Ask people for help
Reframe asking for help as giving others an opportunity to deepen their relationship with you
It might seem obvious that you need the help of others to run a community but the nuances of how, when, and how much to ask are things you find out by doing.
We started NWS off by asking for help. We held feedback sessions with friends to help us think through what they thought a space for women + QTGNC individuals should look and feel like.
We held a Townhall before the space opened asking friends and members of our existing networks to weigh in on what the space could be.
We also ran a Kickstarter campaign and surpassed our $15K goal by a few thousand dollars with the help of people who already knew and supported us and even some backers we’d never met before who simply supported our intention.
We started off the practice of asking for help strong.
Yet, Sandy and I also had a narrative around the fact that we both had experience working in hospitality and had a pride in being hospitable to others.
The desire to make others feel comfortable and to make them feel taken care of was strong. So strong that it often times got in the way of us asking for help.
Small examples: if a friend coming to an event as an attendee asked if they could help put away chairs at the end of the night or if a group resident host asked if they could help us with any more clean up — I would say “No, it’s okay. I’ve got it, but thanks for asking”. I opted to just do things on my own rather than inconvenience someone else by letting them help.
We had always made the option for people to volunteer available on our website. We added volunteers to a Facebook group. We would post in this Facebook group whenever the occasional big event warranted a few extra hands beyond just Sandy and myself. What we hadn’t created was a process, structure, or articulated value around how our community could contribute.
If we had structured the way events operated by designing volunteers into the process from the beginning, we would have spent far less time being the only two people cleaning and resetting the space or entering all the numbers into the closing reports at the end of the night.
We didn’t have clear paths for volunteers to get involved in the everyday. The downside of not doing this from the beginning was not just having to work more hours; the greater loss was actually not getting people invested from the start.
Once we actually had roles like our “Community Caretakers” who knew how to open and close the space, I started to see something special. These community volunteers — that were given structure, a title and set responsibilities — were the ones deepening their relationship with us, with the space, and with the community at large. By having more responsibility they felt more ownership and felt more of a sense of loyalty, pride, and tribe.
It caught me off guard when caretakers and volunteers would use “we” when talking about the space. My heart would melt a little and I felt that much more supported.
Of course we never wanted to over rely on people we were not paying. I felt the pressure to ensure that volunteering was something that people felt committed and ideally enthusiastic to do. There is a real art to creating worthwhile and well-functioning volunteer programs.
Similarly, we never wanted to feel like we were asking for too much financial support from our community. Yet, we did continue to ask. And people continued to give.
After the initial Kickstarter campaign, we waited about 10 months before doing another crowdfunding campaign. Our second campaign was to fund two A/C units that were imperative for summer events being tolerable. We sent another round of emails, posted on social media, and even put out a collection box after hot events at the space. Our community showed up again for us and we were able to install the A/C units with the collective funds raised.
One last way that we designed for help was by adding a “Generosity” tab on our website navigation. It led people to the options:“Adopt a bill”, “Become a member”, “Make a donation” or “Volunteer”. We created a whole menu of opportunities for people to customize the way that they contributed to New Women Space.
We started getting better at talking about our Supporter Membership at the top of every event and, slowly but surely, we began building a membership base built on the aspirations of supportive giving vs. us being stressed to fulfill perks for others.
Once we were able to articulate that we were only two people and couldn’t do it alone, we were able to actively design different aspects of NWS that made it easy for others to help and, ultimately, to care.
Distilled lesson: Design your business or project with opportunities for people to contribute in order to create deeper engagement and decentralization of care.