My experience with Crowd Guru

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

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 CrowdGuru.org, 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 CrowdGuru.org. 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 CrowdGuru.org 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…

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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 MailChimp.com 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: www.friendsofstjosephskids.org.

Get Successful

That’s what CrowdGuru is all about: making charities and social enterprises more successful.

RESULTS.org 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 Results.org 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 weloveyou@crowdguru.org 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 weloveyou@crowdguru.org.

Crowd Guru: Let’s work together!

Crowd Guru links people with skills to people in good causes who need help with a taskA really simple idea: Micro-mentoring

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” Lao Tzu

So what is Crowd Guru? We are building a social media tool that matches people with skills (Gurus) to others (Causes) who need help on a specific task. For skilled professionals, the ability to teach someone the skills you have is so much more valuable than simply giving your time in an unskilled way, for example, by working on a soup kitchen.  For those in causes, it can be hard to get the training and development you need, and what better way to up-skill than by asking an expert for help in a very practical way, on a specific task.

When a match is made the Guru takes a little of their time to understand what the Cause is trying to achieve and then passes on their skills to help them achieve it for themselves. This might be through a call, a couple of emails or a couple of sessions over coffee.

How does it work?

People working in social enterprises and charities can log in using their LinkedIn account or email address, and post up a task that they need help with.

Gurus sign up in the same way, stating the skills they have to offer.

We sift the crowd of skills needed and skills offered, and suggest some matches using our Very Clever Technology. We’ll set some simple ground rules around confidentiality and make suggestions for how to manage the relationship so it works for both parties.

Then it is down to you.

Why sign up?

If you are a social enterprise, charity or other good cause then you should sign up if you have a task you need help with. That could be creating a marketing strategy or writing a fundraising letter. What you’ll get is:

  • New skills from an experienced professional, for free
  • Tangible outputs: a great marketing strategy or a superb fundraising letter
  • Greater success in doing what you set out to do
  • Connections with other organisations like yours.

If you are a potential guru then you will get some incredible benefits too:

  • Get to use your amazing skills in a creative and new way
  • Refining your skills through helping others, improving your management and communications skills
  • Flexibility to offer your skills at times that suit you
  • Autonomy – the freedom to do it the way you know will achieve results
  • A warm glow from knowing you have passed on your skills to someone who is making a real difference, working for a cause you support!

How do I sign up?

We are still developing CrowdGuru.org. We hope to launch in the next few months. If you like the idea then join our User Group – a small group of causes and gurus who are helping us design and develop CrowdGuru.org.

You can sign up by sending an email to weloveyou@crowdguru.org.

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.

JFDI

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.

Taxonomy, Technology and other Taxing Stuff

By far the most complex aspect of the site build is the technology that sits behind the matching process – in other words the technology that suggest suitable gurus or tasks to help on. The logic or intelligence that ensures the right people are matched will be supported by a taxonomy (or a classification and grouping of terms that relate to particular tasks). Although the behind-the-scenes technology may be very complex, a similarly challenging and important aspect is ensuring the user interface is clean and simple, and generally quick and easy to use. These are the two, somewhat daunting, tasks we are getting stuck into right now.

To help us create the taxonomy, we’re using the National Occupational Standards (NOS), published by Sector Skills Councils. The NOS’s describe key areas of common jobs, grouped into “suites” which represent a particular job role or occupation. These, we suspect, will correlate reasonably well with tasks people may need help with. The standards have been compiled by panels of experts, usually senior people within each industry, and so are a good starting point for us. The Third Sector Skills Council is particularly useful, for example, detailing 33 standards within the fundraising suite. We will be collaborating with them as we build the taxonomy in this area.

Of course, there is more to a suitable match than simply matching skills needed to skills offered, not least of which is mentor and mentee rapport. While we will strive to get the matching functionality as good as it can be, it will never eliminate the need for human intervention, and there will always be a need for the individuals concerned to follow-up and determine if indeed the proposed match is suitable.

However, on the technology side, there are some really cool things that can be done. For example, by harnessing the power of the semantic web or pulling in details from LinkedIn. We’re going to be exploring these areas with the Technology Team on November 24th in what will be our first face to face Technology Team workshop.
Bring it on!

Micro-mentoring in practice: why the “micro”?

Its not just that all things “micro”  are in vogue (though we do like the term for this reason too). But there is a real problem we are seeking to overcome by emphasising the “micro” when it comes to mentoring.

Breaking down a big project or challenge into smaller tasks helps to make them more manageable. More importantly, it also fundamentally changes the type and availability of help needed at each stage.

This quote from the Media Trust about 3rd sector perceptions frames the problem:

“68% of organisations believed that support providers should share their ethical viewpoints while 59% specifically demanded third sector experience from their support providers. However, the reality of how this level of support can be achieved was called into question: 74% of charities were not confident about the ease of accessing support from third sector support organisations.”

In other words, nearly three quarters of charities struggle to access the support they need, and yet only a third want support from outside the charity sector. The reasons are to do with how people look at their problems. If a task can be broken down and clearly articulated, many skills are transferable across sectors. It’s only when a project is taken as a complete item that you are stuck needing help and advice only from someone else doing the same job as you but with more experience.

For example…

To illustrate the micro-mentoring concept, I’ll use an example I’m very familiar with from my career: writing a funding applications. I spent the last 5 years working for a social enterprise called Working Links, designing, and winning funding for large scale programmes to tackle social exclusion across the UK, so I have produced and assessed a hundreds of these applications, as well as recruiting and managing permanent and freelance staff to do it. The typical approach to specifying this problem would be to say: “I need help to write a funding application to this local government department to deliver the services I run in the location and sector I work in.” OK. So the help you are going to need is from someone who:

  • Writes funding applications;
  • Understands local government department;
  • Knows in detail about the services you deliver;
  • Knows the location you work in (local problems, organisations, etc.);
  • Understands your sector; and
  • Probably knows your organisation well enough to promote all of its great aspects.

The reality is that the only people able to help you in this scenario are you and your competitors.

However, if the task is broken down, suddenly a large number of different experts can help. So, in the early stages, you might need help to understand if the organisation should apply for this grant. In which case a business development, marketing or strategy expert could guide the research and analysis needed to assess the competitive environment, and decide if the grant is a good match for the organisational capabilities and objectives. During the application process, you might need some direction in how to go about answering the questions in the right way –in which case someone with general industry experience may be able to help, or with broader experience of writing successful applications. And in the later stages, help needed could be in terms of checking the application is written in a compelling way. At this point, someone who is an expert in communications could help.

In this example, the stage the person is at becomes important. However, tasks can be broken down in different ways, and the same principle applies: namely, the more specific you can be about the help needed, the more people there will be who can help. The point being that the broader you make the potential pool of support, the more chance you have of getting the help you need.

Able and willing

Micro-mentoring is great for people who want to lend their expertise to social enterprises and charities too. Micro-mentoring focuses on helping someone to achieve a smaller, specific goal rather than committing hours or days over a long period of time. You can do it with a phone call, a few emails or over coffee. Not that CrowdGuru.org will limit or define the nature or length of the relationships – that’s totally up to you. At the end of the day, we believe it should be up to the individuals involved to give/receive the amount of help that suits their circumstances. But we will promote the idea of micro-mentoring as an effective and efficient way to get help on a specific task.

Ben