The LarkOwl Community is live! This post describes its developmemt, what it is and why we think its important.
I don’t know about you but (at the time of writing (April 2021) I’m missing real, actual people in my life.
I can’t wait to see my friends, go out for dinner (in a warm, indoors place as opposed to sat outside in a freezing easterly gale), watch the ballet / opera in London and chomp down a bucket of popcorn in the cinema (though Tony would disagree on this point. He hates anyone making ANY kind of sound during a movie).
I’m also desperate to hang out with colleagues and donors again. At conferences, coffee, meetings, lunches and visits to projects and services.
As an extrovert, I feel energised through connecting with others and receive a creative boost when sharing ideas and exchanging notes with others.
Getting out of your bubble
I have always sought community in my working life and understand the detrimental effect that naval gazing (such a weird term…) can have on an organisation. As advocate and representative of donors (who exist OUTSIDE of your organisation), I always saw it as my role to get out there, understand the wider world and be confident to explain my charity to those who were not intimately involved in it.
In the early days, I worked in larger fundraising teams and had excellent colleagues to lean upon and to learn from. Despite this, I routinely sought out fundraisers from other organisations. They provided an invaluable sounding board for me. A safe place to discuss internal politics and to compare notes and seek feedback on various funding applications we were making.
As well as attending the CioF’s First Thursday meet ups in central London and their Trust Fundraising Special Interest Group events, I would meet once a month with a group of four other trust fundraisers at a café in Waterloo (we called ourselves the Fundchums!).
External perspectives, additional expertise as well as time and space away from the office, was so beneficial, especially in the early days where I was still finding my feet.
Community helps us with so many things:
There’s also evidence that those who participate in community activities, such as volunteering, group fitness, collective worship, actually live longer, healthier lives (more important than diet and exercise according this this article.)
Online communities have grown in recent years as an additional way to connect on top of the face to face contact which so many of us crave (and which so many of us don’t)
Social media has enabled a connectedness like never before, there’s a Facebook group for everything, no matter how obscure your interests and hobbies.
The ease with which participation can happen makes it more attractive for us than many face to face interactions as it removes the need for travel / dressing up / arranging childcare or overnight accommodation which face to face meetings often require.
People can connect from all corners of the globe in seconds.
These communities have become even more important during the past year where we have been physically so disconnected.
The role of community in LarkOwl training
Before LarkOwl ever launched its first online training product, Tony and I discussed the potential role that community could play in supporting students as they moved through our courses.
Tony was all for it from the beginning and believed it to be an essential component of any learning experience. Whilst I agreed with him in principle, I was nervous about the technology and also about being able to find sufficient time to show up for people properly (as a perfectionist . control freak, Enneagram 3, quality really matters to me).
As a result, the first few course launches did not offer an online space for students to gather, share their learnings and move through the course together.
This will change now with all subsequent launches. It is now time to bring our people together in what we’re calling, the LarkOwl Community.
“The dirty little secret in online education is that people often don’t complete the courses they enroll in. The figure is often quoted as “less than 20%” but I’ve read as low as 4%.
…when you can connect people together who are going through a course at the same time, when you show that they are having a shared experience, they are much more likely to finish the course.”
This quote is from a fantastic article on building community by Jay Clouse, a business mentor / inspirational figure and someone who knows a thing or two about the topic.
For obvious reasons, his quote makes me feel a little bit sick!
I’ve been thinking about how to make our training courses easier to complete, more satisfying and engaging for our fantastic students.
The time is now
In recognition of the sobering stat above, I thought it would be super fun to create a space online where LarkOwl course students could meet and chat as they learn together.
My vision is for an intimate community of committed fundraising professionals who want to harness experiences outside of their own (and those which exist within their organisation) to become better at what they do, every day.
Because a rising tide lifts all boats.
How is the LarkOwl Community different?
There are a load of online fundraising forums out there. For the most part, they’re an absolutely brilliant resource and are (quite rightly) so valued by those who use them.
But they’re so HUGE it can be hard to have really quality conversations with like-minded professionals who are:
- prepared to invest in themselves, their personal development and to consciously make time for it
- at similar stages, doing similar roles in the same fundraising disciplines, going through the same training programme
Also, you have to be on Facebook (which is fine if you like Facebook but if you don’t, then you’re a little scuppered…)
I think there’s a need for something smaller and more intimate, where people feel safe to talk about their personal experiences, the organisations they’re working for and the unique challenges they face in a supportive and welcoming space.
