Guest post by Brianne Fitzgerald, Corporate Relations Manager at United Way of Central Iowa
Are there days when you think to yourself: “I need to get out of my desk and be face-to-face with those that I truly want to work with and help make a difference in their lives.”
All of us who work for a non-profit organization understand why we come to work every day and work as hard as we do. Sometimes we wear multiple hats and cannot find enough time in a day to get everything accomplished that we need to do to move forward and ultimately help our clients. You have an important role in your organization that requires you to focus on a part of the bigger picture.
For me, I’m in a development role in my organization. I am blessed with the opportunity to meet with fantastic people who care enough to give a financial contribution to my organization so we can continue to provide the necessary resources to those in need. We all know that there are so many barriers that play a role in living a financially stable life, going back to school or graduating from high school, securing a good job that pays well, and even having healthy food at the dinner table. My job is to help spread that message and build our community by investing in those that can help everyone break down those barriers.
However, there are times when even my day-to-day job doesn’t provide me with an opportunity to meet these people in our community who need our support. All around our community there are opportunities to raise money for organizations that we know are out supporting our community, but how many times do you have a chance to stand up, stand out, and reach out your hand to directly help another?
I want to share with you an experience that has forever changed the way I look at the community where we live and the people that I work so hard every day to support. Last fall, I participated in a volunteer opportunity with my own organization called the Graduation Walk. I partnered up with a Des Moines Public School employee to travel door to door to students who have either dropped out of school or might possibly drop out of school (due to low credits or attendance) to ask them if they want to come back or find ways to help them get the support they needed to finish school.
Dropouts stand to earn, on average, $707,400 less over their lifetime than their peers who graduate. People who do not graduate from high school are four times as likely to be unemployed, five times more likely to become incarcerated, and six times more likely to be teen parents? Adding the loss of income and the human service costs, every dropout represents a million dollar problem – and I was excited to be a part of the solution.
All of us who work for a non-profit also know the power of an ‘ask’. This ‘ask’ can be of someone to give money, advocate for a cause, or volunteer for your organization. The ask is POWERFUL. The same idea applies here. We asked them to finish school, and showed them that the community cares about them, their family and that they are successful.
I spent four hours out of my Saturday morning – away from my three kids and husband – and entered into a world that not many people have the opportunity to step into. The neighborhoods these families live in, the condition of their homes inside and out – all the way down to the personal challenges they face mentally, physically, and emotionally – was indescribable. I went home that afternoon and just sat there for a few minutes in my driveway staring at my house, my kids playing in the backyard, and even the car I was driving. I walked into my home and just sat down and found myself with tears coming down my face. We all work hard each and every day to provide support to those that meet the needs of our organization’s mission. Some of us get to see what I just described every day. Most of us do not. We hear about it, read about it, and know it exists. We all know that it sometimes just takes one person, ONE PERSON, to change the life of another. So here’s your chance…
United Way of Central Iowa and the Des Moines Public Schools are teaming up again this year to host the Graduation Walk. YOU have the opportunity to experience what I did. Join me on Saturday August 23rd and change YOUR life. For more information or to sign up please visit: www.unitedwaydm.org
Q: How many programmers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None, that’s a hardware problem.
Funny, right? No? Well, for participants in the first ever DSM Hack event, that joke would have generated a few chuckles. This incredible 48-hour charity hackathon brought together more than 80 computer programmers, developers, project managers, and designers from across the metro to share their mad coding skills and do good.
Event organizers received 18 proposals from nonprofits and narrowed the field down to nine (to see a full list of participating charities, click here). At the kickoff, each nonprofit addressed the crew and pitched their project, identifying the need for tech upgrades and the impact these upgrades would have on the organization. After the pitches, programmers and nonprofits participated in a round of hackathon speed dating, where teams were formed and project ideas fine-tuned. Forty-eight hours (and lots of coffee, energy drinks, and beer) later, the hack teams presented their finished projects to the group.
Our proposed project for YESS was a mobile app, including a game, for our signature fundraiser, the YESS Duck Derby. The app’s purpose is to encourage year-round donor and volunteer engagement with the agency and the kids we serve. Two days is an awfully short amount of time to design, code, and produce a quality app, so we aren’t quite ready to unveil the finished product. But thanks to our rock-star team and their wonderful generosity, Team Duck has agreed to continue working on the app until its completion!
