Agency gives you wings

No matter how small you think you are, never underestimate the impact you can make. If you have heart and hustle, people will see it — I can say this with confidence because I achieved this while working at a non-profit of four employees.

Non-profit. All heart.

We had a quaint little office in the heart of Vancouver. We ran events, workshops, organized Board meetings, managed memberships and ran a free psychological hotline for the public. We worked like a well-oiled machine. We did things well but we’re gearing up to make a real impact — we just didn’t know it yet.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

I wanted to run an event that connected the community and psychologists in a meaningful way. I mustered up some courage — with the support of my team — and pitched my idea. I wanted to host an art exhibition that would invite local artists to submit art that represented what psychological health meant to them. Select pieces would be displayed in an art exhibition and we’d host an opening reception, along with a panel of psychologists and artists, to discuss the stigma surrounding psychological health and how to overcome it. I called the event “Piece of Mind”.

The Board members replied with excitement, nervousness and — the obvious issue in all non-profits — worries due to budget constraints. Nonetheless, they saw my vision and gave me agency. I knew that it would be a challenge to run this event on little to no budget but I believed in Piece of Mind. I believed in me.

Not easy but always worth it.

I’d love to say it was easy but it wasn’t. There was certainly a learning curve — mostly on my part — I had never worked in sales, made pitches or obtained sponsorships. I had no idea where to start. Luckily, my contagious passion had me speaking to anyone who would listen. That, in combination with agency to attend meetings during work hours and reach out to like-minded sponsors/partners, really allowed Piece of Mind to grow.

An unexpected encounter.

I reached out to art exhibition venues and artsy places in the community — many liked the idea but relied on revenue to survive. Since I was on that low-budget-mostly-no-budget wave, I had to look elsewhere.

While hosting an event at our central library, I shared my idea, with who I thought was another library patron, turned out I was speaking with the Director of Community and Learning at the library. Before I knew it, I had a meeting scheduled with her and her team and sold them on the idea or partnering on Piece of Mind. They offered me their art exhibition space and a venue to host the opening reception. This was valued around $5,000. This was huge for our small nonprofit! Having that partnership locked in it became much easier to get in-kind donations for the event from art supply stores, design/art school, and local establishments.

The plan was in motion. Now all I had to do was pull it off. No sweat.

Now, the real work started.

It’s important to mentions that I’ve always loved art: creating it, analyzing it, appreciating it, discussing it — you name it, I loved it. I was never really connected to the local art scene but I knew I needed to find a way in.

I began with a theory — if I could make Piece of Mind seem like underground, somewhat unknown art exhibition then it could have the potential for virality. I knew it was a long shot but it was still worth it. I didn’t have a budget for marketing so it would come down to emails, social media, speaking to the right people and a lot of hustle.

This is where I realized that marketing was in my blood.

I begin profusely googling the most underground art hot spots, bloggers and artsy newsletters in the city and sent them a Piece of Mind media kit. This kit was a bit presumptuous, in that, we assumed they had to of heard of us and obviously wanted to submit. The kit was simple and included a submission deadline, information of the opening reception, two posters, and some smaller table cards for them to share. I probably sent out a hundred of these.

If we were going to pull this off in less than a month-and-a-half, we needed to start receiving submissions yesterday. It was a battle against the clock. All I could think was one of you share this on social and we got it in the bag. *DEEP BREATH*

The decisive moment.

At first nothing…. but then, a local — but well established Vancouver blog (VIA: Vancouver is Awesome) — tweeted about the event and the submissions began to flow in — ah, I could finally begin to breathe.

Franchising the dream

The first year was a modest success. We had 50+ art submissions, displayed 15 of the pieces in the exhibition and had 60 people attend the opening reception. I was excited but for me, it was just the beginning. I knew we could do more and we did.

By the third year, we had franchised the event across four different venues in BC — The Vancouver Public Library, UBC, University of Victoria and Kamloops Art’s Council — and had moved to Montreal, Quebec and Toronto, Ontario.

We had thousands of attendees at our opening receptions, over 500 art submissions and displayed 100 pieces in exhibitions across Canada. I was even fortunate enough to have an opportunity to present Piece of Mind at the Canadian Mental Health Conference.

TL; DR

Is there any better feeling than seeing something that was once a thought in your mind become something real? Something tangible that you can touch?

Empowering your employees can lead to innovation and creative problem-solving. Giving them the agency to execute leads to results that you can measure.

If you empower your employees to soar then they’ll actually learn to fly — not just dream about it and go elsewhere. It’s all about embracing the startup mentality. It pays off — trust me.

Remember this the next time you feel like you can’t make an impact because you’re too small or don’t have a big budget. Passion and hustle can get your further than any massive marketing budget without direction can.

After I left the association, Piece of Mind continued for a year but was eventually canceled. It’s disappointing to see something you started to come to an end but the lessons I learned were invaluable and the feeling of community will live on!