Gail Marshall and Sue McCabe’s community comms collective was the inspiration behind Good Eggs and a weekend visit to Wellington gave us the chance to catch up with them and talk all things Good Eggs and community comms collective related.
The community comms collective was born from an inspired idea that Gail had and then initiated thanks to the enthusiasm of her neighbour, good friend and communications colleague, Sue. Gail knew that after years in comms roles she wanted to give back in some way but with a young family, knew she only had so much time to give – and that other comms people were likely in the same position.
With this in mind Gail came up with the idea of forming a network of communication practitioners who between them could offer so much more to the community. Gail approached Sue who jumped at the idea and suggested there was no time like the present. And so the community comms collective was born – communications practitioners offering their expertise and what time they had available to community groups on a voluntary basis.
With over 35 years of communication experience between them they started fielding the idea with their extensive networks. It hit a nerve; the idea simple; helping people help others. They believed that comms professionals as a general stereotype like to network and meet people, this plus the altruistic nature of the project and skills the volunteers could develop seemed to them a win/win. They were proved right; within the first few weeks they had over 50 people interested to assist.
Their next step was Volunteer Wellington an organisation which links non-profit and community organisations with volunteers in the Wellington Region. Pauline Harper and Julie Thomson, Volunteer Wellington’s co-managers, were hugely supportive of Gail and Sue’s vision and offered to launch the community comms collective through one of their regular lunchtime seminars for managers of volunteers. Gail and Sue enlisted some help from some of their fledgling collective volunteers and ran a comms ‘speed dating’ session, giving community groups a taste of how Wellington’s comms professionals could help. From there, direct requests for help started to roll in and Gail and Sue haven’t looked back. Now they are celebrating their first birthday, are close to having made 50 community comms matches, have run four lunchtime sessions for community groups through Volunteer Wellington and have over 80 volunteers on their books.
On average Sue and Gail spend between 3-5 hours a week on the collective alongside their part-time jobs and as managing directors of households and kids. From early on, they have put most of their energy into understanding an organisation’s communications needs and coming up with a solution where a volunteer can add value efficiently and effectively. For each assignment they write out a brief that identifies the organisation’s requirements and what the volunteer will provide with estimated timings. They are strict about asking ‘who else needs to know’ when discussing getting involved and that if there is a communication person in place or someone tasked with this sort of work; they’ll only help if this person is keen to have the support.
At first they knew everyone they placed personally but now about 30% of people on the volunteer database are people they don’t and so, to a degree, take a leap of faith. But Sue and Gail make sure they have a clear understanding of expertise levels, areas of interest, time available, skills they would like to develop and charity areas of interest. This enables Sue and Gail to make better selections and more effective matches.
Gail and Sue ensure that comms professionals go in with an open mind and with a realistic understanding of (any or lack of) ongoing resources that each charity has. It often means that strategic actions and plans are not as coveted as the ability to come in and help with doing the doing or help give advice and support in a mentoring capacity.
Day to day the collective keep track of their volunteers and placements through a number of spreadsheets and a system of highlighted colours that show where people are at or in need of being placed or needing a placement. It’s a system Gail acknowledges could probably be a lot better. Presentations that have been delivered through their lunchtime seminars—including on social media and website usabilty—and other online communications resources they have put on their website (www.communitycomms.org.nz) have been very popular so they are interested in expanding those resources and potentially have monthly drop in sessions. They have found that often the answer to the problem organisations are asking is solved via mentoring, but social media, website assistance and communication planning is in high demand.
Their wishlist includes showcasing case studies of of the projects their volunteers have been involved in, and developing more online resources for community groups. And they are wondering about expanding over and above their highly skilled network with the potential to assist students or recent graduates gain experience.
As for where they’d like to be in the future, they both say they are happy with the size and shape of the collective in its current state – it’s simple and it works. But they do dream of seeing this model being replicated around New Zealand cities and further afield. Gail said it made her year to hear that Good Eggs was starting up and she would like to see similar collectives in other towns and cities around the world. These two neighbours with their discussions over the fence set up something wonderful, something so simple the repercussions of which are being felt all around New Zealand, Wellington and now into Australia, Sydney.
Good Eggs highly admire their work and are thrilled that the collective are so supportive. We wish them a very happy first birthday with many more years of celebration to come.
Want to set up a similar scheme near you? Please get in touch and lets make these collective eggs go free range.