A few key takeaways:
Show impact – In a partnership like this, we are not expected to be experts in the field of computer programming (hence, the need for a charity hackathon). We are, however, expected to be the experts on impact – on our agency, the individuals we serve, and the greater good. The best pitches and projects highlighted the agency’s needs and how the hack team could best position the nonprofits for success. As I told Team Duck before the final presentations, this app is not just a fun game, it’s a game-changer for YESS and the kiddos we serve.
Be the cheerleader – A representative from YESS, either myself or a co-worker, stopped by every few hours to check-in and answer questions. These visits were very much moral boosters for the team and also showed the agency’s commitment to seeing this project through.
Bring swag – As nonprofits, our biggest marketing tool is our brand, and if you have t-shirts, pens, mugs, or ducks (ok, maybe that’s just a YESS thing) sitting in a cabinet back at the office, you are missing out on a prime opportunity to market to a group you may not ever encounter again.
Major kudos to the organizers of this event. Brilliant concept that resulted in lots of feel-good vibes and energy. Can’t wait until next year!
Guest post by JT Cattle, Advancement and Marketing Associate (AmeriCorps VISTA) at Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines
The sound of people’s voices was all you could hear at West End Salvage, and appropriately so for our conversation on communication!
Our 25+ attendees were able to work together to start chipping away at discussion questions such as:
- What is something new you’ve tried with your communications efforts in the last few months? How has it worked?
- What communications platform is most effective for connecting with your supporters? Donors? Volunteers? Clients? Etc.
- What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
- Are Facebook ads a worthy investment?
- Are e-newsletters all the rage?
In my small group, we talked about how social media is a hot-topic, and yet unfortunately it seems to be under-utilized due to the lack of capacity in our organizations. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, all are great ways to communicate to our audiences, but we must take the time to track the effectiveness of our material to know if we should continue to pursue those vehicles. When on the topic of e-newsletters, we found they are widely used among organizations to send out relevant content to donors, clients, volunteers, etc., but short, sweet and to the point seems to have the best effect for higher open/click-through rates.
There are many resources out there which could be helpful to nonprofits, and most of the time if you look hard enough you can find someone willing to help at little to no cost (pending on the parameters of the project of course). Some attendees referenced the AIGA “Design Assign” program, which pairs professional graphic designers with charities once a year for pro-bono work.
Google for Nonprofits is a great program that gives nonprofits the tools they need to help increase their impact.
Many colleges and universities with marketing or graphic design programs have service learning courses and capstones full of students who NEED and WANT experience, so call them up and see if you can get some volunteers, and if you throw the word “internship” in there, you can provide a benefit to students.
Whether it be a tweet, postcard, email or an old-fashioned hand written letter, communication is the mandatory field that will help you spread your mission. Know your audience. Know what works. Know that you can make a difference.
Guest post by Holly Baumgartel, Senior Creative Designer for a non-profit organization in Des Moines, Partner and Designer for Admiria, a hub of creative professionals, and a design contributor for CREATE Design Studio.
Did you know that 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual? Over the past few years, the shift in use to predominately digital media has made infographics a popular way to present large amounts of data. People are visual beings, and with less time to absorb what we see in our inboxes, on social media, and on the web, infographics make perfect sense!
There are a few things to consider before the illustrations, color palette, and configuring the charts. A good infographic starts with strong data that tells a story. Below are three components to consider before you begin designing your infographic:
1. Tell A Story
If your data is boring or doesn’t add real value to the reader, you’ll lose them. Not many people have the desire or time to read a stack of statistical information, even if it is visually appealing. The best way to keep your reader engaged is to tell a story. Take it back to first grade basics. It should have a beginning, middle, and end.
2. Compelling title
It is important to hook your reader immediately so they don’t move onto the next thing. Spend some extra time brainstorming a title that is creative and worthy of their attention.
3. Call to action
Infographics are not just to inform. Make the most of your visual real estate by adding a call to action, whether that is volunteer opportunities, donations, or a pledge. Think about your audience and what the purpose is behind creating this piece.
If your non-profit doesn’t have a designer or can’t afford to hire one, below are a few websites that will arm you with the tools to create your own.
Bonus tip: Your outreach will be more successful if you create a smaller version of the infographic called an ‘infogram’, which can be used for sharing on social media. Use a strong component of the infographic that can stand alone in case it gets separated from the original content through viral sharing.
Holly posts more about infographics and other marketing services at AdmiriaStudio.com.
Guest post by Ariane Criger who presented on graphic design basics at our recent YNPN Des Moines’ Afraid to Ask: Design 101 workshop.
