Monday, December 1, 2014

Making Your Own Wind: In Memory of Steve Hed

I had the honor of spending quite a bit of time in Steve Hed’s presence, and I can honestly say all of the adventures and misadventures I experienced with him were time very well spent. I’d like to share a story with you that I think reflects both his genius and ability to teach, not only with elite professional athletes but a layman like me…

A few years ago Steve asked me to ride some of his new HED Jet aero clincher wheels on a day-to-day basis, looking for feedback on what a “larger” rider experienced with them. I got the wheelset at the beginning of RAGBRAI, one of Steve’s most beloved events, riding often with Team Roadkill but in later years with our Team LIVESTRONG. After a couple of days of riding the wheels I found him and told him I loved how durable and fast they were, but felt that they were susceptible to “flying” in a crosswind (being pushed sideways), especially when descending.

He listened, paused, and grabbed his chin, looking down at the ground in both comprehension but clearly mulling what I had said over and over in his mind.

Steve then looked up, straight into my eyes, smiled, and said with his classic exaggerated excitement, “You’re not making your own wind!”

I replied with a matter-of-fact, “I have no f*cking idea what you’re talking about,” response, but that only lit his fire further…

He asked me (in a way that clearly expected compliance) if I had a metal coat hanger and some yarn. Being in the middle of a campground in Iowa, these items were not readily available, and he was visibly disappointed. No worries though, and he launched into a description of the experiment they had done in overcoming crosswinds with speed.

Quoting as best as I can remember, he said, “What we did was we took a wire coat hanger and looped it on one end tightly around a bike’s handlebars, and then stuck the other end out about a foot parallel to the ground. We then tied a piece of yarn at the end and let it hang, like a windsock. As you might imagine, whether the bike is sitting still, or in motion, the yarn will point opposite to the direction the wind is blowing. Except…” – and he looked at me with a notable spark in his eye, letting me know that the magic was about to be explained, and continued.

“Except that there is a point where your speed will overcome the wind, no matter what direction it is coming from, and you can literally see it because when you hit it, the yarn starts to rotate until it is pointing back towards you! So, so, so basically, you’re making your own wind,” he said with great conviction. (This conversation then quickly transitioned into one where we designed, in theory, a wattage estimator app based on rider weight, bike speed, his database of drag counts & wattage, the angle of your cell phone, and a pitot tube attachment - yet to be designed - but that’s another story for another day… and an example of how his mind worked!)

Steve customized this bus for Team LIVESTRONG

I’ll admit my initial reaction to “making my own wind” was one of basic understanding coupled with guarded cynicism. In my mind I was thinking, “Right, Steve. I’m going downhill in spandex and at around 35 mph I’m being pushed across the road. And the answer is to stay off the brakes and go faster – potentially right into a ditch or another rider!”

Sure enough, the next day there was a big descent and as I sensed the start of flying sideways I found myself reaching for the brake levers. But as I did, I could envision Steve looking me right in the eye with his conviction (and hanger / yarn), and so I trusted him. I got down in the drops, dropped my head further and shot forward. The buffeting initially increased, as did the sideways push and my pucker factor, but then soon after everything changed. The push and shaking disappeared, the bike was on rails and I rocketed down the hill as if the wind was at my back – I had made my own wind.

When I saw him later at camp and told him about the experience he listened and approved, much like a parent does to a young child when they have “discovered” a universal truth for themselves. The proverbial teacher and his student.

I still ride those wheels regularly and think about the lesson he taught me often (especially when descending). But with Steve’s passing they now have a special place in my heart as a reminder of the gentle genius and the times we spent together. Rest in peace, my friend, I’m a better man for knowing you – Cb…

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Is Your Elevator Speech Going Up or Down?

It’s not an uncommon expectation to be told you need to have an “elevator speech” for whatever it is you’re trying to pitch / represent. While I certainly agree with this, I think it’s important to view this as a building block for a potentially more comprehensive discussion based on the circumstances. And like most things in business, it takes a little planning to get there.

*** For those not familiar with the phrase, an elevator speech refers to what you could tell someone about something in the normal time you would be an elevator together, so think 30-60 seconds.

What it is: a succinct, confident summary of the overall mission / objective.

What it is not: a hesitant set of details relevant to the mission / objective.

I believe in writing about what you know, so I’ll use the example of my experience at the LIVESTRONG Foundation.  When someone asks me, “Who do you work for?” I can say:

"I work for the LIVESTRONG Foundation. We’re a charity that helps anyone with cancer, right now - for free - and that includes the patient, family members, and friends. We know that cancer research is important, and thankfully lots of people are working in this area.  But if you’re diagnosed today with something like lung cancer, being told there might be an effective treatment for you in about 10 years isn’t much help. So we focus on what can be done right now, in multiple ways."
That’s about 20 seconds of time (yes, I checked) and summarizes our mission and differentiates our organization from others. That could be the beginning and end of the interaction, and the person who asked now has a very basic understanding about the LIVESTRONG Foundation. Hopefully it sets the stage for wanting to learn more, and this leads to the concept of the elevator speech being your foundation for more information.

*** During my military career I worked for a Colonel who told us that when it came time to brief him, be prepared to be at least 3 questions deep. He wanted us to try and anticipate what he might ask; not only making us more efficient in the briefing process (vs. saying, "Sorry, sir, I don’t know that but I’ll get back to you ASAP.") and also getting us to think like an executive.

Using my previous example, some questions to anticipate might be:
  • What are your key programs at LIVESTRONG?
  • What’s your annual budget, and how much of that goes to services?
  • Why don’t you fund clinical cancer research?
  • Whatever really happened with Lance Armstrong?
  • What’s next for the Foundation?

And having thought out the answers to these questions, you can also use them for a more proactive approach / structure if the person or group wants to know more, such as in an interview or giving a speech:

Overarching theme:
The LIVESTRONG Foundation helps people with cancer, right now.
  • Point 1 – Survivorship and Navigation services
  • Point 2 – Where the money goes
  • Point 3 – Our future partnership with the UT Medical School

This idea of having an effective elevator speech is necessary in practically all facets of business, from sales / fundraising, to conferences / presentations, and communications / marketing. But it is not enough on its own; it’s your foot-in-the-door building block to having a more engaged and meaningful conversation.  Good luck, now get out there and practice! Ciao for now – Cb…

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Social Media Content Cocktail Party

I’ll bet you wouldn’t have a hard time responding if I asked you to list out some common posts on Social Media that drive you crazy: vague emotional statements, random requests for money, irrelevant family photos, miscellaneous cats chasing lasers, and on and on. So the Big Question is: what can we do to improve the quality of the posts we are contributing and receiving?

I think it comes down to two key things: contributing to the conversation, and targeting the right audience. Let’s go to a cocktail party, shall we?
  • Imagine you’re in a medium sized room filled comfortably with a group of diverse people - some are close friends, some are colleagues, while others are friends of friends. After about 5 minutes one of the folks you’re not familiar with stands up on a coffee table, holds up some hors d'oeuvres for one and all to see, and proclaims in a loud voice, “So awesome! – nom, nom, nom.”

Anyone feeling a touch awkward right about now? And yet this type of scenario is played out (thankfully virtually) many, many times a day in our Social Media communities. Here’s what we can do to change it:

Content creators – you have something to say, and that’s great. I would offer that with a little forethought to your content and organizational skills, your contribution would be much more appreciated. I’ve often used this example: I don’t care if you just had the best grilled-cheese sandwich in your life; however, if you can tell me that AND where you got it, now we’re talking.

Likewise, the group of people you are sharing this information with is equally important. Using the previous example, there’s a big difference between sharing this grilled-cheese information with your global contacts versus a pared down list of locals who might actually be able to go and get said sandwich. Conversely, you might be a member of a forum for awesome sandwiches around the world, and this is completely relevant.

*** A word about groups and filters – you probably don’t use them enough. Most of the popular SM sites have many ways you can create subsets of your overall audience. A few of the most common are Facebook Lists and Groups, as well as Twitter Lists and Collections. Some are incoming and outgoing (FB) while others are just incoming (T). And of course you can self-filter by joining groups and forums where the specific subject matter, and sub-topics, are known.

Content digesters – simply put: you get what you ask for, and with the advent of big data curation, plus a whole lot more courtesy of your friends at the various SM sites. The point here is that the more selective and organized you are, the better the SM experience you can expect.  It starts with who you follow / friend, and then afterwards it’s up to you to organize them into relevant groups as outlined above. I take this a step further and bookmark these groups so I can go quickly to them and avoid the chatter. 

And finally, it’s OK to delete / hide input you don’t want to receive. I’ve even had to temporarily turn off content from sources I value when they go into live update mode I’m not interested in, or barrage me with marketing info. It’s your call.
  • Now let’s go back to our cocktail party. Instead of the cringe-worthy example I proposed, instead imagine this scenario: after about 5 minutes that same person walks over to the 2 hosts, plate in hand, and tells them that these hors d'oeuvres are some of the best they have ever had, and thanks them sincerely (and definitely leaves out the “nom, nom, nom” part!). A few others close by hear this, and they are appreciative as well. Appropriate contribution accomplished.

Creating and digesting meaningful content is not only possible; it should be your online goal.  All it takes is a little thought and organization on both ends – go make it so. Ciao for now, we’ll talk again soon – Cb…

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Getting Event Sponsorships 101

One of the most asked questions I’ve received while working in non-profit fundraising is, "How do I go about getting sponsors for my event?"

