5 Secrets of Successful LinkedIn Fundraising

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5 Secrets of Successful LinkedIn Fundraising

Suppose that you want to launch your new educational or community engagement program. You have a plan, your people are ready to move mountains, community partners are fully behind you, and you deeply believe in your cause. All is there. And yet you need $50,000 to make it happen. Where can you find it in this economy?

Knowing how long it might take today to get foundation grants or navigate corporate philanthropy circles, what else can you do?

Or perhaps you bootstrapped and sweated your way to create another great software company. Your startup is showing its first signs of progress. You have enough customers, growth is positive and partners are interested in affiliation. But to push it to the next level you need some money (something along the lines of $200K+). And yet every angel investor you meet politely declines. Frustrating and stressful. Is there a better way to find your first funder?

LinkedIn is your way. If you agree with me that the key to successful fundraising is building long-term relationships, LinkedIn is one of the most effective fundraising tools that you have at your disposal 24/7, 365 days a year. Even more impressive is the fact that according to Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project study, 38% of American online adults with annual household incomes over $75,000 use LinkedIn.

LinkedIn provides you with everything you need to build relationships with your prospective donors. This effective social networking platform offers you a full platter of fundraising tools: from lead generation and donor cultivation, to a platform for a successful ask and donor stewardship. Most importantly, you have relevant data on your prospects. And that’s pure gold.

As Anthony Pisapia, President of TechImpact, noted in his interview for the Council on Philanthropy, “LinkedIn is big data. It’s a giant collaborative database with contact info—who you know, what you do, what you like—and it’s all sitting out there for us as nonprofits to take advantage of.”

What do you do with all this data? These steps will help you to maximize your use of the world’s most substantial professional social media network.

  1. Maximize Opportunities via Your Company Page

If you don’t maximize LinkedIn’s free “Company” platform, you’re missing out on an enormous amount of leads and opportunities. Your next step should be uploading the most up-to-date information about your non-profit or small business on LinkedIn’s Company Page. Don’t be afraid to overdo it. Your non-profit should make sure that this page strategically funnels leads and answers fundamental questions such as your mission, your news and your success stories.

As Susan Gunelius suggests in her Forbes article, to make your LinkedIn Company Page standout, don’t forget to add the most captivating picture of your non-profit or fundraising cause. Try to connect with your co-workers, including top managers and the Board. And of course, promote it by adding fresh content.

Finally, assign someone to work specifically on promoting your fundraising page. This person should regularly update the content, share quizzes and create buzz for your project.

Here are some examples of great LinkedIn Company Pages.

2. Cross Pollinate Your Network

Remember the bees and flowers? Cross pollination happens when two or several plants’ genetic material combines and brings to life seeds that have features of both plants. And of course, we know that many gardeners are using cross pollination to create new types of fruits or vegetables. Giant tomatoes or super apples, anyone?

Now imagine that your contacts are your flowers and fruit. Once you have your LinkedIn profile up and running (and Mike Allton, Social Media Consultant and Blog Coach, has created a perfect checklist to make sure that your profile looks great), you will need to begin to think like a good gardener. Did you invite colleagues from various departments, Board members, your classmates, alums, personal friends and former colleagues to join your network?

As Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his New Yorker article, cross pollination involves bringing different people who have different perspectives and getting them brainstorming. For example,Intellectual Ventures, the invention and patent spinning company, is a perfect example of how successful this approach can be.

While you can’t necessarily bring your LinkedIn contacts to one room offline, you surely can invite them to your group. Make sure that you set a minimum of at least 5 new contacts daily (I connect with 10-20 contacts daily). Your next step will be to actively engage your contacts by helping out your new friends.

3. Increase Your LinkedIn Group Involvement

Another effective way to create meaningful conversations and look for prospects is by joining relevant LinkedIn Groups. Again, there is no sense in joining a group if you are planning to forget about it the minute you join it.

Add useful links, create your own content and share it with your fellow group members. Answer their questions, and lead them to your company’s page.

After you have found a few interested leads, take them to the next level. What differentiates your non-profit from others? Think about how these new contacts can become your clients or enablers.

Some people are doing fine with just being a part of several groups. Others create their very own groups. I highly recommend this latter path. If you have your own group, you can actively position the content you need to promote. Don’t forget to invite your contacts and actively promote your group. Most of all, you can advance your fundraising project by dedicating a specific group page to it. You may connect it directly to your other crowdfunding sites such as IndieGoGo, etc.

4. Maximizing Your Efforts – Use LinkedIn Status Updates Wisely

One feature that makes LinkedIn similar to Facebook is its status update option. I usually post content 2-3 times a day due to fluctuations of interest based on time of the day or geographic location of contacts. This frequency also allows me to test various headlines and triggers for attention. Test, test, and test. As I mentioned in my earlier post, while the opinions on what the best day for publishing your LinkedIn content vary widely, Noah Kagan, the founder of the highly successful OkDork blog, suggests that the best day overall to publish content for social shares is Tuesday.

Don’t spam your contacts with heavy messaging on your fundraising project. Spice your status updates with interesting articles and quotes. Don’t forget though that your most recent fundraising project should be centrally located on your company page with the DONATE link prominently placed, so that when your prospect gets interested in you and your project, he or she can find all the relevant information.

Another useful step would be strategically using other social media platforms. For example, my LinkedIn account is connected to Twitter and Facebook, so the content promotion efforts are multiplied with the push of a button. Finally, the more followers you have, the better your chances are of being seen or heard.

5. Send a Direct Appeal to Your Followers

Once you feel comfortable about your followers, you can begin to approach them via direct messaging. Go to your Messages section and click on “New Message.” Select a group of up to 50 contacts and add your engaging message. Also, you may want to deselect “allow recipients to see each other’s names and email addresses” option.

And if you want busy people to read your emails, don’t forget to use these principles. In particular, as Dave Johnson, from CBS MoneyWatch suggests, make sure that you write explicit and detailed subject lines, while keeping your message short and specific.

Seriously.

Then push the SEND button.

And if you’re still not convinced, below is a story of how one simple direct LinkedIn mail campaign led to an unimaginable result.

How to Raise $200K for Your Startup via LinkedIn

It’s not only non-profits that can benefit from the effective use of LinkedIn. In his interview with Elaine Rogers, Business Training and Development Expert, Frank Hannigan, Executive Chairman of Goshido, an Irish startup software company, shared how he used LinkedIn to raise $230,000 just in 8 days!

The key to Frank’s success? He just sent out 700 direct messages to potential investors offering them a 2% stake in the company. It was a simple plan – all Frank wanted is to find 10 people ready to chip in €25,000.

Imagine that Frank had only 700 connections at the time! But he strongly believed in his investment proposition and knew that he was offering a good deal. Frank strongly believes that LinkedIn is “all about trust,” and you need to be bold and approach your contacts with your proposal.

What happened next was amazing.

Frank received an almost instant response from his first level connections and their direct connections, which helped Frank to complete his round in one week (as opposed to original plan of 12 weeks!) Was every response positive? No — some said “no, but we’ll pass the message.”

Yet in 12 months, using the combined power of LinkedIn, Twitter and traditional media sources, Frank and his team were able to raise €450,000 in total. Not bad for a simple message?

So don’t be shy about writing to your LinkedIn contacts about your cool startup, sharing some of your first successes via LinkedIn status updates, making sure that your LinkedIn Group is fully aware of your success stories, following up and inviting your contacts to social events. Be proactive and confident.

Your Major Takeaways for LinkedIn Fundraising:

1. Build a stellar Company Page (professional image, regularly updated information, link to Donate or Crowdfunding site)

2. Cross Pollinate your LinkedIn Network. Invite contacts from different sides of life: add business contacts, university alums, non-profits and foundation contacts.

3. Maximize your LinkedIn Group presence. When possible, create your own group and promote your fundraising campaign.

4. Use your LinkedIn status updates wisely. When you share relevant, useful information with your followers, your updates become effective supplement to your LinkedIn engagement strategy

5. Send a direct message to your prospects with your proposal. Be bold and decisive. You’ve done your homework, right? Then, there is only one way to find out. Ask.

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Learning From Top LinkedIn Influencers: 10 Tips on How to Write a Mega Hit Article on LinkedIn

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Do you ever feel that social media were created just to distract, stress, and overinflate each of us?  Struggling with content overload, and struggling to make your voice heard?  Let’s face it, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Mashable, Huffington Post and now even LinkedIn Pulse are feeding all of us with tons of “good enough” material.

Yet amid this overload, we’re seeing consistently successful articles from a small group of LinkedIn users.  Who are these people? Why are they successful? What makes their content viral or enjoyable? What makes them stand out?

True, LinkedIn Influencers have an advantage – they have a lot of followers.  They earned their trust by producing great products, starting amazing companies and writing bestselling books.

What about the rest of us, though?  Those of you who work for a small non-profit, or own a small business, or even those of you working for a corporate giant with strict policies on what you can publish. Well, I have good news for you.

You, too, can write an amazing viral article that gets you a million hits on LinkedIn Pulse.

Let’s take a good look and analyze the articles from the list of both the top 5 LinkedIn Influencers and top 5 LinkedIn users just like you who hit over 500K to 1 million views on LinkedIn Pulse in the past two years.  We’ll look at the big folks first, and the ordinary (but extraordinary) folks second.

The LinkedIn Influencers’ top 5 posts of all time are:

#1. Dave Kerpen, Founder & CEO, Likeable Local, New York Times best-selling author and speaker, comes first with his 11 Simple Concepts to Become a Better Leader.

Published on January 28, 2013, his article got over 2.6M views and 26K likes on LinkedIn, 7,396 Comments, and over 9K Tweets.  Dave’s article surpassed the posts written by some top LinkedIn Influencers, such as Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, Jack Welch, Barak Obama, Tony Robbins and many other megastars!

The article is based on Dave’s interviews with experts (business leaders) and contains a list of 11 most important principles of becoming a better leader. His list starts with an appealing quote, and is short and concise. He uses cross links to his previous article strategically dispersed throughout.  Also, this article falls into the universally applicable theme of leadership.

What makes Dave’s post readable?

In my view, these are easily digestable facts given to a reader in a list format. Is this nuclear science? No. Is this the Great Gatsby? No. Can you create a similar article focusing on your particular expertise or industry profile? Yes!

#2. Greg McKeown, New York Times bestselling author, comes second with his article “The No. 1 Career Mistake Capable People Make.” His article gained almost 2M views and over 12K likes.


Again, Greg is wisely using a list of 4 steps describing typical challenges for people lacking a clear career strategy. He also perfectly uses crosslinks to his blog where he speaks about his newly coined term, “highest point of contribution.”

Aside from this, he also uses a simple graph and refers the readers to his Twitter posts.

Here we have an example of a career-related post driving traffic to his excellent blog article.

Well, guess who comes in at #3?

#3 Bill Gates, Co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

With his “Three Things I’ve Learned From Warren Buffett” article Gates, garnered over 1.8M views and 11K likes on LinkedIn plus a hefty 6.6K tweets.

And guess what Gates uses as his article framework? Despite the attention people pay to his own words of wisdom, Gates uses two of the best practices I’ve been talking about – citing another expert’s opinion (Warren Buffett in this case) and a list!

Yes, Gates’ article is simple and very thoughtful. In fact, I am going to recap his advice here:

1. It’s not just about investing.

2. Use your platform.

3. Know how valuable your time is.

Very useful advice even in the framework of this article, wouldn’t you agree? I would strongly recommend reading Gates’ article here.

#4 J.T. O’Donnell, CEO, CAREEREALISM Media & CareerHMO, Career & Job Search Coach.

J.T.’s 10 Things to Do Every Work Day brought her over 1.8M views and 9.5K likes on LinkedIn, and over 4.6K tweets. And she comes next after Bill Gates — not a bad neighborhood, right?

Judging from the title of her article, you can see she’s got a list too. It’s a simple and highly focused post, just 10 things that every one of us can use. J.T. uses a nicely added trigger, though, when she adds, “I’ve never shared this list with anyone until now.”  You can experiment with this on your own blog, and if you have a good number of followers, they may be curious to know those pieces of wisdom you’ve never shared with anyone.