As a professional graphic designer, I like to call what I do ‘Design Geeking.’ It takes ongoing commitment to training and development to truly be an effective and successful designer.
But what about those of you out there that are in marketing or program management at a non-profit? Chances are you’ve been tasked with putting together a flyer, newsletter or web page at some point in your career, and have found yourself wondering, “How do I even begin?”
If your attempts to design are feeling more “freak” than “geek,” read on to learn tips to take your visual communications to the next level:
Building Blocks of Graphic Design
There are five main building blocks of Graphic Design: Line, shape, mass, texture and color. Keep these concepts in mind as you put elements together on the page:
• Lines help to divide or unite different elements, and can denote direction or serve as an anchor.
• Shapes are the root of graphic design and can help define the mood or message. Curved or rounded shapes are perceived differently than hard, angled shapes.
• Mass can refer to the physical or visual size of a design. Just because you can fit everything onto a page doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Consider how the amount on the page fits with the message you’re trying to convey.
• Texture can be physical or visual. Use textured papers or backgrounds like wood, stone or fabric to help set the mood.
• Color conveys emotion and status, but can be very subjective depending on cultural background, personal experiences and preferences. Use color to help define the mood of the piece.
There are four basic design principles that can help you create effective, polished layouts: alignment, contrast, repetition and proximity.
• Use alignment to create interest and structure, but always check legibility. Left aligned text is the best for body copy. Use centered and right-aligned text to add contrast or visual interest, but don’t use for body copy.
• Contrast occurs when two elements are different. Contrast adds interest to the page and provides a means of emphasizing what is important. However, if everything contrasts highly with everything else, you end up with competing elements and the reader won’t know where to look first.
• Repetition is the recurring of the same object. Repetition can create visual consistency in page designs, such as using the same style of headlines, the same style sidebars, or repeating the same basic layout from one page to another. However, excessive repetition may lead to boring and uninteresting compositions. If a design feels monotonous, try adding some visual breaks and white spaces where the eyes can rest for a while.
• Proximity is the closeness or distance of individual design elements. Close proximity indicates a connection.
Putting it together
Follow these tips to put all the elements together on the page:
• Use hierarchy to draw attention to the most important pieces. Visual hierarchy is the order in which the human eye perceives what it sees. Objects with highest contrast to their surroundings are recognized first by the human mind. When arranging the page, determine what are the most important elements – headline, body copy, image, logo, contact info – and use size, color, mass, placement to help create hierarchy.
• The eye reads the page like a “Z” (just like how you read), so the most important elements are usually located at the top of the page.
• Use grids to create order and a basic structure to the page. Grids can also help you determine where to best use white space. White space, or negative space, is the areas of a design that are devoid of text or graphics. In graphic design, white space is considered an important element of the overall design. White space can give emphasis, contrast, and movement to a design.
• Use columns to break up large bodies of text, or consider replacing excessive text with bullet points.
There are four main categories of fonts: Serifs, Sans Serifs, Scripts and Decorative (also known as Novelty, Ornamental, or Display). Follow these dos and don’ts:
• Do try using fonts from two to three categories instead of just one if your design feels boring or monotonous.
• Don’t use fonts from all four categories (although there are times rules are made to be broken).
• Do use script or decorative fonts to add emphasis or grab attention, but use them sparingly.
• Don’t use script fonts in all capital letters because it’s nearly impossible to read.
• Faces grab attention. Use real photos of real people doing real things whenever possible.
• Use the attractive power of a face by having it turned towards your product or call to action. Try not to use pictures of people that are facing toward the edge of the page, because that’s where the reader’s eye will tend to go.
• Use emotion to increase support for your cause. Emotional pictures encourage people to stop and consider the consequences of not participating in your cause – and leave them feeling guilty as a result – so they feel compelled to action.
• Use images that best represent your product/service. People don’t like to be lied to or mislead, so make sure your photos show viewers exactly what they can expect from your product or service.
Now go get Design Geekin’!
Guest post by Crissanka Prasad, Coordinator, American Parkinson Disease Association
This past year I had the honor of being a part of the 2013-2014 class of the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. For those of you unfamiliar, GDMLI is a premiere leadership program that accepts about 50 people a year through an application process. The class runs August through May and the curriculum focuses on different aspects of Des Moines — from local government, to Des Moines’ history and foundation — and becoming a community leader. Experiences like learning about our criminal justice system at the Mitchellville Women’s prison were among many impactful lessons. (Yes, we toured a prison and even ate prison dinner. Anyone who has gone through the class and who’s toured the prison will tell you it was probably one of the most insightful and humbling experiences and nothing like Orange is the New Black, though I still love that show).