I also wonder if smaller communities might enable more collaboration, something our sector needs but is so woefully lacking (for a number of understandable reasons, but frustrating none the less).
Who’s it for?
It’s going to form part of the course offering from our next launch in May 2021 and thereafter.
We want to connect our students together for solidarity, community and the creation of more ease and less stress in our working lives.
Here’s my vision for version 1.0 of the LarkOwl community
- A space for accountability for online training
If you’re currently going through Trust the Process of Major Gifts Made Simple, being part of a group of others who are also doing the course will be of massive benefit. Checking in with the community will give you:
- motivation to complete the course
- deeper insight into each of the lessons / activities as you share your experiences with others
There are channels dedicated to both trusts and major gifts – both places where students can dive into more detail and get even more from your learning.
- A place where students can ask me questions (and everyone can benefit from the answers)
Chatting with course customers is a super fun part of my day. Our students are asking some interesting questions and together we’re covering some really important topics.
To me, it makes more sense that these conversations (where possible) are had more openly so that all of our students can benefit from the Q&A and can join in the conversation (because they’ll likely have useful insights too).
- A space to share with and learn from others
I do not believe for a second that I am the authority on all things trusts and major gifts.
I’ve had a lot of experience, but that doesn’t mean that my personal take on something is right or helpful if the things I’ve been through are fundamentally different to those asking the questions.
It’s highly likely that other members of the community will have experiences to share which either add to my responses or are even better / more relevant.
There is so much power in the collective.
I know that there are some incredible fundraisers who have taken Trust the Process and Major Gifts Made Simple. This community will enable us to join forces for the benefit of everyone.
- A healthy distraction outside of social media
When I’m trying to cultivate the deep, concentration required for many of the tasks which fundraising requires of me, knowing that I’ve not checked Facebook / Twitter / Instagram for a while is often enough to throw me off course as my brain shifts from the task in hand and instead, seeks the dopamine hit which comes from the validation of others.
- I’ve deleted Instagram in recent months (it’s SO fun but way too distracting)
- Facebook fundraising groups are great but so large and quite overwhelming – I’d never share anything too personal in there.
- LinkedIn I tolerate.
- Twitter is fun for connecting with other fundraisers, but is easy enough to get sidetracked / angry / triggered no matter how ‘curated’ your feed is.
The addiction is real, and we need to be realistic / not beat ourselves up too much. Because along with phone addiction, the need for connection (especially in a pandemic ridden world where we’re all working from home and lacking socialisation), is just as real too.
It’s a tightrope to walk rather than an evil to be overcome.
The LarkOwl community has the potential to provide necessary meaningful, helpful connection to others whilst not seeking to completely ruin their train of thought.
Our community will live in Slack, a super cool online platform which provides a nice alternative to private Facebook groups but also enables you to group conversations around different topics. It’s brilliant for teams who want to take discussions about specific projects away from email (cos who doesn’t hate those never ending ‘reply all’ threads?).
Check it out here…
What does the future hold for the LarkOwl community?
Beyond the completion of our training courses (which are aimed at people new to either Trusts or Major Gifts), there are issues which all fundraisers are faced with:
- The pressure to raise more from trusts or major gifts with the same (or less) resource
- An increasingly competitive landscape
- The need to cultivate new streams of income, outside of
- Juggling too many tasks, spinning too many plates and feeling overwhelmed
- Fostering connection with others, recognising that fundraising can be a lonely landscape (where often, you’re a lone voice in your organisation and the only one who ‘gets it’)
I want to be a part of our students’ development as fundraisers for the long term.
There’s also a possibility that our community can stand alone as an offering in it’s own right and could well be a place where we host regular training and development opportunities for fundraisers who have mastered the basics and are seeking more.
So to summarise:
I want you to nail your course and see the transformation I know is possible.
I want to be there to hold your hand along the way.
I want to introduce you to awesome new people who are just as committed to their professional development as you are.
I want to give you a kick when you’re lacking motivation.
I want you to establish momentum and to keep it going.
I’m committed to showing up and being a part of this group for the long haul and want to support you at every stage of your fundraising journey.
Watch this space, I can’t wait to share more with you are our community grows.