The Big Advice Day, micro-mentoring and online dating

Love is...

We coined the term “micro-mentoring” in 2012 to encapsulate the idea of Crowd Guru. Last month I experienced the power and flexibility of it as a small charity at The Big Advice Day, part of Small Charity Week 2013 ( This was a great event and is just the sort of thing we need much more of: cross-pollinating skills to support the organisations that make a difference in society.

If you don’t know how it works, Big Advice Day is a bit like a series of blind dates for advice instead of romance.

Was I going to meet “the one” or come home depressed and insecure? Here’s how it went…


1. WLTM a fundraising mentor

The first encounter of the day was with a highly experienced fundraiser. Initially the advisor was supposed to give me some guidance on trustee roles and responsibilities. Naturally I checked her out on LinkedIn before the session, and could see she had a lot to offer on the fundraising side. A great profile can be a real asset! We exchanged a few emails in advance of the Big Date and developed a shared understanding of what I needed, which was much more focused around an aspect of fundraising.

I could tell we were going to hit it off because my advisor seemed to grasp my problems better than I did. She quickly ramped up to a pace and level of detail that challenged me but did not overwhelm me. And she pulled the advice back into practical steps that I could carry out myself.

I was really lucky because my advisor felt a personal connection my cause, and wanted to stay involved afterwards.

We have continued to exchange emails, and another date is planned via Skype.


2. WLTM someone with hidden talents

The second encounter of the day was a little unusual because of the process used to set up the sessions. Again, I had selected (because of a lack of other options) a session on trustee roles and responsibilities. I had had no communication with my date in advance, but during the introductions phase it was clear that my opposite number knew pretty much all there is to know about skilled volunteering – something that I really want to encourage.

We both agreed that we would spend 10 minutes covering the topic we were supposed to cover, and then dive into the practical things that I needed help with.

I enjoyed the session hugely, but I don’t really know if that feeling was mutual. My advisor had come into the session perhaps hoping to demonstrate her skills in one area, only to find herself pulled back to the thing she knew inside out. One of the motivations for volunteering or mentoring is to challenge yourself and develop your skills. So perhaps I enjoyed it more than she did. I will certainly leave a message on her answer-phone, but will she call back?


3. WLTM a user experience guru

Sometimes you meet someone really nice, but you just know there is no spark. My third date was with someone who didn’t really match the profile of what I was looking for. I wanted someone with hands-on experience of designing user experiences for websites. This is quite advanced as a topic, but an hour with such a guru would be really valuable.

Within the first five minutes we realised that we didn’t share any interests and that the session should probably be disbanded. Part of the problem was really the matching process: the broad topic of “websites” covered everything from design, hosting, technical development, user experience, advertising, and much more. We kept chatting politely for a little while and ended the date early. He would be a perfect match for someone, but that someone was not me (at this stage).


4. WLTM a marketing guru

The fourth date was a wildcard: I had seen there was a spare slot with someone who worked for a marketing communications agency and thought that bouncing some ideas around would be useful. Once again, we had not had a chance to chat around what we could usefully do together before the meeting, so the initial conversation was a little stilted whilst we both tried to make the experience a positive one. However,  one hour on, and we had crafted an innovative guerrilla marketing event. I learned a lot about what corporates might want from engagement with a charity, and we tentatively agreed to stay in touch as I carried out the planned event.


Big Advice Day, Every Day

The Big Advice Day successfully delivered over 160 hours of advice to good causes in one day. The challenge for Crowd Guru is how we deliver that every day: face to face, online, over the phone, or in whatever way people find most useful.

The Big Advice for us was:

  • Keep it focused on tackling a specific task – the sessions were more productive that way
  • Let people get to know a bit about each other in advance – it saves time and helps you move forward faster
  • Get the matching right – the task in question and the level of experience should be appropriate
  • If at first you don’t succeed… not every match will work, so it is good to just pick up and move on where the chemistry and/or skills are not right.

Giving or receiving support is addictive once you get into the swing of it (cue obvious joke about Michael Douglas). My experience is a Cause seeking and receiving help has absolutely confirmed to me that this project is going to have a big impact!



