Hold “office hours” anywhere to help people think through ideas and take one good step
For some Teams, securing a regular meeting or event space doesn’t seem to be in the cards. But thankfully, connections can happen anywhere Idealists are together! Instead of focusing on your physical space, consider setting up dedicated days and times in different locations where people can “drop in” to meet, talk, and start taking action. Hear how one Connector’s doing it.
Last year, Idealist began a pilot program to grow our community in select cities across the United States. Volunteers in these cities were charged with sourcing and creating content for their local Idealist webpage, as well as meeting with area organizations to spread the word about posting opportunities and the other benefits of connecting with the Idealist community.
In Atlanta, Georgia, volunteer Nick Reynolds stepped up to co-manage that city’s local page (and he’s now also a Connector on the Atlanta Team). Since early 2014, Nick has been hosting a monthly get-together—called Coffee, Collaboration, Tea, and Teamwork (CCTT)—that’s open to anyone, Connector or not. People can drop in to network, get advice on a project, have their resume peer-reviewed, and more. Consider using his “office hours” model as a way to get your Team engaged and connecting.
How you can do it
Find a venue — or two. Atlanta Connectors meet at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party, a funky space with philanthropic owners. Nick suggests looking for such a place—less mainstream, less “commercial” businesses aren’t as likely to have formal policies about groups holding meetings. Also consider spaces that are traditionally open to group functions, like public libraries and community centers. When you’re venue shopping, look for spots that are centrally located, taking into consideration access to public transportation and/or parking. Have frank conversations with managers and owners to explain what you want to do, and be very transparent. Make sure to emphasize that you’ll be bringing in business (if they’re for-profit) and promoting how generous and cool they are for hosting you.
Think about the best day and time. In Atlanta, drop-in hours take place early in the week, when people aren’t yet burnt out. Nick sits at Dr. Bombay’s from late afternoon to mid-evening to accommodate the city’s intense commuting schedule, which has many people driving an hour to and from work. Think about what times and places might best suit current and potential Connectors in your area.
Spread the word. Because Nick was already meeting with organizations in Atlanta, he joined the Network with a few connections up his sleeve. He let them know about CCTT, and also utilized social media. When you start spreading the word, consider the tone you use. Nick says he aims to be “professional and whimsical,” a combination that works for his crowd.
Be prepared to facilitate (a little). If you organize the event, you might be expected to facilitate a bit, at least at the beginning. Nick suggests thinking of yourself as a party host: introduce yourself, kick off the event, and help keep the conversation flowing (eg: ask questions, mention an article you read, etc.).
But you don’t have to have all the answers. Event attendees might want help with something out of your realm of expertise, and it’s okay if you can’t answer every question or solve every challenge. You’re a Connector! Think about other people or resources you know that might be able to help, and pass the knowledge on.
Good times will keep your momentum going. Nick recommends keeping things fun. Sure, these events are a time to legitimately network and think through serious ideas, but a lively atmosphere will be key to keeping people coming back.
Iterate. You can always improve. One way the Atlanta CCTT’ers are iterating on their existing meeting model is by starting to invite speakers who can address topics of interest. They’re betting this will attract more people and allow them to spread the word even further.
So far, the largest turnout Nick has seen is 15 people—pretty good, considering the Atlanta Team is 24 members total.
Nick says having events that are open to the public lends credibility. Once you start showing up—and continue showing up—people will think of you and the work as bonafide.
Set up and promote your first “office hours” event with enough lead time to gain a little buzz. Take a couple of weeks to promote it online and in person, and reach out to organizations, too. Make the first event big, with draws like a speaker or giveaways.