The Importance of Personal Branding

It is important for participants in the modern economy to develop their personal brands.  As Tom Peters has written “our most important job is to be head marketer of the brand called you”.

With this quote in mind, my objectives for this paper are twofold:

  • to delineate and elucidate my own personal brand, thus better positioning myself to obtain volunteer assignments with Canadian Executive Services Organization  (CESO) in the field of grants (and fundraising generally); and
  • to enumerate some strategies for fundraising with potential clients while working as a CESO volunteer which will arise from and help consolidate this brand.

My specialization

My area of specialization is as an international development grant and fundraising consultant (IDGFC:  my acronym) in such areas as health, education, economic livelihoods, water/sanitation and protection.  Admittedly, this is a somewhat unwieldy designation and one which may require some refinement in terms of appearing in a catchy profile.

I have come to this specialization for various reasons, including my personal skills and attributes.  These include an interest in life-long learning, adaptability, cross-cultural understanding, writing, communications, advocacy, interpersonal relationships and a knowledge of English and French.

The following experiences distinguish me in this field:

  • Fourteen years administration of Government of Canada grants and contributions;
  • Crafting various applications on behalf of community organization for funding from different sources for Ottawa’s One World Film Festival;
  • Serving as a Canadian diplomat, including postings in Thailand and Ethiopia;
  • Two assignments with Canadian Executive Services Organization (CESO) (Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Emmanuel Development Association) in Ethiopia relating to grants;
  • Current enrollment in Algonquin College course Introduction to Social Media;
  • Extensive cross-cultural work, including as Director of Government of Canada Multiculturalism Program and Mentor Coordinator for Tibetan Resettlement Project Ottawa;
  • Serving as Executive Director of a non-profit (Canadian Parents for French [BC/Yukon]); and
  • Exceeding the fundraising goal by 45% (to date) related to Lisgar Collegiate’s 175th Anniversary celebrations.

I  can provide courses on how to research, apply for and manage international development assistance grants and fundraising and undertake these activities directly.  This is a very important skill as most non-profit organizations in the developing work struggle for funding.

Building a brand: platforms to use and communities to join

To further the first objective stated above, that of better positioning myself to secure further CESO assignments, I will update my current CESO resumé and covering letter to include successful completion of this course and an enhanced ability to converse in social media and undertake crowdfunding activities. While traditional written grant applications are important, increasing emphasis is being placed upon crowdfunding and SMS texting, as I shall reference later.

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Secondly, I need to practise my newly acquired social media skills. Amongst other things, I intend to use my existing WordPress account and upgrade it to obtain more features such as a custom domain name, more storage space, removal of WordPress ads and simply payments.  This will provide me with a platform to blog about various issues relating to international development assistance grants and fundraising.

Thirdly, I will become more fluent in Twitter and LinkedIn, both of which I already subscribe to, and use more of their features such as posting, linking and tweeting.  By undertaking such activity, I will enhance my own reputation, determine who is talking about me and learn more about the topics I am interested in.

While there is a limit on the amount of text that one can post, Twitter (www.Twitter.com) is one of the most widely used microblogs (Class Materials, Lesson #3) and, therefore, potentially useful for wide dissemination of a fundraising cause, for example.  It is excellent for providing direct and real-time access to individuals or controlled groups for knowledge and link sharing as well as problem solving.  It has become “de rigueur” due to its frequent use by US President Trump.  Indeed, some observers have speculated that it might, in conjunction with other social media, replace traditional e-mail (https://www.inc.com/john-brandon/why-email-will-be-obsolete-by-2020.html).

apple applications apps cell phone

Considered “the professional social network”, LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com) allows users to create profiles and connect to other users, share insights and create group communities. As Sherman and Smith state, LinkedIn does not “try to be everything to everyone … Sticking to its guns has make LinkedIn the most powerful business-oriented social network around.”  (Sherman and Smith, Social Media Engagement for Dummies, p. 241).  As I already have 1,450 LinkedIn contacts with whom I can interact, it is logical to continue with this platform.  It is worth pointing out that during a recent CESO assignment, I used the personal contact info on LinkedIn to contact 10 key potential donors.

As I undertake the above digital media activities and build my brand, there are a few practices I should bear in mind.  One is that I should not try and be “all things to all people”.  In this case, I have deliberately targeted my areas of expertise, that of international development assistance granting.  Secondly, my profile across channels and platforms should be consistent in terms of name, profile, picture, image and look.  This I will undertake.  (Kevan Lee, The Five Keys…, Buffer, January 15, 2015).  Finally, I need to “be aware of my audience, who they are, how they like to communicate and what is important to them (Course materials Lesson #4 and Robert Montenegro, How to manage personal and professional personas while on-line, Big Think-Smarter Faster)

Another activity in which I should participate to attain my objectives is to join actual communities.  The Canadian Association of International Development Professionals (CAID) has as its purpose to” give voice to the concerns and interests of Canadian international development professionals.  The Association’s objectives are to:

  • Foster excellence in international development consulting
  • Promote the collective interests of international development professionals
  • Provide a forum for members to exchange professional information and engage in professional development. (caidp-rpcdi.ca/about-caidp)

It might be appropriate to seek a volunteer role with this organization or speak at one of their events. While this organization will be useful in terms of knowledge sharing and contacts, however, its members have only limited interest and expertise regarding international development assistance grants and fundraising.  They do not have social media presence apart from their web site.

