will be “in the trenches” with you during this journey? It’s rare (if not unheard of) that a high passion project doesn’t require a significant amount of teamwork. These are the people you need to bring on board with you first. And, while they may not have the same passion as you for your project, if you’re genuinely dedicated to your cause, they will be too.
Motivating your team.
Ask: What are my team’s motivators? (Hint: They’re not the same as yours.) While it may sound cold, we’re all human and we all ask (at least internally) what’s in it for me? When we hear this question, we often cringe from it. It makes us think of a cold, calculating business mogul who’s only goal is money... and they don’t care who gets hurt in the process. But what’s in it for me is simply our internal motivators scrambling to be nurtured.
One person may be motivated by the potential for advancement and salary compensation, another may be motivated by seeing the impact of their work in a community, and yet another may find motivation in working with a collaborative, creative team. Keep in mind your own motivation… to build buy-in for your idea or project to move forward. Tapping into others’ motivations will help you achieve your own desired outcomes.
This project doesn’t belong to you...but you own it.
This may sound confusing and counter-intuitive. But this is a critical element to bringing people on board… and keeping them there.
In the book Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin (U.S. Navy Seals), Willink writes:
Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism. It can even stifle someone’s sense of self-preservation. Often, the most difficult ego to deal with is your own.
Ownership and belonging are two different things. Feeling like something belongs to you brings an expectation that the credit and accolades are yours as well. However, taking ownership means accepting responsibility for every aspect of a project - even those parts that don’t go so well. And, yes, this also means letting others shine in the spotlight and taking responsibility when someone on your team drops the ball… not passing the blame.
Yes, the idea belongs to you, but once it moves into execution, it becomes a team effort that you must take ownership of. Understanding this differentiation before you begin a project will allow you to move forward in a more comfortable place. Instead of striving for success on your own behalf, you’ll be striving for the success of the more powerful collective.
Don’t reinvent the wheel.
It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, how many projects you’ve managed, how much of a trailblazer you are… you can always learn from how others are doing similar things. Learning from and with each other is critical to alignment, efficiency, and maximizing your impact.
Once you begin learning from others, you might also find opportunities for collaboration. During a recent Foundant education webinar, a funders group from Frederick, MD shared how they’ve come together to streamline and simplify the grant process for their grant partners in the community. By working together and pooling their resources, they’ve been able to move forward on their “big idea,” which would have been impossible had a single funder tried to go it alone.
Your idea could be the best in the world, but if it doesn’t align with your organizational mission, then it will fall flat. Think through how your project will further the work you and your team are trying to accomplish.
Small initiatives (like more efficient meetings) might seem like easy wins, but if there isn’t alignment they won’t be seen as critical. And, therefore, will be too easy to forget about when you and your team get busy. Conversely, big initiatives (like community funding collaboratives) could be seen as daunting and not worth the effort if the alignment isn’t clearly defined.
A desire to do good isn’t enough. We have a responsibility to understand and assess capacity and resources, and then be clear about the role we’ll have. Making sure we’re not burdening another in the process is key.
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Back to leadership.
In the end, you must get those “at the top” on board with your idea before you can move forward with a successful outcome. But laying the foundation for an effective pitch means first focusing on your team, ownership, research, and alignment.
Change is hard, no matter how small or large, and getting your decision makers on board will mean the difference between successfully managing that change… or, not. Taking the necessary steps to back up your pitch with evidence and groundwork will set you up to make your “big idea” a reality.