This surprises some people who know me from the trainings I lead, but I think of myself as an introvert.
After a retreat is over, I need a serious recharge.
Usually a Netflix binge.
I don’t answer my phone or text messages, and I hardly even talk to my partner (sorry, amor!)
But even when I’m not on an Ozark marathon, the thought of reaching out terrifies me.
Sometimes I’ll spend an hour on the same email or re-write the same text message 10 times before deleting it and not sending anything.
Believe me when I tell you that what I’m about to share is not easy, but it is completely necessary if you want to get your talents used as a trainer.
And if a socially anxious introvert who has learned to play an extrovert can do it, so can you.
How Not to Get Your Talents Used
I’m going to share some of the ways I’ve found incredible opportunities to use training for social change (and get paid to do it), but first, I want to tell you about what hasn’t worked so well.
For a long time, I tried everything I could to avoid asking.
At the time I didn’t see it as avoidance. I just thought that I needed to “build a relationship” before someone would trust me to give a training.
So, I became friends with a bunch of wonderful people at organizations I wanted to do trainings with.
Or, I joined a committee or board of an organization with members I wanted to do trainings with.
I attended a lot of coalition meetings with groups I wanted to do trainings with.
While this was a great way to learn and build community, it didn’t always lead to the type of work I’d really like to be doing.
Throughout, I let people know that I do trainings, hoping that people would think of me when it came time to train.
They did, sometimes, but rarely requested the type of work I thought necessary for the impact they wanted to achieve.
I was more often the guest speaker (facilitator) rather than what I wanted to be, which was the co-creator of the program or institute.
The problem was that I was waiting for people to guess about the value that I could bring to them and their group.
It wasn’t their fault for not knowing. That was on me.
The Trusted Trainer
I think trust is too imprecise a word for organizing relationships.
The question is: What do they trust you to do?
I might trust someone to listen to me tell a vulnerable story, for example, but I wouldn’t trust them to do my taxes.
If you want training opportunities, you need to build trust as a credible trainer.
Not as a friend, a volunteer, a donor or a member.
Sure, you can be all of those things, which is great.
But you should become a supporter because you believe in it, and it’s the right thing to do, not to build reciprocity you hope will pay back in training opportunities.
To do otherwise actually has the potential to erode trust and lead to frustration down the line.
Instead, the most basic principle to build trust is listening.
What’s the Problem You Help Solve?
By listening, you begin to understand the challenges that are most urgent from the point of view of those you want to work with.
This is a very different point of departure than saying, “I do political education” or “I do trainings for organization x.”
These are examples you might share, but in order to know how your knowledge, talent, and passion can be useful, you need to listen.
What is the vision they are striving to achieve?
What internal challenges are getting in the way?
How is the vision different for various people in the organization?
Then you think about all of the skills that you might use to help address those challenges, including some of those skills, knowledge, and passion you shared in the exercise from last time.
Finding Your Ideal Group
“I don’t believe in the kind of education that works in favor of humanity. That is, it does not exist in ‘humanity.’ It is an abstraction… I need to know in whose favor I am trying to work. It means the political clarity that the educator has to have.”
– Paulo Freire
Now, if you don’t already have a group in mind that you want to work with, that’s okay.
If there is a problem that you think your skillset can help solve, consider some of the groups and organizations who might benefit from your work and you might learn a lot from in the process.
Look around on social media and start liking pages of grassroots organizations you want to know more about.
Go to their website and sign up for their newsletter.
Read their blog.
Find a way to connect with what they are already doing.
I just reached out to someone I was considering to help on our blog.
In their response, they mentioned a blog post about Paulo Freire and how much they appreciated it.
That helped me feel like I could trust them with the task assigned.
Once you have some familiarity with their work, look up the email address of someone on their team.
If you are looking for some volunteer experience, it could be anyone, or if you are hoping to get compensated, it is likely best to reach out to the Executive Director or President.
If their email isn’t available online, then look it up on CauseIQ.
Why It’s Better to Reach Out
“I’ve tried asking and not asking. Asking works much better.”
Naturally, not all groups will be ready for the solution you provide right now—that is okay!
It would be good to think of 3-5 groups that you think could benefit from the work you’d like to do.
If you have a tendency to overthink, like me, you might be daunted by all the options.
This group probably already has plenty of trainers or that group works with this other person who doesn’t get along with my co-worker…
It’s funny how many excuses I can come up with for why a group shouldn’t work with me until they reach out and ask me—then it’s almost certainly yes!
When you are reaching out, you are risking that they won’t respond or they’ll say no.
Of course, that can be nerve-wracking. You are putting your heart out there.
But when you decide for other people, you are limiting them by holding them from your unique gifts as a trainer—which no one has but you.
But What Do I Say?
So, we’ve talked about what not to say, or at least, what is least relevant.
Many trainers have the custom of offering a whole smorgasbord of options for prospective partners: I can do strategic planning and coaching and pop ed and political ed and research.
To offer every single service you can offer doesn’t help determine how you might be useful to this group moving their vision.
For that, you need to understand the transformation that can happen as a result of your work together.
If you already have experience, then look to your past.
What change occurred as a result of the training you led?
What was something remarkable that someone said about the training?
What statistic demonstrates this change?
List some ideas, and then choose one.
Your email to reach out to grassroots groups will look something like this.
My name is _____.
We know each other through [mutual connection or affiliation].
I really appreciated [event/article/post]________ because [thing you appreciated about it].
I wondered if we could meet to talk more about your work. What days/times work for you?
I have growing experience as a trainer. When I worked with [name of group you work with], the result was [change that occurred]___. I’d like to share more about it and know if this would benefit your group.
Let me know some days/times that work for you.
Looking forward to connecting!
Keep it personal, short, and actionable.
Make it easy for them to respond by putting your ask up top and down below.
Then—and this is critical—contact them 3 more times until they set a date or say no.
Don’t Follow-up, Add Value
After we met, I still hadn’t determined whether we would move forward.
A week had passed, and I hadn’t replied because I was undecided, and she reminded me of what I said at the conclusion of our intro call.
“You said that you felt lighter at the end of our first call.”
While I didn’t end up working with her, the example was potent and redefined the passive-aggressive “friendly follow-up” that I usually do.
Instead of thinking of your second and third touch as a follow-up, think about how you can add even more value to their lives and work.
Maybe it’s an article, a constructive compliment, information about another group, or a website you’ve found useful.
Experiment a little bit and see what works!
If Not Now, Maybe Later
One of the reasons that I avoided reaching out for so long was the fear of rejection.
That’s normal, and I’m sure a lot of people have that.
But when you don’t reach out, you are holding back your gifts from all of these groups that might benefit.
Those gifts are meant to be used!
While I haven’t completely overcome my fear, I can say that it gets easier every time.
Plus, even if people don’t respond or say no for now, they may still reach out in the future.
So, go out, practice, and let us know how it goes!