Finally, in the end of her article J.T. uses another engagement question via a P.S. that helps her to create an additional point of contact with her audience.  (She simply asks:“What things do you do every day to advance your career or your business?”)  Don’t forget to add this to your post as well, and track the results. The P.S. also includes a link to her blog and coaching program. I highly advise you to add the P.S. anchor to your blog post as well.

#5: Jeff Haden, Ghostwriter, Speaker, Inc. Magazine Contributing Editor, came fifth with his “Stop Using These 16 Terms to Describe Yourself.”

His article gained 1.7M views and 7.3K likes on LinkedIn, plus 4.3K tweets.
 

Again the theme of his article is in the highly popular “your career” topic. Yet, Jeff finds an interesting angle on this. He starts his article with a lively dialogue that really helps to attract the reader.  Then, it’s a smooth ride to…yes, another list of 16 points. Check them out, especially if you tend to “use cheesy clichés and overblown superlatives and breathless adjectives” in describing yourself or your business, or even “write things about yourself you would never have the nerve to actually say.

Summarizing the top LinkedIn Influencer posts, here are my top 5 tips to make your article stand out:

1. Use a great headline, which grabs attention.

2. Use a list format. It’s proven to bring results.

3. Cross link to popular posts and your own content.

4. Engage your readers with questions and use P.S. line to add touch points with your readership.

5. Write great content that people can use straight away.

Extraordinary LinkedIn Non-Influencers: What It Takes to Produce Top Content

Now it’s turn to move to non-Influencers, people just like you and me. I personally appreciate witnessing their success even more because they set an example for all of us. They venture into the hyper competitive niche populated by personalities like Bill Gates, famous bloggers, journalists, and industry and thought leaders.  To do so, their content needs to be prime, and needs to be something they care about deeply.

Below is the list of top-5 producing posts on LinkedIn Pulse:

#1 Kathy Caprino, international women’s career success coach, speaker & writer, comes first in this list.

Her article 6 Toxic Behaviors That Push People Away: How To Recognize Them In Yourself and Change Them won her some 2.3M views and 2.3K likes on LinkedIn!
 Her post made it to second place of top all producing posts.

A great post sprinkled with multiple cross links to bestselling books and Cathy’s own blog and business programs, it touches upon a sensitive topic that many people can relate to.  Again, choose a popular topic which evokes an emotional response, and your post will make it to the lead.

#2 Jacky Carter, Community Manager – Professional Women at LinkedIn, penned an article What Not to Say When Negotiating Your Salary.

The result – 890K views and over 2.5K likes on LinkedIn.

This is a perfect example of how you could use expert interviews to create your very own content. In this case, Jacky recorded an interview with Victoria Pynchon, a negotiation expert. Then she added two engagement questions and referred to information products negotiation experts provide.

Simple? Yes. Can you do it? Absolutely.

#3 Theresa Sullivan helps people connect with their true purpose.  Her article Five Lies That Could Be Ruining Your Career (and your Life) harvested 737K and 5K likes on LinkedIn.

Of course, Theresa is using a list format, with an engaging topic. And if you are curious to hear the 5 lies she’s hearing from people she coaches, here you are:

1) I haven’t found my passion / I don’t have a passion.
2) I can’t afford to leave the job I don’t like.
3) It’s too late to change direction now.
4) Pursuing my own happiness is selfish. I have a family to think about.
5) I hate my job now, but I will be happy as soon as I [get the promotion/finish the project/collect my bonus/get my degree].

#4 John White, Dynamic Marketing, Sales, and Management Executive 

John has a straightforward article everyone in the professional world would like to read:  7 Management Traits That Will Make All Your Employees Quit.

Since April 2014, over 539,000 people have viewed this article, and it’s gained 6.3K likes
 on LinkedIn.  Again, the article uses a list format, and a debatable, emotional and personal topic. John also injects some levity with recognizable images from The Office.

Nonetheless, my favorite is our #5 contender. Why? Because I know this guy personally and know his story well.

#5 Dr. Maurice Ewing, a hard working small business owner, successful entrepreneur, incredible speaker and HarvardBiz Blogger.

I first met Maurice and his family when I lived and worked in Hong Kong. Maurice led his risk management consulting business and had a life of constant travel.  Add a family on top of this and a demanding schedule.  It’s tough to be a small business owner.

Yet Maurice managed to produce incredibly popular lectures and presentations for a wide international clientele, and began writing his blog at HBR.

He stepped up to the LinkedIn platform on June 11with a clever read on Why Smart People Don’t Get Hired.  I watched his article take off — over 100K views in just a matter of hours! As of today, his article produced over 500K views and 5K likes on LinkedIn.

Why did the article produce such response?

Maurice shared that his article was addressed to “the highly intelligent, highly educated and highly skilled people that are either underemployed (i.e., working a job that does not require all of their education or skills) or unemployed. My “angle” is that over 40 years of research on IQ in psychology suggests that because smart people perform the best, they should never be unemployed. Of course, we all know many smart people that are unemployed for extended periods or underemployed for even longer.”

His article and (soon to be published book) aims to help these people resolve the dilemma.

What I appreciate about Maurice’s articles is that he always goes deep into researching any topics he writes about and backs up his points with data.  Surprise, surprise, Maurice also uses lists!

I asked Maurice what else may have contributed to the success of his posts, and he mentioned that “timing is more than anything on LinkedIn. I have determined that 4:30p on both Wednesdays and Thursdays is the optimal time to post. This is the time when most readers actually view AND read AND comment.” Weekends were a bust, of course.

So Maurice’s advice to non-Influencers is to be ready to hit your send button on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and “leave the other days for the Richard Bransons.”

While the opinions on what the best day for publishing your LinkedIn content vary widely, Noah Kagan, the founder of a highly successful OkDork blog suggests that the best day overall to publish content for social shares is Tuesday.

One of my best articles, Writing the Blog Article of Your Life: How One Idea Can Get You Hired by a Top Silicon Valley Venture Fund, was published on Tuesday, and produced a tremendous personal record for me. The second article that drove even more traffic was published on Sunday. So, my advice is that you need to experiment which day works best for your audience and your geography.  It matters if you’re hoping to reach out to just your American audience or the whole English-speaking world. 

Finally, I would add one essential tip that will help make your article a success: you need to aggressively promote your content. Without promotion, it’s highly unlikely that you will have 1M hits. Every single author I mentioned today, promoted their content like crazy. Post your article link on every relevant LinkedIn Group you’re subscribed to. Reach out to influential bloggers. Tweet, tweet, tweet. Remember, every new connection and every new like matters.

Summarizing what we learned from non-Influencers just like you and me, here is a list of top 5 strategies that worked for them and surely will work for you:

1. Go deeper into your content. Make it a valuable piece of advice by mining data and using examples of success.

2. Experiment with your publishing days. See what works. Publish. 

3. Evoke people’s emotions – find the theme which matters to your readers.

4. Aggressively promote your article. Post links to your article on relevant LinkedIn Groups, Twitter and Facebook. Share your content with your friends and colleagues. Reach out to top bloggers and LinkedIn Influencers. Every single connection helps you to make a leap to 1M hits.

5. Enjoy the process. 

Do you have your own tips to make it to 100K+ LinkedIn views? Please share your comments.

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Andrey Gidaspov
 is a published author, international business expert, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams.

Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog (www.gidaspov.com) for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.



Other articles by Andrey you might enjoy:

Writing the Blog Article of Your Life: How One Idea Can Get You Hired by a Top Silicon Valley Venture Fund

UnBound Human Potential: How Richard Luck and Sarah Mullens Created The Coolest Social Venture in Richmond

Ignore Skeptics: 4 Tips on How to Make Your First Startup a Million Dollar Success

One Skill Every Visionary Leader Needs to Master

From Superman to Bill Gates: How One Lecture Inspired an Entrepreneur to Dream

Set Your Song Free



Fundraising on Steroids: How InMail, Phone Calls and Multipliers Can Help You Reach Your Fundraising Goal This Year

3 Simple Steps to Make Your LinkedIn Profile Stand Out

UnBound Human Potential: How Richard Luck and Sarah Mullens Created Richmond’s Coolest Social Venture

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5 Entrepreneurs
Sometimes It Seems Hopeless…

“I was living in an apartment with people I had known less than twenty days, sleeping on a half-inflated air mattress in a room that was flea infested, and I spent pretty much the entire time intoxicated. I had no money, no car and no desire to keep living,” shares John. John was born in Richmond and at a young age quickly discovered alcohol. He lost his job, his house, and his hope. Then, when he hit rock bottom, he realized that there was no way out but to change course entirely. He made the leap and signed up for a homeless shelter known for its work fighting addictions. That’s when Caritas, a charity supporting the homeless, took the note of his audacity to do anything to stop his own self-destruction.

Miles was born far from John, in Montgomery, Alabama. Hard work was Miles’ life from a young age – he had to support three households. Yet, his low-wage jobs didn’t provide enough. Wondering what else he could do to help his family, Miles bumped into an old friend, who invited him into a promising world. In fact, that was what most of his peers were doing in his neighborhood – selling drugs. It wasn’t long before things turned bad. When his best friend was killed right in front of him and his cousin was sentenced to life in prison, he knew it was his last warning. His options were bleak. Miles wanted out. “Seeing my daughter’s face in that courtroom was enough for me to understand this was my lowest point. I needed to find a better way.”

Carolyn is a single mother taking care of five beautiful children. Her childhood was tough, and she found herself making some bad choices. She felt trapped, wanting to find good solutions to her challenges but unable to break her cycle of negative choices. It seemed like there was no way out. “I knew that I was better than that. I got really disappointed with myself.”After she was convicted, things got much worse, and she couldn’t find a job, despite her qualifications. “It was then that I decided that I would work for myself. I knew that I was going to make it as an entrepreneur, because I am better than my criminal background.”

Ciara was forced to leave her home with her grandmother and drop out of school at the age of sixteen. “Growing up without a mother and father, having taken care of a younger sister, living on the street with no money and bad people around, it was so tough,”says Ciara. She had children at a young age and quickly found herself in an abusive relationship. After finally getting out of that relationship, she made it her mission to become the best mother she could be. “My first child helped me to see hope. I didn’t want my child to see the abuse I was experiencing. I wanted to give her a better life.” In order to enroll her children in preschool, she volunteered through the Neighborhood Resource Center to cover those costs. Through that program, she obtained her GED, and has gone on to become certified in Personal Care and as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant. Is that enough to change her life?

Raheim grew up in public housing in Harlem, New York. His father was incarcerated when he was three years old, and following in his father’s footsteps, Raheim was arrested at age 19. During his eleven months in prison, Raheim vowed to change his life. “When I got into jail, I knew that I needed to dig myself out of this hole. Poverty, outside influences, and not having enough education affected my choices.”

How can these five people find an opportunity to radically change their lives? How can they make sense of the hardships they’ve gone through? How can they take that pain and transform not only their lives, but the lives and prospects of their loved ones?

Everyone Should Have a Chance

Enter Richard Luck and Sarah Mullens.

“After graduating from the Virginia Military Institute, I decided to join Teach for America, to help make a difference in communities,” shares Richard Luck, co-founder of UnBoundRVA, a non-profit that helps talented individuals from low-income families in Richmond become entrepreneurs. “When I began teaching at a Title-One High School in North Carolina, I saw an incredible amount of talent going underutilized.”

He recalled how let down he felt when he saw future Einsteins going nowhere. They simply couldn’t go to college due to a whole mix of circumstances. Some students would say, “You know, I can’t go to college, because my dad isn’t around and my mom is on drugs. I need to support my three brothers and sisters,” or something similar.

People accepted this reality – but Richard didn’t.

Sarah Mullens, UnBoundRVA’s other co-founder, who taught with Richard in the same school, added, “They had such talent – and street sense – and we knew we could use that for good. When we started listing the characteristics of some of the highest caliber individuals in these low-income areas that had ‘slipped through the cracks’, we realized that many of them were very entrepreneurial. They operated on a budget, were great negotiators, super charismatic, and had the ability to persevere and work relentlessly.”

It took Sarah and Richard a few months to come up with a new model that combines entrepreneurial programs and micro-financing models from around the world. It becameUnBoundRVA.

The mission of UnBoundRVA is to provide talented individuals from low-income communities a path to entrepreneurship. The vision behind the organization is a city where every person can utilize their potential to create opportunities for themselves and their communities.

As a strategy, Richard and Sarah decided to invest in a few high potential individuals from low-income communities, and connect them to all of the resources, training and support they needed to become successful entrepreneurs.

UnBoundRVA: Supporting High Potential Individuals

UnBoundRVA developed what they call a five-step High Potential Identification Process.

At the first stage, they developed partnerships with community organizations, schools, churches and other community stakeholders to help identify individuals ages 20-40 that have displayed the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, including work ethic, intelligence, perseverance, charisma, and leadership.

The following step is to meet in a small group setting to inform those people whom community leaders had identified as “high potentials” about the program and its benefits.

All “high potentials” that wished to be in the program were still required to apply. “And this is very important for us,” adds Sarah, “a future entrepreneur should demonstrate his or her will to do what it takes.” This gives us an opportunity to interview and select twelve high potentials for a six-week workshop.

The UnBoundRVA team developed a workshop for selected participants, held two evenings per week. It focuses on leadership and personal development, and introduces entrepreneurship. “It serves as our primary filtering tool, as well as a program in and of itself to positively impact more lives,” Richard explains.

Five of these high potentials are selected to continue into the year-long Business Development Program. The others are referred to other small business classes around Richmond and are able to apply again the following year.

UnBoundRVA’s Business Model

The business model is straightforward. Over the first three months, the five selected participants engage in business modeling classes using a nationally recognized curriculum. As they each consider new business ventures, they conduct market research to determine the feasibility and plausibility of the venture.

After completing this curriculum, each participant must pitch his or her business to a panel of entrepreneurs and bankers. This panel makes a recommendation to the banking partner regarding loan amounts, interest rates and repayment periods. UnBoundRVA holds cash as collateral with their banking partner, which helps their participants build credit. Each high potential has access to $20,000 in start-up capital.

UnBoundRVA has business partnerships that provide pro bono services in all the areas critical to launching a business: accounting, marketing, legal, and banking. They work directly with their participants to assist them in any area needed while launching their businesses. UnBoundRVA also plays an instrumental role in connecting these new businesses owners directly to clients, through their network and public platforms. They assist in any and every aspect of running the businesses for the first 9 -12 months of the businesses existence.

Naturally, this model overall has huge advantages: it creates jobs in the Richmond area, brings a modest number of families off of public assistance, and provides participants an opportunity to earn better salaries.

What Made It Possible?

Richard shared a number of his “lessons learned” in building this transformative organization, which apply to almost all of our endeavors:

1. Relationships and Networking matter a lot. “We’ve been able to pull it off so far because of the incredible support of all the partner organizations that generously helped us with their time and energy.”

2. The private sector holds tremendous power. It can help society in ways you wouldn’t realize. “I believe in the private sector: business and non-profits are natural partners. Most businesses are responsible community players, they can really help non-profits to fill in the gaps.”

3. Determination and a positive attitude are the keys to success. “As an entrepreneur, you will doubt yourself constantly. The quicker you can get your nose back to the grindstone and get your mind in a positive place the more likely you are to be successful.”

4. Measurable outcomes and smart metrics are important for proof of concept. So many non-profits boldly report that they have helped thousands of businesses. But how do you measure your impact? Did you put the right systems in place? Hence, the ability to make it small and show the results is of tremendous importance.

5. Changing people’s lives is a very delicate task. You need to fully believe in the people you’re investing in, and at the same time show the best of yourself. These people deserve your respect. They could pull through something that not many of us are capable of.

UnBound Transformation: “You Can Be Anything That You Want To Be”

The first 5 individuals selected for the yearlong support were selected out of 40 participants. By now, each has completed UnBoundRVA’s rigorous training and are receiving seed funding and support for their new businesses. In October this year these five newly minted entrepreneurs will bring new light to Richmond.

Let’s look at how the lives of our heroes have changed.

John: “Alcohol no longer has power over me,” says John. “I am going to make it happen.”John has decided to become a drive-through coffee shop owner. He has yet to announce his first coffee shop in Richmond, but he is very optimistic about it. John learns all he can about the coffee business and visits every coffee shop in town to note the specifics and best strategies to drive growth.

“Why do I believe in John?” asks Sarah. “Because he is so determined and passionate about this project. He will do anything to succeed, and that’s the quality of a real entrepreneur.”

Miles: Since Miles moved to Richmond, his life changed completely. He got a job working at Applebee’s and has gotten married. He also decided to enroll in a Culinary Arts program at J. Sargent Reynolds Community College. This will come in handy in October when Miles launches his own catering business. Miles believes that UnBoundRVA granted him with a rare chance to prove that he is a great young man, who, as he puts in, “was brought up to be a great father and great entrepreneur, who will put it all together.”

Miles’ suggestion to others going through rough times: “No matter what your situation is, if you try to make things right, the opportunity will come. Doing what you value will set you on the path you need to follow.”

Carolyn: She is active in her church, and recently graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration from a local community college. Carolyn wishes to use her love for creativity and art to propel her gift basket business. She plans to contract with hospitals around Richmond so a gift basket can be waiting in each room when patients arrive. “UnBoundRVA first became a symbol of hope for me, but after these past eight weeks I can tell you that it helped me to understand who I am. I got to know myself better than I ever have. UnBoundRVA has shown me the way, showed me what type of person I am,” shares Carolyn. “I’ve never met anyone who would believe in me so much. And my best lesson from this experience is telling my kids – you can be anything that you want to be.”

Ciara: She hopes to use her motivation and expertise to start her own business providing personal medical care in the Richmond area. “UnBoundRVA helped me with my personal development, the way I think, the way I open my arms to embrace my children with pride of being a self-sufficient woman,” says Ciara. “Thanks to Richard and Sarah, who have this special talent of listening to people, I became the person I always wanted to be.”

Raheim is a new home owner, thanks to his perseverance, hard work and Habitat for Humanity. He worked for nearly two years alongside volunteers on his house, which was completed in January of 2014. He is the first person in his family to own a home. He is now well on his way to launching a window washing & power washing business focused on small commercial and residential properties. “UnBoundRVA pulled me out of that deep hole. The world should take a look at what these guys at UnBoundRVA are doing. We should all reach out and help people in need to pull them back together. It takes a village to raise a society.”

Advice for Young Entrepreneurs: “It’s All About Human Potential”

“My hope was to provide an opportunity to those people who would not have it otherwise. My Teach for America experience has taught me that opportunity plays a huge role,” shares Richard. “And hard work does not always pay, especially if you don’t have opportunity.”

It’s all about human potential.

Sarah shared this advice for young entrepreneurs:

1) Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Admit that you don’t know all the answers, and ask for help. It will help you in leaps and bounds.

2) If you want to succeed, you need to make it your life. Work harder than anyone else. Richard and I work from 8 am to 10 pm, and still love it. The rest will come later.

3) There is no Plan B. Failure is not an option. Believe in yourself. Believe in what you do. Then and only then will success come.

What’s Next for UnBoundRVA?

“We need to get it right first,” says Richard. “These five people should lead the way for others. We want to demonstrate that this model is sustainable and these people succeed in their business ventures.”

“In the long term, we’d like to replicate the program in all major cities throughout the country. Let’s unbound potential together.”

If you are interested in joining this project as investor, mentor or business partner, please contact UnBoundRVA at info@unboundrva.org or here.

These companies support the project today:

Identification Partners: Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, Blue Sky Fund, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond, Neighborhood Resource Center, Peter Paul Development Center, CHAT, Richmond Promise Neighborhood, Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity, STEP Strategies to Elevate People, YMCA.

Business Partners: Cherry Bekaert LLP and LeClair Ryan.

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Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, international business expert, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog (www.gidaspov.com) for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.