While many of us in the social-impact space focus our energy into existing organizations or programs, some of us can struggle to find the right place to apply our enthusiasm and experience.
Sometimes, we’ll see a need in our own communities that spark an idea for a solution or an intervention, leaving us feeling certain that if we could only get our idea off the ground, we could address the need.
The world needs your vision and energy, but before you drop everything and start your own nonprofit, consider contributing to an established effort.
Look at what's already out there
Take Sara Cawthon. A farmer with 10 years of experience, Sara is passionate about making healthy, locally-grown food accessible to the masses.
Sara, and her partner, Megan Taft, were members and supporters of The Damariscotta River Association (DRA), a conservation organization that owns historic farmland and supports the idea of community agriculture. Instead of starting their own nonprofit, Sara and Meg connected with the DRA and collaborated to create Twin Villages Foodbank Farm.
Sara is now farming on DRA land and donating all the produce she harvests to food pantries and other food programs in Lincoln County, ME.
“We were thinking of starting our own nonprofit. DRA just happened to be a great fit, with a great reputation, good land, good resources, and a director who was completely on board with the idea,” Sara said.
Because Sara and Meg focus on growing food and networking while the systems already in place handle the administrative work, the project has enjoyed real progress and success in its first year. They are also able to tap into the long list of folks in the donor base who already support the DRA in their area.
Find out where you can plug in
Brainstorming a target employer list is our method for getting clear on identifying which organization you may want to work with, or for.
Let’s consider, as an example, an interest in working to promote increased activism in youth populations. Here are some questions to seed your research efforts:
- Who are the organizations in your area working directly with youth?
- Which organizations do you consider to be successful activists? How do they get their message out there? Do they already work with youth, or would they be open to doing so?
- Which organizations would be open to having youth on board for partnerships between youth and adults?
- What contacts do already you have at youth-focused organizations?
- Could you plan a youth-led activism effort to highlight the energy your group could bring to an organization's mission?
How to reach out
Taking the first steps to contact these folks doesn’t need to be daunting. Ideally, you’ve already established a relationship as a volunteer or simply as an interested individual.
If you’re preparing to reach out for the first time, we can help! Here's what to do:
- Make sure you have a solid understanding of the work of the organization you’ve identified. Research the programs they’re already providing to make sure there is no overlap.
- Be ready to explain why you're reaching out as well as what you can offer. Check out these email networking templates for examples.
- Prepare notes that cover the work you're currently doing to further your cause of interest (and be sure that you're able to point to specific results), specific experience you have with collaboration, and how you imagine bringing your work to theirs. Make your initial contact concise and easy to read.
- Name the specific problem you are both trying to solve and give a thorough outline of your well-thought out solution.
If that initial contact doesn’t yield results, don’t give up! Keep building your list of potential collaborators by researching nonprofits in your area and continue to develop your idea.
And remember, there are many ways to turn your vision into tangible work. If collaboration isn’t the path for you, there are alternative ways to engage in the social-impact sphere.
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About the Author | For nearly two decades, Jeannette Eaton has been working for nonprofits and helping people identify their strengths. She has experience as an advocate for women and girls in crisis, a volunteer coordinator for adult literacy, and a family literacy instructor.