The biggest legacy each class leaves behind is the class project that benefits a local nonprofit. Our class chose to support Courage League Sports, an adaptive sports facility for children and adults. We raised over $140,000 that went towards adding to the design and construction of their facilities, providing a state-of-the-art Exergaming system and scholarships. For me, the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute provided an exceptional opportunity to be developed and challenged as nonprofit leader in the community.
Getting Out of Your Head
There are several highlights to being a GDMLI class member – first, you meet some amazing people that are NOT in the nonprofit world. In my position at the Iowa Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association, I am the only full-time employee. GDMLI allowed me to connect with other folks who ranged from business owners, attorneys, designers, architects, people who work in public sector, and other fabulous non-profit and for-profit peeps. One of our class members, Max Farrell, business development and relationship manager at Dwolla, is also a musician/rapper – listen to “Goody, Good”. Careful, it’s really catchy!
Nonprofit professionals are do-gooders and do-it-yourselfers. Fundraising? Sure. Marketing. Yep! Everything else – a smile, a can-do attitude and okie dokie! You are used to working by yourself or in smaller groups or with volunteer groups. Everyone in the GDMLI class has their individual expertise and contributes to the project. I mean, sure, I could figure out how to rebuild a lobby area if you give me a couple months, some youtube videos, and a hammer, but I would much rather leave that to the person who went to school for that.
The class was set up into committees to tackle the project – marketing, design and construction, fundraising, and volunteers. This class project showed me how imperative collaboration is to make big changes happen in your organization and create change for the population you serve. 50 dedicated professionals, 1 cause, a few months. We made it work.
Des Moines Gives a Hoot
As I mentioned, as a class we raised more than $140,000. I and my classmates were blown away by how friends, family, acquaintances, local companies and businesses jumped at the opportunity to help us help Courage League Sports. Des Moines is a big little city that really cares. If you have a worthy cause, you are bound to have supporters. All you have to do is ask.
Courage and Courage League Sports
Contributing to another cause that isn’t part of your 40+ hour work week is a great feeling (remember what I said about getting out of your head?) Our class really connected with Courage League Sports’ story. CEO Melissa Clark Wharfe started Courage League in Fall of 2013 because she wanted her son, Jack, and other children with special healthcare needs to be involved in sports and activities year round. Melissa and Jack’s courage are infectious. It was hard not to resist Jack’s charisma and wonderful spirit in choosing which project we wanted to do. The GDMLI class of 2014 is proud to have supported such a wonderful endeavor and I think I can speak for my class when I say we are all better having been impacted by a wonderful cause.
We are all in the nonprofit world to do good – be a voice for others, to effect change and to impact lives daily. It’s not easy, but gosh darn it, we care! It takes plenty of courage to do that in a world that sometimes doesn’t seem to care. The Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute taught me that you can make a huge difference in the world by starting with your community – we are lucky that in Central Iowa you have a lot of people who care and want to do good and not just in the nonprofit world. So, keep being courageous. Keep changing the world one good deed at a time. It’s pretty easy in Des Moines.
May was a fun month with YNPN Des Moines.
We saw some new faces at the New Member Social we held at Quinton’s:
It was great to hear everyone’s ideas for growing our group. The next new member social is Monday, June 2, 6-7 p.m. at Quinton’s. It’s a great opportunity to hear more about YNPN and get involved. You don’t have to have paid dues yet to attend. Just pop by after work!
Earlybirds enjoyed a special twist on our morning discussion group with our “Breakfast with the Bosses” event hosted by Iowa Campus Compact at the Pappajohn Center downtown.
We held small group chats with local nonprofit leaders. Attendee Christen Bain posted to our Facebook page: Good time this morning! Thanks for organizing. My takeaways from Anne Starr: When applying for jobs, show how you lead with both your mind AND your heart. And Norene Mostkoff mentioned the say/do ratio-I’ve never heard of this before, but being able to brag about a high say/do ratio is a great thing to show your capabilities.
Lastly, the weather held out for our Brew Gooders Happy Hour at The Rooftop in the East Village. YNPN Des Moines co-chairs Brianne and Danny invited YPC president, Emily, and president-elect, Kyle, to discuss possible collaborations between our groups.
Check out our YNPN Des Moines calendar. We’d love to see you out at our June events!
Teenagers generally get a bad rap as lazy and apathetic, but I don’t buy it. When I was a teenager I wanted to save the world, and had seemingly endless amounts of energy to get the job done.
