Are all your ducks in a row?
In October, the US Chief Service Officers (CSOs) Catie Wolfgang (Serve Philadelphia), Laurel Creech (Impact Nashville), Michael Drake (Little Rock Serves) and Marcia Hope Goodwin (Orlando Cares) joined us to share their experiences and lessons learned on their journeys as part of the Cities of Service movement.
We learnt that a key part of making Cities of Service a success is to build a culture of service and create a movement.
In the second of a series of blogs based on their insights, we look at six key elements you need to build a successful impact volunteering movement: opportunities for people to participate, initiatives that can deliver impact, a compelling story, a consistent message, an ability to shout about success and a clear purpose.
1. Create opportunities for people to participate
If you can’t get the fundamental impact of your initiatives right and be able to demonstrate it, you’ll struggle to convincingly shift behaviours or have wider culture change.
If you want people to know about your work and get involved, launching initiatives before they are truly ready won’t set you up for success and can lead to raising expectations which can’t be delivered against. As Catie Wolfgang from Serve Philadelphia noted, it’s worth making sure you have ‘all your ducks in a row’ so that you’ve got something that people can actually take part in once you’ve alerted their interest.
You should also lead by example. One of the first things that Laurel Creech did in Nashville was to create a policy to enable city government staff to volunteer one hour a week in local schools, setting the tone and creating momentum.
2. Develop initiatives that can deliver impact
For Catie, one of her biggest successes was demonstrating that a well implemented service strategy could have a tangible impact on a given challenge. Doing this helped her become relevant in larger conversations involving individuals in City departments (often with little prior experience with service) who came to see the value of integrating service strategies into their work. She used this platform to embed initiatives in the organisations to help them have greater impact and create traction for a wider movement.
3. Tell a compelling story
When telling audiences or individuals about your work remember part of what you’re doing is helping them to build a connection and relationship to your work. Personalise the volunteers and the beneficiaries to help the audience to visualise the experience. Using names (if appropriate), describing characters or backstory and helping to describe the change in a person all help to bring the story to life and make it much more compelling and memorable. Intersperse facts and figures, but use simple language and avoid jargon!
If you can, make the time to volunteer on the initiatives that you are creating. As well as helping you understand the experience better from a volunteer and beneficiary perspective, volunteering yourself can be really helpful for telling the story and understanding the real impact. Find ways for your leaders to volunteer too so they can champion the cause from personal experience – they’ll remember it better and speak more convincingly about the experience.
4. Make it easy for leaders to reinforce key messages
Practice your 1-min elevator pitch of what you’re doing and why – and try to embed this for your leaders and champions too. In Orlando, Marcia made sure that her City Mayor had a tagline he could use in every speech that linked back to Orlando Cares to reinforce the message.
At the same time, develop five simple talking points that your champion or leaders can use to reference the programme and weave into many contexts. Review or write speeches for them if appropriate, and make it your responsibility to reinforce these key messages at every opportunity.
5. Be a cheerleader for service and celebrate the early wins
All work from the beginning builds towards your success; for example, if your target is 30 volunteers, celebrate the first 5 that you recruit. This is a milestone worth celebrating and your volunteers will see you value their time and they are part of the early wave.
6. Have a clear purpose to generate the right momentum
To really build a movement though, you need to make sure you know where you’re going, why you’re going there and have the right structures to get from A to B. In last week’s blog about Partnerships, we drew on Laurel’s analogy of driving a train for creating shared ownership but this equally applies to building a movement.
To my mind this metaphor brings to the fore that running a programme like this is only as successful as the momentum it generates. A train does not work with just one driver; in order for the journey to be successful you need engineers , signalmen and the right track in place to make sure your passengers get where they need to be. Without the former the train won’t move and without the latter there is no point in the journey.