Another group in which I already participate is the informal group of retired Canadian International Development Agency officers who get together several times a year in Ottawa/Gatineau, primarily on a social basis. Important contacts can be made in terms of idea sharing and potential CESO assignments.  Indeed, one of my former CIDA colleagues did recommend to CESO that I be engaged for a specific assignment, to which I was appointed.  This group has no formal social media presence,

I did visit and ask questions of many of the tools referenced in the course material for Lesson #2, (including Twitter, Pinterest and Quora).  Unfortunately, I was unable to access much information or material related to the international development assistance grant and fundraising community.

From my previous experience, however, I am aware of various traditional on-line websites which relate to granting (e.g. www.GrantSpace.Org, www.grants.gov/web/grants/home www.imaginecanada.ca/grant-connect and www.tgci.com/funding).  While these sites are often good for learning of domestic and international grant opportunities, they normally do not provide a forum for exchange of information among professionals on individual or donor practices, for example, which I seek.   One possible exception is the European Foundation Centre’s (www.efc.be) Peer Learning and Exchange program.  At this point, however, the forum is open only to CEOs of select agencies for discussing issues of strategic rather than practical interest.

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Sites such as www.kickstarter.com  and www.razoo.com provide grass-roots NGOs access to (often) free communications vehicles and networks to mobilize existing communities to provide small individual donations from people supporting their causes and spread their message (Course materials, Lesson #4).  The simplicity of the approach largely obviates the need for dedicated grant managers to laboriously apply for and administer grants.  On the downside, few of these crowdfunding sites specialize in international development assistance, focussing instead on market development of trendy new products, for example.   And the amount raised is often less than international non-profits require to sustain their operations and programs.  But they are worth pursuing.

Also, of interest is the ability of organizations to raise large amounts of money from individual in response to disasters through one click SMS micro-donations as opposed to using the web or e-mail channels.  The ease of the donations process is key.  As proponents indicate, “Two clicks are one click too much” (www.mobilemarketer.com/ex/mobilemarketer/cms/opinion/columns/5135.html).

The technology in this area is constantly evolving, due largely to the efforts of the non-profit and wireless communities.  In this regard, the mission of the agnostic public charity The mGive Foundation (TMF) is to foster “social advancement by enabling an environment for mobile technology to create efficiencies, accountability and communications.” (https://mgive.org/About-Us.aspx)

SMS micro-donations are very appealing, and I will explore these more in my own activities.   The free promotion of these campaigns by athletes of other celebrities make this approach attractive.  Two downsides include the relatively small size of donation and the fact that they are more likely attractive in the event of a short-term and evocative humanitarian crisis rather than a longer-term development effort.

Rewards and Risks

The potential rewards of the proposed efforts described above will be many, and not limited to:

  1. A steady stream of ideal clients
  2. Rewarding partnerships
  3. Leadership opportunities
  4. Greater mindshare
  5. Association with a market niche
  6. Greater credibility
  7. Recognition and prestige; (and)
  8. Higher perceived value (from Lee as per above).

In my case, I can see such rewards being readily achievable, particularly if I employ an effective personal branding strategy as outlined.

There are, however, risks to the use of social media and the personal brand which may have taken a long time to nurture.  These are well-discussed in the course and I will cover only a few, as elucidated by Miriam Slozberg in The 7 Risks of Social Media (https://blog.dashburst.com/social-media-risks/) and in George Day, The Benefit and Risks of Social Media Marketing (http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/georgeday/2018/01/08/the-benefits-and-risks-of-social-media-marketing).

These risks include the possibility of posting something inappropriate on your various platforms, particularly the ones sometimes considered more personal such as Facebook.  There is no such thing as real privacy anymore.  This point relates to the need to maintain consistency across all channels and platforms, as indicated on page 2 above.  Secondly, one should avoid over-promoting.  Focus first on “developing a good online presence and good relationships, then your business” (Slozberg, para 4).

Thirdly, I would do well to post and tweet on a regular and appropriate basis (and respond in a timely fashion) to maintain my profile and monitor who is accessing my activities. I should not over post and clog up recipients’ feeds (Slozberg, para 5).  Finally, I should not pick a fight with anyone on social networks!  There is a difference between respectful disagreement and those who are maliciously choosing a fight (Slozberg, para 8).  These cautions speak to the need for effective “reputation management” (Course Notes, Lesson #4).

Summary

I will pursue my stated objectives as I develop my personal brand as an IDGFC, a field  for which I am well suited.  I will need to hone my newly acquired social media skills and engage with appropriate platforms and vehicles such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Kickstarter and SMS micro-donations.   These actions will not preclude my participation in more traditional groups such as CAID.  I believe that the rewards of my actions will outweigh the risks if I adopt an effective personal branding strategy and manage my reputation appropriately.

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