In 2018, I finally started to get my nutrition back on track. I am a new-ish mom – my daughter, whom I adopted from foster care, came to live with me four years ago – and like a lot of new parents, my fitness and nutrition is not what it was pre-kid! I wasn’t exercising as much, I wasn’t sleeping as well, I was stressed out and overwhelmed, and my nutrition? Ugh, I was eating some JUNK. Eventually, after gaining weight and feeling sluggish, I also developed some significant belly bloating. That was the sign from my body saying “Girl, get it together!” I started using some terrific nutritional products (shakes, bars, nutrient supplements), combined with eating protein throughout the day plus a life-saving melatonin spray (zzzzz…), and I felt so much better! I started recommending my “nutrition-on-the-go” to friends, and after that I started sharing and selling these products with people in my networks. I became one of those people with a side hustle! I’m part of a great team in a network marketing business.

OK, stop right there. I know what some of you are thinking. I am not part of a pyramid scheme or a Ponzi scheme. Those are illegal. I do not have thousands of dollars worth of products in my basement that I am forced to sell, lest I be saddled with debt. Mainly because I do not have a basement. But also because I didn’t have to invest in a stash of products to get started in this. I am selling an actual product that I actually use every actual day of my life, and that I already was sharing with my friends anyway. I feel good about what I’m sharing, and I can share authentically, because this nutrition has helped me!

And there’s the first connection to my fundraising and philanthropy world: authentic sharing.

As I’ve gotten involved in network marketing, I have re-learned lessons, time and time again, from my 25+ years in fundraising. Believe me, progress has been SLOW! But I am learning, learning, learning, trying new things, and applying lessons back and forth between network marketing and philanthropy consulting.

Lesson #1: Authentic (sometimes vulnerable) Sharing

In my side hustle, I can share authentically with people in my network because I have my own, real story about how this nutrition has helped me. Likewise, authentic sharing in nonprofit fundraising brings results. A nonprofit should share real, resonant stories about the people or places it has helped. A nonprofit board member or volunteer should share real, authentic stories about how she got involved in the organization or the cause. Sometimes, authenticity requires vulnerability. Sharing why I started using nutritional products has required me to be vulnerable (talking about bloating, for goodness sakes!), and that’s new for me. But people can tell when you are being real, and it helps them feel a connection with you, whether you are talking about products you are selling, or a cause/organization you are “selling.” No canned speeches. More authentic story sharing.

Lesson #2: Think Differently about Your Networks

When I ask most nonprofit board members “who do you know who could make a donation to the organization?”… that’s typically a pretty short conversation. They might name one person, or they might say “I don’t know anyone!” and shut down our talk. Network marketing has (re)taught me to think more expansively about networks. When I started sharing nutritional products, it became clear that there were only so many friends who would be interested. My big network got smaller, fast. But then I started thinking differently. For example, I think of my protein- and nutrient-dense shakes as my “nutrition-on-the-go.” Who else in my world could use that? Other parents at my kid’s school, at her afterschool activities, in our neighborhood, within my social media networks… What about my friends with jobs that keep them on the road all day, who don’t have time to stop for lunch? Or people who work in the fitness world, who need to keep up their energy while they are at the gym or studio all day, scheduled back-to-back with clients? Once you start thinking bigger, the ideas about the breadth of your network start to flow. But what to do with that network? That leads to my next lesson:

Lesson #3: Practice Sharing Your Story

It’s not enough just to have an authentic story. You have to share it! In order to feel comfortable sharing it, you have to Just Do It. I am NOT talking about developing a speech. I’m talking about knowing what you want to say, knowing which part of your story might interest the person you are sharing with (in the case of my side hustle, it could be the idea of nutrition-on-the-go, it could be getting nutrients that you’re not getting from the rest of your food, it could be more energy, it could be better sleep), and asking questions to draw THEM out. When I first started talking about my nutrition, I tripped over my words, I forgot things that I knew I wanted to say, I got flustered… the same thing that happens when board members, volunteers, and staff first start sharing stories about their nonprofit organizations. I have led countless solicitation training sessions (teaching people to ask for donations) over the years, I have coached countless board members and staff through their first forays into fundraising, and one thing is always true: at a certain point, you just have to get out there and do it! Start sharing your story, start asking questions, and don’t worry about “messing up.” If you are being authentic and real, if you are connecting with the person you are talking to, it will be OK. And sharing will feel more and more comfortable every time you do it.

Some people will judge you and your work (whether in network marketing or fundraising) without really knowing what it’s all about. Let them. Those are not your people.

Lesson #4: Know Your Product

I have a LOT to learn about the nutrition company I’ve become involved with! There is a huge range of products, and there are lots of ideal customers: people who want more energy and better sleep, people who want to manage their weight, people who want to build lean muscle, people who care about healthy aging… I need to learn, and I need to keep learning as the company and its products evolve. Similarly, fundraisers should know about a nonprofit before they start to fundraise for that nonprofit. Seems logical, right? But, is it possible to know EVERYTHING? Probably not! That’s OK. If you are having a conversation with a potential donor, and you don’t know the answer to one of their questions, it’s fine. I promise! You don’t have to make something up just to make yourself look good or seem competent. It is OK to say “that’s a great question – let me ask about that and get back to you, because I want to make sure I’m giving you the best information.” Learning is a continuous cycle.

Lesson #5: Make Your Supporters Your Salespeople

Some people do not make any money in network marketing. A bunch of people make a little money. A small group of people make a lot of money. And a really small group of people make BIG bucks. I’ve learned that you can make money by selling, but you really start to build wealth when you help your customers become salespeople. That’s how you build a business in network marketing. In nonprofit fundraising, professional staff can bring in a lot of money for their organizations. The organization’s fundraising will really GROW when the organization can turn its own supporters and fans (board members and donors) into fundraisers; when those people who already are supporting the organization and already love it get out there, share their stories, and ask for gifts. That expands the organization’s “salesforce” exponentially.

Lesson #6: Surround Yourself with Good People

I’ve met some great people through my side hustle company! One of them even interviewed me online. The relationships I’ve grown with the people with whom I’m sharing, have been meaningful and fun, because we have some of the same goals and values, and because of the positive ethos of the company. I’ve heard some truly inspirational stories, and I’ve had a lot of laughs along the way. In network marketing, as in fundraising, it helps to surround yourself with people who share your values and whose positivity will lift you up. Even if your nonprofit is dealing with some devastating issues, you can cultivate a culture of positivity, hard work, and mutual support.

And finally – don’t worry about the haters! Some people will judge you and your work (whether in network marketing or fundraising) without really knowing what it’s all about. Let them. Those are not your people.

(Now that you’ve been hearing about my side hustle for all this time, go here to learn more!)