  • Ben recently took up a trustee role for Amazing Children Uganda (, a small charity who provide educational scholarships to street children in Africa.
  • Small Charity Week is the brainchild of The Foundation for Social Improvement (The FSI,

Volunteering – How does the UK compare to other countries?

Volunteering – How does the UK compare to other countries?.

We came, we saw, we CrowdStormed it!

On 27th April, a group of over 20 Crowdstormers donated their brains for one afternoon to tackle a challenge for a London youth charity, Rewrite. Here’s what they did…

The Challenge

To help Rewrite become more financially stable by boosting regular donations.

We used the video below to give everyone some background to Rewrite.

The Constraints

It wouldn’t be a challenge if it was easy now, would it? We made sure the Crowdstormers faced real constraints:

  • budget and time, due to the organisations’ size
  • focus on the public (and not corporate or government funding)
  • make sure that young people are not put at risk!

Generating a sustainable income source is a problem faced by many charities, and, despite being an age-old challenge, the Crowdstormers approached it with enthusiasm and creativity.

The Top 5 ideas were…

Sponsor a Story

#tmoi: the medium of intruigue

#tmoi: the medium of intruigue

1: Sponsor a Story

This team evolved the idea of sponsor a child to suit the ESOL programme and enable donations to continue indefinitely (as opposed to linked to a particular child who will leave the programme at some point)

2. The Medium of Intrigue

This idea builds on the power of creating a sense of mystery and suspense. The idea is to release stories in episodes, and build intrigue around the story by releasing episodes through different medium and sporadically, so people have to be on the look-out for the next episode.  Flash mobs, social media, and a twitter hash-tag: #tmoi would all be used. There would be a small charge for being able to access each episode.

3. Pop-up Theatre

Pop Up Theatre

Called RECONNECT, the pop-up theatre gives a chance for people to reconnect with their communities. They would be held in busy areas in and around Southwark, capturing the interests of tourists, the general public, and of course the local population. Performances would include street performers as the warm-up act. Collections would be made from the audience, and people would also be asked to fill out a sheet with their names & contact details for follow-up regarding regular donations. RECONNECT would become a brand in its own right, and could be extended to festivals and other parts of London.

4. More Bang for your Buck

Sustainable funding strategy
This is a more strategic approach, using the main annual event that Rewrite put on as the focal point, around which to build a solid campaign and drive donor engagement. The event would be supplemented by materials showcasing the work Rewrite do in various mediums. The work would be made possible through the use of interns or students as well as alumni of the programme and ambassadors. Some small investment would be put into ensuring the necessary systems are in place to manage this activity.

5. Kickstarter for kids

This idea uses the creative writing workshops to get kids to tell their story and use this to drive a Kickstarter campaign. People would be asked to pledge to transform a child’s life, and help prove that immigrants can be successfully integrated in Southwark.

You can see more pictures from the day on Picasa

My experience with Crowd Guru

Turn Questions Into AnswersFelix, from RESULTS UK, writes about his experience of being supported by a mentor from

My name’s Felix and I work for RESULTS UK. We’re a volunteer led, campaigning organisation that uses advocacy to create the political will to tackle some of the world’s most pressing international development issues such as lack of access to education or healthcare. We have a network of groups and campaigners all over the UK that meet on a monthly basis to educate themselves about these issues and to take coordinated action.

I’m the grassroots campaigns manager so my job is to look after that network, ensure they have all the resources they need to make an impact; and to build and expand our network, increasing our reach and effectiveness.

As an organisation RESULTS has a wealth of policy and campaigning focused staff but not a huge amount of experience in fundraising, supporter development or communications. This has made achieving high levels of growth in numbers of active campaigners quite difficult. I spend most of my time managing relationships with group leaders, planning actions etc.

When I heard about Crowd Guru from Kathryn, I thought the service could be a great opportunity for me to speak with someone who has wealth of experience in doing exactly the types of things that we were lacking institutionally. I wanted to get advice and tips on how to build a more inclusive supporter journey creating a whole range of entry points for new volunteers and to build our donor base.

The Match

I was matched with Tain Oliff, a strategic marketer, direct mail, fundraising, supporter engagement whizz and all round general good ideas person!