Way back at the turn of the century, I regularly volunteered with the Young Women’s Resource Center (YWRC) through their Chrysalis afterschool program for 10-14 year old girls. I quickly recognized that I was probably learning more than I was teaching, and wanted to bring some lessons back to my peers about self-confidence, healthy relationships, and reproductive health. The YWRC helped me start my own student group at Roosevelt high school that focused on building female leaders, offering educational opportunities on women’s issues, getting involved with local events, and even a bit of advocacy to our PTA and school board.
Looking back, I have a hard time imagining how I had the time or energy to devote to such a project. The idea of taking classes and completing homework assignments seems daunting enough. Yet, the idealism, creativity, and force of will that a teenager can posses should not be understated. I loved the community I developed when volunteering with the YWRC and organizing my peers, and I was more than willing to skip some television to keep it going.
Now, over a decade later, I have found my way back to the YWRC as their new Fund Development Coordinator – and it feels like coming home. There are two things I have come to realize in this transition back:
- Volunteer opportunities we can provide and encourage our teenagers to participate in can be life changing, and life directing.
- Teenagers can be an untapped whirlwind force for change that we should be tapping in to.
It would be a lie to say that my path from YWRC volunteer to full-time staff wasn’t a winding one. However, I can confidently say that my experience as a volunteer opened my eyes to the possibility of working with a non-profit as a career. Importantly, it was the consistent engagement as a volunteer that had the most impact. I had done the one-day volunteer projects with Salvation Army, and I helped out at the Iowa Jewish Senior Life Center a few times – but working with the YWRC was my first experience volunteering weekly and sticking with it for more than a month. I recognized what it was like to feel passionate about my work, and I didn’t want to work anywhere that didn’t give me that feeling ever again. I was hooked.
That’s not to say that every teenager who is engaged as a volunteer in a significant way will automatically be destined for the non-profit world. However, I would bet that most teens who find a love for volunteering early on will grow to be highly involved in their community, and champions for causes they care about later on in life.
Since returning to the YWRC, I have been impressed by the insight, ideas and personal strength of many teenagers who come through our doors. Our “Sheroes” are a perfect example of young women who have dedicated themselves towards making a difference at an early age, and who are primed to become the next big leaders in our community. Non-profits often dip into the deep pool of college student volunteers, but I would argue that our local teens are just as savvy and energetic – and likely a lot less over committed.
Local teen, Lexi O’Connor, recently kick started her own non-profit – Teens Against Human Trafficking – and has already been making waves. Focused on peer-to-peer education, Lexi has been speaking at local events, raising funds, and motivating other local teens to action. Recent Quasar award winner, Grace Rice, founded the Paws and Effect service club and annual fundraiser dog walk to support the training of service dogs for veterans and people with disabilities. These are the teens we should be spotlighting. Step aside Justin Bieber.
Coming back to work with the YWRC is a dream, and a bit of a blast from the past. I probably wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t gotten the encouragement to step beyond my personal teenage drama and help out. More than that, I likely wouldn’t be the engaged community member I am today. So, whether it’s reaching out to your own teenage kid or working with local high schools to promote volunteer opportunities – let’s make a commitment to look past the stereotypes and allow our local teens to show us what they are capable of accomplishing. I’m sure we will be pleasantly surprised.
The Des Moines Charity Hack (June 12-14) will support our social sector using the “hackathon” concept to benefit the social sector. A Hackathon is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects.
Local nonprofit organizations seeking a tech solution to their challenges are encouraged to submit a proposal by June 1, 2014. Projects will be selected by June 3 and the event will take place June 12-14 at Startup City.
We asked the organizers if they could provide a few more details about the event and some examples of projects nonprofits could request.
Here’s the F.A.Q. via Dwolla’s Max Farrell:
Why was dsmHack created?
There is a wealth of technology talent in the Des Moines area and amazing nonprofits that continue to help Central Iowa win awards as one of the country’s best place to live. In an effort to team great companies, their resources and the nonprofits of this community, we’ve created this event to bring the best of both worlds together.
From June 12-14, these two groups will come together to build and implement tools to make the area’s nonprofits operate more effectively so they can continue to focus on doing good.
Through this event, we will learn a significant amount about the needs of local organizations and how we can work together to make this community stronger!
This is the first year we are putting on the event. We are all learning as we go.
Why is there a $20 cost to participate?
There is no cost or commitment needed from the charities other than a little bit of time. We’ve got some wonderful sponsors who are going to cover the expenses of this event. We may be in a position to contribute some nominal funds to help sustain the solutions as well (i.e. web hosting).
