Four Rules for Maturing Your Field: The Bootcamp Model for Foundations, Associations and Umbrella Orgs

We’re already a month into 2013, and for many, those New Year’s resolutions are becoming a little less resolute every day.  It’s a curious phenomenon we all see each year in gyms, classes and homes. Individuals have the will to make BIG improvements, but without some guidance, clear goals and even a few incentives to get them over the first few big hurdles, successful outcomes are rare.

The same is true for entire communities that are organized around an issue and the umbrella organizations that support them.

Foundations, associations and other umbrella organizations want to provide value to their constituents and mature the fields in which they work.  Their affiliate organizations need to learn new skills, by doing so they lift up the entire community.  Umbrella organizations are challenged to figure out what kinds of programs – Course learning? One-on-one coaching? Gamification? – will work for them. Over the past few years, both See3 Communications and Darim Online have been working with these organizations to implement year-long “Boot Camps” which provide training, coaching and compelling incentives to help their grantees/affiliates fearlessly try new things to advance their work, and the fields in general. We’ve got some insights to share.

In our training, coaching and consulting work over the past years, we’ve learned four important lessons about making organizational change:

1.  Theory alone isn’t enough. When learning a new skill and even more importantly learning how to work in a new landscape (welcome to the ‘connected age’!), you just have to jump in and do it.  It’s like learning how to ride a bike (you have the feel how to balance) or learning a foreign language (your textbook grammar won’t make you fluent on the streets).

This analogy applies to countless new skills and technologies. Take, for instance, online video.

With a recognition that online video is a critical currency for modern communications, The AVI CHAI Foundation wanted to catalyze more schools to use video in their communications, alumni engagement and fundraising efforts. To help them do this well, the Video Academy had to tackle both the “why” and the “how” of online video.

“The Video Academy started by exposing the participants to the scale and importance of video. We then tackled storytelling theory and techniques, production skills, and the art and science of editing video. Importantly, our curriculum concludes with information about distribution, because the best video serves no purpose if no one sees it,” said See3 CEO Michael Hoffman.

In the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy (also funded by The AVI CHAI Foundation), 20 schools are tackling 3 important projects this year:  a social media experiment, a social fundraising experiment, and the development (or revision) of a social media policy.  By the end of the year these schools won’t just be a little more savvy with Facebook and Twitter, they will have accomplished three major initiatives to mature their social media use, their operations and their culture as well.

2. Coaching amplifies everything.  We can only learn so much at once.  It’s impossible to absorb and integrate 100% of what even the best teacher offers, but little adjustments over time can make a huge difference.   The key is to shape a path of improvement, and take one step at a time. 

Sometimes organizations need help shaping the path, and then are fairly self sufficient in moving down the path. In other cases, staff needs someone to hold their hand as they progress to teach, inform, support and guide.  A coach who can help critique each organizations’ work can help them improve exponentially, by maximizing the quality at each step. In a fast moving social media world, the rate at which each team gets up to speed is important, and this 1:1 approach can ignite important change.

In the Union for Reform Judaism Social Media Boot Camp, we offered a widely accessible webinar series to the organization’s hundreds of affiliates, and then offered 10 slots for more intensive, private coaching.  The organizations which applied and received these services were able to improve their processes and product, and now serve as a model for others to emulate.

3. Incentives raise the bar.  With so many opportunities competing for our attention, we have found that incentives help participants focus, strive for quality and take social media seriously.  In each Boot Camp, offers of additional coaching, cash prizes, or matching grants have helped participants take their work to the next level.

“In the Video Academy, we wanted to see the organizations use their newly learned skills by actually making videos. The best way to do that was to hold a video contest. The contest had two tracks — judges to measure quality, and people’s choice to measure participant’s ability to mobilize their social network,” said Hoffman.

Creating a fun, game-like space for participants to apply their newly learned skills made all the difference. The steps-to-win can vary of course, but the end run incentives are critical. We’ve seen that hold true for other programs too. 

In the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, The AVI CHAI Foundation is offering matching funds to help schools design and implement a social fundraising project.  More than the dollars that the school can earn, the matching funds create excitement around the project, and incentivize schools to take risks and try new things that otherwise would never make it to the top of the priority list.  Last year, the SAR Academy was so effective with their network strategy that they received over 1000 donations of $18 each through Facebook Causes. The Foundation matched $18,000 and they raised over $40,000 total.  It was so successful that a donor put up another matching gift if every alum donated to their annual campaign — even just $1.  It worked.

4.  Sharing with each other raises the field and creates capacity for ongoing learning long after the intensive experience has ended.  There is much to learn, and the participants in these Boot Camps are the ones on the ground making it happen, learning the tiny lessons that accumulate to real success.  Those receiving private coaching through the Boot Camp are developing models that others can learn from and emulate, and are encouraged to share their process, product and insights with the wider group through webinars, blog posts, Facebook groups and other channels.  Pulling the front of the bell curve forward shifts the middle of the curve too.

Each Boot Camp includes structures to promote knowledge sharing and conversation between and among the participants, and the field in general.  In the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, we host “Sharefest!” webinars throughout the year, where 2 or 3 schools share something that they’ve been working on.  Rarely are these home-run success stories. More often they are mid-stage efforts with many lessons learned, and webinar participants can “workshop” the issues with the presenter as well as learn from them. 

In the URJ Boot Camp Facebook group, staff, board and committee members ask questions of each other, provide feedback, share links to great resources, offer peer critiques and provide moral support.  The group becomes a very functional space, where content expertise is valued, but “boots on the ground” experience is just as important too. 

Getting Started

If you’re thinking about creating a program to build assets, skills and capacity among your affiliates, remember our key takeaways:

•    Your affiliates and grantees need to immerse themselves in the tech and processes.  Create a simple curriculum and provide a pathway for them to get their hands dirty and learn by doing.
•    Provide some coaching and you’ll amplify your results in a huge way.  Your affiliates have the will, but zero knowledge to start them on the road to mastering new skills. By making simple coaching available to them, you can speed up their learning and quality and help them to blast through those little things that are trifles for experts but big scary barriers to novice learners.
•    Incentivize what you’re asking them to do. Things like grants, cash, and even small symbolic prizes really drive participation and quality.  Participants keep their head in the game and make thoughtful progress with a goal in mind.  Provide them with a game, or fun program with that prize at the end and you’ll maximize your results.
•    Make sure they’re talking to each other and sharing their struggles as well as their triumphs.  When your program takes on this workshop aspect, your participating affiliates themselves become coaches and a support system to each other.  What’re more: you create a more vital, networked group of professionals learning new skills simultaneously.

The Social Media Boot Camp can be adapted for local communities (like this one for Jewish orgs in Northern New Jersey funded by a Berrie Innovation Grant), or across fields such as the Jewish Day School or URJ programs.  It's an efficient model to catalyze growth and maturity, and to build the field as we go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *