Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Getting to a meeting...

So before I could actually meet with people I had to contact them. And, as a lowly VISTA member, this gave me some trepidation. I really wasn't sure how people would receive me and I wasn't sure the best way to actually explain what I was doing (as in, what the hell is a VISTA?). Because of this I turned to the least frightening media outlet available to me - email. It doesn't work for everybody but given how most of the business world believes it is far too busy to do anything other than what is already in their day planner I find that it cuts down on the amount of phone tag. Most people tend to check their email quite regularly as well.

Two of my previous jobs were sales related and that experience has really aided me as a VISTA. I used to sell credit cards for MBNA America (now purchased by Bank of America) and then I sold Cutco Cutlery for Vector Marketing. Selling knives taught me the importance of face to face meetings, you only do demonstrations in the homes of the people to whom you are trying to sell knives, and selling credit cards really taught me how to deal with rejection and making the most of as little time and words as possible. Both professions rely heavily on both scripted material and the ability to personalize conversations and discussions. With all that in mind, I created a protocol for myself.

First I had to figure out what my ultimate goal was. I'm a firm believer that you can't tell a story unless you know where it's going. Starting at the end, then, can make perfect sense. My goal is to get people on my sustainability subcommittees. In order to do that I need to get a face to face meeting with the person - preferably at his or her place of work because the person will be more comfortable. I chose to contact the "soft hits" first - those people already familiar with the program. The following is what I came up with.

1) I got out my list and figured out who the partners of the program are – who provides programming/volunteers/space/food/in-kind donations of any kind on some sort of regular basis – could be a non-profit that teaches a class once a month or a company that donates free tee shirts for a specific event once a year. I had compiled this information with the help of my site director.

2) I then wrote up a form to use for the email which I've generalized here:

a. Hi, my name is (your name) and I’m the (position: for example “new AmeriCorps*VISTA member) for the (program/organization). I would like to schedule a meeting for (a span of time relatively soon, “the end of this week or next” or “within the next two weeks if possible” for those who might be really busy). Basically, I would like to discuss the relationship between (his/her/their service(s) or organization) and (your program/organization) as well as the sustainability plan. Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

3) I waited for a reply. It really shouldn’t be too hard to get to the meeting this way but I would sometimes encounter a question like “well what do you want to talk about?”

a. A good response could look like: “I would like to hear your perception of the program as a (whatever he/she/they are) and discuss the sustainability plan the program will be moving into. As a (something in the community) I feel it is important to get your feedback on things and include you as possible. (recommend a meeting time, day, or span – “is early next week good?”)

I've found that as long as I make things short and don't give too much information people don't really ask questions until the meeting - which is fine because that's what the meeting is about.

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