There is a nominal cost for developers to attend. It’s $20. This is mostly just to make sure they have some skin in the game. We want to make sure participants sign up and show up.
Why should my non-profit organization submit to be involved?
With organizations constantly operating on a tight budget and with limited talent to work with, processes often become paper-heavy and labor intensive. We want to help you change that. Submitting your charity for this event will provide the opportunity to work directly with technology professionals that are always creating efficiencies. Great tools will be built or improved for your organization and you will learn a tremendous amount!
Why are developers participating?
The tagline for dsmHack is “build.learn.give”. We want to use this time for our developers, designers, project managers and business minds to apply their existing skills to people who need them. The event will provide food, beverages (caffeine + beer), a cool t-shirt and a great chance for tech minds to work with other peers in the community and learn new skills.
What if I can’t code? Is there a role for non-developers?
We will need designers, project / product managers, business minds and any other creatives to work with the organizations to make sure their needs are not met – but exceeded! You will add substantial value to any team.
What happens during the event?
Technology professionals will arrive on Thursday night to mingle and hear the pitches from nonprofits about what needs they have. From there, teams will form around the needs of the organizations.
Over the next 48 hours the participants and organizations will hack their hearts out! There will be food served, snacks, beverages, great camaraderie and a tremendous amount of learning/building. The event culminates on Sunday with presentations of what the teams created and then a post-event happy hour!
Will the projects be finished at the end of the event?
dsmHack’s goal is to have all projects completed by the end of the event. Depending on sponsor contributions, we hope to have funds allotted to provide limited support to projects that need it.
Do we have to build something from scratch or can we implement pre-existing tools?
We encourage both! Some organizations are needing a new solution created, while many are using pre-existing software and they need help implementing or optimizing it to continue being productive.
What are some example projects?
Digitize paper processes
-automate volunteer registrations
-move paper forms online
-build web based system to track clients
-accessibility of the site
-create a landing page for an organization
-create responsive redesign
-migrate website to a new hosting provider
-SEO help for existing web pages
-upgrade website to newer version of WordPress / Joomla / Drupal etc.
-create online and / or mobile giving portals
Improve existing systems
-make CRM more effective
-streamline calendar functionality
-build a staff development database
-centralize database information
-create a database search functionality
And anything else! Shoot ideas to us at email@example.com
Guest post by Danny Heggen, YNPN Des Moines founding co-chair and Project Management extraordinaire
What do you do? It’s a pretty common question when meeting new people. When I worked with youth, I always told people I was a youth worker. My wife was always quick to note that I ran youth programs, not summer camps and I wasn’t a counselor. Definitions. Who needs ‘em?
When I took on the title project manager, I realized I still struggled with definition – what do I actually do? So I spent some time thinking about the most concise way to phrase it, thinking about the most delicate way to explain what it means to be a project manager. What I came up with: I keep shit together.
Let me explain.
It’s not my role to manage people. It’s my role to manage the work people get to do. Which essentially means I need to know how to manage people in order to drive their work. My day to day is a mixture of tasks that involve people: discussing strategy, tracking data, and generating reports. Piecing everything together, so that our outcome is what we expected it to be. I’m not the one doing the work; I’m the one making sure the work the needs to happen happens.
In short, my work is to make sure everyone understands how their work fits in the big picture. Along the way, I keep track of everything – notes and data. This way, when we reach the end, we can tell a story.
A few tips I’ve picked up along the way:
1. Communicate. Until everyone tells you to stop talking about what is happening, communicate.
2. Roll it out & Roll it up. Know how to take an idea or task and then create a plan to make it happen. This is what I call rolling it out. Then, when the work is complete, generate a report that captures what happened, when, and how. Also, make notes about what could have gone differently to make it easier on the team next time. Roll this report up to the necessary people. They’ll be thankful.
3. Know who is involved. This seems really simple, but the most important thing when starting a new project is understanding who needs to be involved. It could be two people. It could be 13 people. Once the team is in place, the work can begin. Why? Because these people bring the skills, tools, and resources needed to get the work done. If your job is to make sure all the screws are tightened, you want to make sure the people with screwdrivers are sitting at the table.
Want to learn more about starting up a new project with a team of people? Check out this blog, Team Development Lessons Learned.
There are many reasons to bring a project manager to the table; however, there are many skills that each of us can develop to ensure each project we take on is successful. Keep in mind: We all need to keep shit together.