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Step 3: Make A Plan

Becoming an educated, passionate advocate for an issue you care about can be a rewarding experience. However, sometimes choosing where to channel your skills, expertise and energy can be hard. To help, make a plan to learn about the variety of opportunities for you to work on that challenge. Is there a group on campus or organization in your community that is aligned with your personal mission and values? Consider joining or participating in their events.


Perhaps through your research you have identified a unique solution to address the challenge you are passionate about. Ask yourself: Is this new and innovative? Do I have an opportunity to make an impact that no one else has? If so, you may want to start your own group or organization.


A. Join Up

As you researched the landscape of your issue, you may have discovered an organization already tackling the issue or challenge you intend to work on. There’s no need to duplicate such similar efforts – join up!


a.   Volunteer or Intern


Take this opportunity to apply your passion and skill set to a volunteer or internship position within the organization. Nonprofits are always looking for help, so don’t be timid about calling or emailing to find out how you can get involved.


b. Informational Interview


If you are interested in exploring the field as a potential career path or mid-career change, identify individuals related to the field or cause to host an informational interview. Informational interviews are opportunities to find out more about working for a specific organization or cause. You can also find out how people have achieved their current positions and how you can get involved. You would be surprised how willing community leaders are to give 30 minutes of their time to share their experiences with a young person with similar interests.


When having an informational interview here are a couple tips to keep in mind:


  • Come Prepared: Have a goal when walking into the interview and prepare questions beforehand (4 – 6 is ideal). You’re seeking the interview so take the lead.

  • Be Timely: Make sure to show up and stay to your scheduled meeting time. If you think you will go over, ask if it’s ok to continue or provide an opportunity for them to terminate the meeting.

  • Ask for referrals: Don’t be shy to ask if they know anyone else that can give you advice on pursuing your passion.

  • Follow Up: Send a thank you letter or email 24-48 hours after the interview. Showing gratitude will go a long way.  Make sure to stay in touch with your contact by writing notes or emails informing the person how helpful their advice was.


While in-person interviews are ideal, you can have just as effective informational interviews over phone, email, chat or Skype.


Throughout the process of interviews and volunteering, you may identify an unmet need in the community and want to start your own initiative. While collaboration and intrapreneurship is encouraged, if you have a new and innovated idea – we say go for it!


B. Start Your Own Group


The first, and easiest, step in starting your own group is to go where you are comfortable and recruit people you know. Get a group of friends together and head over to your favorite coffee shop to talk about issues of interest. Bring up the issue that is important to you and present your ideas to your friends. Ask how the issue is affecting their lives and discuss how you can work together to change it. The more questions you ask, the more passion you will stir inside your friends.


Once your friends start talking and telling their own stories, they will realize how their own personal connection to this issue and better understand why you wish to address it. Keep the meeting fun and informal, but leave them excited enough to want to help you with the next steps of building a core team.


As you begin to recruit others, consider starting an official club or organization on your campus or in your community that will legitimize your efforts, recruit new people and bring your mission to a broader audience. Identifying a core group of people who are as passionate as you are about your issue will be catalytic for your effort.


a.   Defining Roles


It is important to develop team member responsibilities and positions to organize your core team. You may define roles such as PR, Organization Development, Advocacy and Volunteer Coordination.  Each person must be excited about their leadership position. As the Team Leader, you should identify each member’s skills and strengths to create a strong group structure.


Ask your team members what areas they prefer to work in, and what skills they bring to the group. The more your members contribute to defining their role and contribution, the more invested they will feel in the project. It’s important to also know what strengths each member brings and be vocal about expressing why these attributes will be critical to the success of your work. Sometimes people don’t recognize their best attributes or skills until someone points it out for them.


Keep in mind that while you may know everyone on your team personally, it’s important to learn about their professional preferences, especially in terms of leadership and communication. Does your team respond best to positive reinforcement? Do they like tangible, numerical goals? Do “friendly” deadline reminders drive them insane? Speak frankly with your group about what motivates you and your preferred method of communication. This can not only prevent miscommunication but ensure everyone feels respect and consideration while working towards a common goal.


Whether on campus, in your community or online, you have the power to create change if you: Think Big. Start Small. Act Now.


C. Vision + Mission Statement


Once you’ve established a core team committed to a common issue, it is important to develop a unified mission and vision statement. The mission should be a short statement describing your issue and the impact you are going to make.


The mission statement does not outline the goals of the organization, discuss the history, or go into great detail. The mission statement instead provides a brief overview of your issue, challenge, and opportunity so people understand what it is you hope to accomplish. Each word must be chosen carefully to fully describe your issue, and should be no longer than 1-2 sentences.


In addition to a mission statement, your team should create a set of guiding principles or values that your team follows. Coupled with the mission statement, these form the backbone of your organization and set expectations of what is important to your team members. For instance, if an open minded and friendly environment is important to you, make it one of your guiding principles. This also ensures that everyone who becomes affiliated with your team understands that you uphold these values as team standards.  When expectations and standards are out on the table, they are more likely to be followed. Building principles together is important because it allows your team to hold each other accountable and keep your values at the center of your work.


Consider these questions as you develop your vision statement:

  • What is your vision of a transformed community?

  • How does your idea contribute to achieving this vision?

  • Who will behave differently and what will they do differently than they did before?

  • What will your community look like if you are successful?


a. Goal Setting


Before taking the next step, you and your core team will need to define goals for your organization. First, define your overall change strategy. This is like a more detailed mission statement for your internal use that sets forth a long-term plan reflecting on where you currently are, where you want to go, and methods and steps you’ll use to get there. Depending on your long-term goals, it may make sense to then break this down into stages or initiatives. Perhaps you first need to raise awareness of your issue, and then influence public opinion in your favor. After both of those are achieved, you’ll advocate for policy change.


Once you have your initiatives outlined, you need to create specific tasks to help you achieve these goals. If your first stage is raising awareness, your goals for that campaign may be to have 200 attendees at an educational forum, give out 500 brochures, or write 10 op-eds.


Remember to set realistic and achievable goals. Although it is important to aim high, failing to achieve a set goal discourages teammates and hurts team morale. Furthermore, it may damage your public image and your credibility with partnering organizations or elected officials. Do not promise something you cannot deliver. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver.


i. SMART goals


Some important steps to keep in mind when developing your strategy is to follow the SMART goals:

Specific: A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. To set a specific goal you must address the five Ws:

Who is involved?

What do I want to accomplish?

Where will it take place?

When will I accomplish it? (develop a timeline)

Why is it important? (identify reasons, purposes, and benefits)

Measurable: What gets measured gets done! Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress for each goal you set. Include metrics such as number of new members recruited, dollars raised or events held. When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and accomplish your goals efficiently and effectively.

Attainable: Is there a way to make it happen? Develop the attitudes, skills, and financial capacity to reach your goals. Review overlooked opportunities to bring you closer to your end results. You can attain almost any goal if you plan your steps wisely and establish a realistic timeline.

Realistic: A goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work. Be sure that every goal represents substantial progress. Ask yourself what conditions need to exist to accomplish your goal. One way to know if your goal is realistic is to determine if you or your team members have accomplished anything similar in the past.

Tangible: When your goal is tangible, or when you tie a tangible goal to an abstract outcome, you have a better chance of making it specific and measureable and thus attainable. Abstract outcomes are vital, but you must create tangible ways to measure them.


When you set a goal and achieve it, your team will be energized and ready for more ambitious future success. Additionally, when you achieve your goal or over-deliver, your group gains credibility among partnering organizations, the community, the press, and elected officials.

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