This post is a little late, but its about time I share and reflect on my time in Washington DC about two weeks ago.
When Luca and I started Still Running in April, we frantically began the search for funding. Being completely new to the world of grants, stipends and sponsorships (among other things), I turned to google to show me the answers. After having a hard time discerning reliable (and realistic) funding options online, a good friend told me to check out do something.org.
If you arent already familiar with it, DoSomething is a website/organization that promotes activism and community service projects involving young people around the world. You can create a project profile for your project, and they even give out a certain number of $500 seed grants every week for new ideas. DoSomething also keeps an up to date grants database, which lists grant and funding opportunities available through other reliable organizations for new service projects. By chance, I found a listing pretty relevant to Still Running from Youth Service America and decided to give it a shot. As you know by now, we got the grant and have since traveled to Washington DC to undergo leadership training (on them! Free trips are the best trips!).
Youth Service America didnt just provide us with a grant though, they have actually been much more generous than that! I (Taylor) was selected to serve as the Youth Service America National Child Awareness Month Ambassador to Massachusetts for the coming year, and I will be collaborating with the other 50 YSA NCAM 2013-2014 Ambassadors around the nation (1 per state and DC) to lead state wide community service events for Global Youth Service Day this April. Not only has YSA provided us with funding, but their national endorsement has elevated the visibility of the project significantly, and the new connections I made with the other Ambassadors and guest speakers in Washington will allow us to grow the project in ways I would have never imagined before. (I also made it through airport security and flew all by myself, so overall I feel very accomplished.)
On my first day in DC we got right down to business. We got started with a few icebreakers, but jumped right into a finding your strengths activity we were asked to prepare before our arrival. For the activity, we were asked to reflect on two separate times in life when we felt we were at our best, and identify the qualities that contributed to the success of the given venture. Even though it sounds cheesy, it actually helped a lot. If you are able to identify what you do well, you can be aware of what your strengths are. And if you know what you do well, you also know where you dont do well, and can be more aware of traits that arent as strong as others. This is a good thing to keep in mind when looking for a business partner- just a little insight!
After that, they had us concentrate on nailing our elevator pitches down so we would be prepared for our meetings at Capitol Hill. If you havent heard the term before, an elevator pitch is like a quick summary of your business or organization that you give to a potential sponsor, reporter, investor, future partner, etc- a quick taste of what youre doing to get them interested. This was extremely helpful to me. If weve ever talked in person before then you know how easily it is for me to get distracted, even in the middle of a sentence.
So, first we practiced on each other. Over and over and over. And over. Not surprisingly, at first it was hard, but after the 5th or 6th attempt it got easier, until it was almost like I didnt have to think about it at all. Just as soon as we were all feeling confident, the folks at YSA brought in real media correspondents, and CEOs for us to pitch to. It was scary, but it was good to get some honest feedback and make connections with people successful in the field prior to my pitch at Massachusetts State Senator Elizabeth Warrens Office.
Day 2: Meeting with Senator Warrens Office on Capitol Hill
The visit was fast paced. The very next day, we got up, we had our pictures taken in front of The Capitol Building, and we headed over to the Hart Senate Building for our meetings. At the time of my meeting, Senator Warren herself was unable to make it because she was working on an early education bill, so I met with her Legislative Correspondent instead. And it worked out, we had a very productive meeting!
Since the success of Still Running depends so much on public participation and awareness of what we are doing, I asked her office if they would be able to help connect me to local media. I asked for a quote from Senator Warren about Still Running (to use in press releases), I asked if it would be possible to set up another meeting with her (even if it has to happen over the phone), and I sent her office a complete list of all of our upcoming events to see if she will be able to attend any of them. Of course, all of these requests involve collaboration between different members of her office, but I have been in touch with them and Im happy to say we are working on it!
Upon our return to leadership training headquarters, which was Hotel Palomar in Dupont Circle, we went straight into a series of lectures from guest speakers, including representatives from Mobilizer.org, the CEO of Youth Service America, representatives from the Festival of Children Foundation, and a social media training seminar.
All together, these talks highlighted the how each of these organizations got started and the importance of collaborating and making good partnerships to allow our organizations to grow. Mobilizer.org is an organization which specializes in facilitating growth in smaller organizations, and is focused on providing people with the resources they need to mobilize the right groups of people to get things done. Their website has lots of free resources and documents on this subject, and you can apply to their intensive program to receive even more extensive management training.
All of the talks emphasized the importance of documentation and high visibility of the positive change you are making, which seems obvious but in reality is much easier said than done. Be that as it may, it is still very important. Specifically, its good to keep your pitch to reporters and media short, sweet, and interesting, and that you should be persistent in contacting the media as it is more likely they will cover you.
However, in addition to media coverage, I learned the importance of generating my own unique and interesting content for Still Running on social media outlets, because thats how you can gain a following of your own- independent of media coverage. It also helps to stay connected to your audience and keep people interested. If youve noticed that weve stepped up the Facebook and instagram posting, this is why. (By the way, follow us on instargam! @stillrunningart)
Going back to the subject of connections I made in DC, I met a group of amazing young people all dedicated to making a positive difference in the community. We network fairly regularly in a facebook group and through monthly YSA webinars, and I think that this connectivity will make it easy for us to stay current with what everyone is doing and actively contribute ideas to help each other. I have some ideas for collaboration with the other Ambassadors, and Ill announce them soon. But while the details are still being worked out, Ill stay vague and leave you with a thought about the importance of a having a community.
Having a communitywhat does that mean? Im talking about finding and being part of a group of motivated, passionate people interested in the same things as you. Look at the grunge movement out of Seattle in the 90s, look at abstract expressionism in New York in the 40s- all those artists knew each other and networked together (to varying extents). If you can find this network, youve found support. Whether its just moral support, develops into logistical support, or a even grows into collaborative effort, you at least have a place to get feedback and grow your ideas- which is the most important thing. In business and life (and with Still Running), staying active and innovative with your ideas and how you put them to action are the most important elements to survival. Think of it like evolution, adapt to thrive and survive. Annnd, thats my queue to stop writing.
Best thing about DC and most important thing in business/nonprofit/creative endeavors: networking and collaboration. Find a network and collaborate.
I am so grateful to Youth Service America and The Festival of Children Foundation for helping me find a network, for the support, and for this incredible opportunity. I cant wait to see what we can do together!