Building and Utilizing Champions

Leaders and Champions Defined

Leaders are people who have some influence over your target audience. They may be appointed leaders such as elected officials, board members, executive directors or school principals. Or, they may be assumed leaders such as the mail carrier, the barber shop owner, or a school teacher who knows everyone in the community and has the confidence of the community.

Champions are credible community members—whether appointed or assumed leaders—whom you can count upon to speak enthusiastically in support of your program.

Building Champions

Identify Leaders and Champions

To make a list of potential champions, do a group brainstorm of all the key leaders and potential champions in your community. Identify:

  • board members
  • volunteers
  • past and present members
  • recipients of your services
  • recipients’ families
  • representatives of organizations that have partnered with you
  • community members who understand the services you provide and why they are vital to your community.

Make sure to include people who are outside your comfort zone or usual sphere of influence.

Use Six Degrees of Separation

While you may be aware of someone who is a champion for the issues that your program addresses, how do you reach out to persuade that person to become a champion for your organization or program? By informing everyone in your network—family, friends, colleagues, and faith and social groups—that you are trying to make a connection with a particular leader, you will usually find someone who knows someone who knows your target.

Close the Deal

Design a clear message that lets the potential champion know what your organization or program is doing for the community and why it is important. If someone who is already involved with your organization knows the key leader you want to approach, have them make the “ask” for that person’s support and participation.

Build a Champion for Your Cause

In order for someone to become a true champion for your cause, you will need to convince the individual of the benefit they will derive from becoming involved in your initiative. Then, you need to give that person a meaningful way to contribute. Determine how the mission of your organization overlaps with the goals of your potential champions.

Utilizing Champions

With the right amount of ongoing cultivation, champions can help you …

  • recruit new members or volunteers
  • raise resources
  • increase public awareness
  • make formal and informal presentations
  • spread word-of-mouth recognition
  • serve as board or advisory council members
  • widen your organization’s web of support
  • open doors to new relationships for you

A champion may also serve as the Honorary Chair for your MLK Day event.

Have a Point Person

When including an elected official, other leaders, or champions in your MLK Day event, have one person responsible for all key leaders and champions. Funnel all communications in reference to the leaders and champions through this person. This will help to facilitate clear and consistent messaging.

Limit the Time Commitment

Be clear about what you leaders and champions to do and how much time you estimate it will take. Give them choices: fundraising, serving meals, speaking, recruiting other leaders and champions, writing letters to the editor about your project, or hosting a press conference prior to your event to bring attention to your project.

Schedule Time for Leaders, but be Flexible

Ask elected officials, community leaders, and champions to let you know ahead of time if they will be attending your MLK Day event. If possible, give them more than one option for how and when they might participate. When dealing with public officials, be flexible, as they may have more than one commitment and may run late for your event. Scheduling them first thing in the morning could avoid this issue.

Provide Guidelines

If an elected official or community leader will be a speaker at your event, give that person a set amount of minutes to speak and ask him or her to focus on the theme of your project or event. Make sure that you have provided the individual with briefing material in advance so that he or she will sound well-versed about your organization and event. Keep briefing material short and digestible.

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