We arranged to meet in a coffee shop in Brixton where we both live. To be totally honest I didn’t know what to expect from the meeting, but it turned out to be hugely beneficial. Tain really understood what we were trying to do and provided me with a whole range of great ideas and inspiration to take our work forward.
I have to admit that after our first meeting it did take a little while and a couple of nudges to get a second meeting, but nothing that I wasn’t expecting (after all mentors have busy day jobs as well!)

At our second meeting I was able to explain that as a result of our meeting I had developed a full project proposal to totally revamp our supporter engagement structure, which Tain read and gave me feedback on, and we agreed that as the project goes forward –slowly but surely- we would remain in touch. We are looking to hire a full time ‘Tain’ to help deliver the project and she agreed to assist with ensuring that the job description is in order and to possibly sit in on that person’s first half day in the office.

Was it useful?

The best thing about the having a mentor is just having someone to sound ideas out to who knows how your questions can be turned into answers, and then actionable items. I had all these problems and questions whirling around my head that other people at RESULTS couldn’t answer. Meeting with Tain, for just two hours in total, has helped me turn them from problems with no answers into a fully actionable strategy for developing our organisation.

If you’re wondering whether a mentor is right for you, just ask yourself ‘can I or someone within my organisation answer these questions?’ if the answer is no then you may need a mentor.

Felix and Tain are both part of the User Group for, which informs how we design and develop the site. The match was made whilst we were asking Felix to help us understand what types of tasks he might need help with. We knew Tain’s skills, so it seemed a good fit and we introduced them. Matches like these are what we are planning to achieve on a MASSIVE scale with If you are considering mentoring or volunteering or think you could benefit from a mentor, then be a part of it!

Kung Hei Fat Choi

Happy Lunar New Year of the Snake! It is an auspicious year for new ventures so we are all really excited about launching this year.

Snakes are problem solvers, social and successful, just like some of CrowdGuru’s gurus!. In the last year we have helped to hook some incredible people up with each other to solve problems together. This is what happens when you get great people together…


Solving Problems

United Haitians in the UK wanted help with team building and galvanizing volunteers’ efforts around their causes’ core objectives. In this case, the Guru held an interactive workshop session with the team one afternoon, introducing new tools and techniques they could use to help maintain focus and drive. This was a little unusual in that it was not a 1:1 discussion, but rather a chance for the team to work together to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness. Everyone enjoyed the challenge and learned a lot.

Get Social

Sometimes mentoring can just be a little nudge in the right direction even by email, knowing that someone else understands you problem and has the solution.

One organisation wanted help to get an e-newsletter off the ground. A couple of emails later and the problem was solved by a marketing Guru: get onto and get a free email marketing account!

The Friends of St. Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired in Sierra Leone wanted some technical advice regarding their website.  In this case, an informal chat with a Guru one evening enabled them to discuss how they were going to take their web presence forward, and led to the creation of their new site:

Get Successful

That’s what CrowdGuru is all about: making charities and social enterprises more successful. wanted help with the organisation’s marketing & communications strategy, so they enlisted the help of a Strategic Marketing Guru, with lots of experience of helping large charities with their marketing and communications strategy. We will hear more about this in a later post, but the Guru and are still working together and loving it!

Variety is the Spice of Life

Great things happen when people come together. The Gurus and Causes that have worked together so far have enjoyed new challenges and learned new skills to help them develop.

If you like the idea and think you have something to offer as a Guru or you work for a Cause and need some help (or you are both!) then get in touch at and we will do amazing things together.

My experience as a mentor

About a year ago Ben started mentoring a small charity through Timebank’s awesome Leaders Together programme. It was a fantastic experience. Here’s why… 

My motivations

We have spoken to quite a few people about why they do skilled mentoring, whether that be as a trustee or through a skilled mentoring programme. The reasons vary, but I suppose mine were quite typical: I felt I had experience to offer and wanted to do something that I felt to be worthwhile with that experience. It had to be outside the realm of “work” – that was important – so that it did not feel like part of the grind of obligation, and it had to be reasonably flexible to suit my chaotic hours.

What it entailed

The process was fairly straightforward. I was lucky in that my match was with a great person in a charity did exciting things and well. You can find out more about them here.