Let me start off by saying I am a big supporter of having corporate sponsors cover an event's operating costs (and more, if possible) for several reasons:

- It lowers the risk and stress of putting on an event, knowing that the basic bills are covered in advance.
- It let's you focus on producing a quality event and fundraising for your cause.
- You can convey the message to your supporters that 100% of the funds they raise will go to the charity(s) you are supporting (and thank the sponsors for that, too).
So what's the key then to getting local, regional, and national companies to put up the sponsorship funds and services you need?  Is it the cause you represent, an innate sense of philanthropy, or just the right thing to do? You may get lucky and the answer might be yes to one or more of these, but more often than not it comes down to a fundamental business question: what's the ROI (Return on Investment) for the potential sponsor?

All too often I have seen very well-meaning fundraisers walk into a business, tell them they are putting on a local 5K or a personal long distance bike ride, and would like "X". But with limited ROI information they were soon on their way out, disheartened and disgruntled that the proprietor didn't want to support them. It only takes a few cases like this before you start to think it's a lost cause and why do it at all...

Here's the problem: you are not thinking like a business owner.

Whether it's the local grocer giving you a few cases of bananas through getting that Nike swoosh on your gear, you are wanting to tap into their budget or operations somehow. If you want the answer to a sponsorship request to be “yes” then know they are expecting some kind of return - hopefully above and beyond what they'll give you - in terms of either revenue (profit) or positive publicity (marketing, which hopefully then leads to profit). You need to be fully aware of this, and prepared to demonstrate accordingly.

I'm going to gloss over the first aspect, pure profit, because it's rare that this is a driver in most non-profit event sponsorships. Yes, you could be doing something like selling their merchandise at a booth and that's the hook. If that's the case then it's projected sales minus (their merchandise and sponsorship costs) and simple math will tell you if that's a good fit.

Where the real opportunity for most events lies is in the marketing aspect, and your ability to demonstrate you are a better ROI than your competitors (yes, you have competitors, there are lots of great causes out there wanting support).  I look at this from two aspects: traditional and unexpected.

Traditional - This is the baseline ROI the potential sponsor is expecting you to demonstrate. For example, if you sell the title sponsorship for your 5K for $10,000, what contractual items can they expect to receive? You need to have done your homework, pure and simple.

I hate to tell you this, but unless you have come up with something truly unique, it's probably a case of someone's been there, done that. But that's actually good news, as you can do some digging and find out what the market will bear and what the expected returns might be (much like getting comps before putting a house on the market). That can be as simple as consulting The Google and looking at other comparable events. Many times they will list their offered sponsor packages, especially for upcoming events. Or even simpler, call some similar event directors and ask them what they are doing. You might not want to do this in your local market, but there's no reason someone in a similar demographic around the country wouldn't want to chat.

Don’t forget about recording and reporting results, too. You can use effective tools to learn about the reach you’ve made, as well demonstrate effectiveness to your sponsors.  This includes things like Google Analytics, post-event surveys, and social media engagement.

Unexpected - Think of this aspect as the relationship-building portion of the sponsorship. This is you showing you're willing to go above-and-beyond the norm to make this even more valuable than what’s contracted.  More good news: it's usually low-to-no cost for you, and of high-perceived value to the sponsor.  You are only limited by your creativity, for example:

- You will line up 3 local TV interviews, wear the logo of the sponsor, and speak positively about them.
- You will write one or more blogs about their product or service and why it's important to the cause, and feature these blogs in your social media plan.
- At the start and finish of the event, the CEO will get to say a few words and present the awards.
- You find out that an employee at that company has a direct link to your cause and you find a way to honor them publicly.

You get the idea. This is all about making people feel extra valued, and often times gets them to thinking about how they can then do more for your event or organization.

Now what's left? Bringing it all home. You do that by having a professional semi-customized proposal and presentation ready to go for each potential sponsor. You've done your research and are ready to present why this is a good business decision AND why having them support your cause is important to you.

Fundraising is not walking in with your hat in your hands begging for money. You are asking for support for something you believe in and that there is a need they can help fill. Doing anything less than walking in prepared, your head held high with a positive attitude, is a disservice to that cause. Never forget this, as it's a game-changer when it comes to how you approach raising money and support.

And lastly, present yourself professionally relevant to the sponsors you're looking to sign. If you're courting a surf shop, don't go in wearing a 3-piece suit; if you're in a law firm, leave the board shorts at home. Regardless, you want your presentation to be clear, concise, and customized to some extent to that business. Make sure there's a leave-behind that summarizes the ask and benefits, and follow up as promised if they don't get back to you first. Say thank you - a lot.

And (truly finally) don't forget about in-kind product / service requests from a sponsor. They are often truly needed by your event and usually at a lower cost margin for the sponsor to provide than cash. The key here is you knowing what the real value of those items or services are to your organization versus paying for them out of your budget. Make sure for the most part in-kind sponsorships are absolute needs versus nice-to-haves.

No doubt about it, getting sponsorships is a tough sales job, but it is also very doable. Businesses have to market, so it's up to you to prove why your event is worthy of their support, and what value you are going to provide in exchange for that support.  Good luck, and we'll talk again soon! – Cb…