The basic idea is pretty simple: I was matched with a mentee by TimeBank’s Leaders Together program. They discuss with you what you can offer and then find someone who broadly needs those skills. You meet and, if you get on, embark on a 6 month mentoring programme. You set some objectives at the start, so you have a way to gauge how useful it has been, and meet on a (usually) weekly basis for about an hour. My mentee and I usually met in the coffee shop at Southwark Cathedral where we could relax in a pleasant environment and enjoy the (occasional) day of sunshine.

We usually kept to the objectives set out at the start, and we did achieve quite a few of them. More importantly, my mentee felt more confident about tackling some of the objectives herself. And that is the real trick I think. My specialism is marketing and business development, and there is nothing too complicated about it. But if you are new to a subject then often you lack the confidence and have a “fear of failure”. So it is nice to have someone telling you that a) there isn’t any special trick and b) getting things wrong is OK.

Why I enjoyed it

As I’ve been thinking about Crowd Guru I have reflected on my own motivations and mentoring experience. I think the big things that contributed to me enjoying it are:

  • It’s a social thing: I really enjoyed the company. My mentee was articulate and interesting and we always had a topic of conversation so the sessions were fun (and frequently over-ran).
  • It’s an expertise thing: People like to be good at things and will spend a lot of their time practicing the guitar, for example, just for the pleasure of “doing it well”. Its no different for work (check out this video for more on this). Mentoring allowed me to do what I was good at, free of any of the B.S. that comes with a job.
  • It’s a “power and glory” thing: There is no denying it, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had from someone genuinely appreciating what you have done.
  • It’s an adventure: The charity was something very new to me, and I was using my skills outside of their normal sphere. So I learned a lot and experienced something very new. A bit like walking down the Koh San Road for the first time, but with less rotting tropical fruit.

I didn’t register much that I was doing this for a charity. In fact the charity status of the organisation was not really important once I started getting into the swing of it.

Would I recommend mentoring to other people?

Absolutely, yes! Mentoring took about 24 hours out of my year. Just one day. But the rewards are incredible and go far beyond some vague feeling of having “done something good”. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, drop us a line at

How to change lives and influence people 1: Time

“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time’ is like saying ‘I don’t want to’” Lao Tzu

Someone once said to me: “I don’t understand why people complain about things. It’s much more fun to just do stuff.” Forget the irony that they were complaining about people complaining; the sentiment is a great one.

Taoism and working late on Tuesday

Lao Tzu is probably going to be Crowd Guru’s most quoted philosopher. His quote (above) captures the opportunities we all have before us, and the barriers we put in front of ourselves. You have the hours in the day to do amazing things, but you choose to spend them doing something else instead. It’s your choice, not an external force constraining your time.

To recognise that time is something you create and control is a liberating experience. You chose to work late on Tuesday: you put yourself in the position at some point earlier in the day / week where things were going to get pushed back and your deadline was going to become painful or where you chose to take on that extra task that would mean working late. You didn’t run out of time, you put yourself in that position through the earlier choices you made. So you arrived late to the restaurant, bar or cinema, because those things seemed less important somehow when you were making the decision that led to you working late on Tuesday.


Filling your time with the things that are unimportant to you is easy. You can surf the internet, surf the unending TV channels, surf your work emails. But don’t you prefer actually surfing? (you know, on the sea with a surfboard, outdoors). Have you tried it?

Or if that isn’t your cup of tea then cook something amazing or learn the guitar or read a great book that you have been telling yourself you should read or… well anything really. It may seem like a little more effort, but what you get out is likely to be far more rewarding.

No time wasters

And if you want something really amazing to do for an hour or two over a couple of weeks, why not give your skills to a charity or social enterprise?

Engage your brain with something more challenging and life-affirming than sudoku. Applying your brain to someone else’s problems is hugely rewarding, and the results are REAL. Its not just that you have helped someone to get better at something, but through helping them, you are helping the cause become more effective on a permanent basis, and thereby you have played a significant part in changing the world for the better.

But go on, watch another episode of Eastenders. You don’t really like it, but you have all the time in the world to make your mark.