Invitations are powerful.
Invitations signify who is invited, and powerfully indicate who is not. Invitations communicate who is valued, who is part of the in-crowd, and who is not. (Do you still remember that third grade birthday party you didn’t get invited to and how it stung? Or the friend who didn’t invite you to their wedding?)
As a network weaver, invitations are one of my key tools. It is almost a super-power. I spend a significant amount of time making personalized, specific invitations. It seems like such a small thing, but it’s critical because…
- It shows people that I have heard them, that I’m noticing and remembering them, when my invitation is to something useful to them or identifies something valuable they uniquely can offer.
- It encourages the shy to step forward and share their talents and expertise.
- It reminds busy people that they will find participating in the network valuable when they can carve out the time.
- It helps emerging leaders feel comfortable stepping forward to take on more leadership.
- It is an opportunity to highlight network values, like inclusion or broadening the variety of perspectives.
- It is an excuse to connect personally with people, reinforcing my relationships with them.
- And even if none of that matters to you, it’s more effective than non-specific broadcast messages.
I craft my invitations. I first make an invitation list, thinking about who is likely to be interested, who we need, and who we might be able to engage. When I reach out, I usually send them individually, maybe to three people if there’s an obvious reason to group them.
I personalize invitations, I start with the key information. I make sure the request and the commitment is clear, and when relevant add a link to make responding easy. I highlight any deadlines, (and I send a reminder the day before the deadline). Then, I add personalized text of how the person I’m inviting would benefit or what they have uniquely to contribute.
Finally, — this one is critical — I make it clear that it’s fine to turn it down. Part of the power of the invitation is the personal relationship, and they get results thanks to our very human reflex for reciprocity. People want to help you! Especially in a network, it’s important people know that your relationship will be fine if they say no, and that it’s better they turn it down than say yes but skip the follow through.
Done well, it can have amazing results. January, NEWHAB had 92% of members and 68% of active allies respond to their annual survey thanks to skilled invitations.
Use Power Carefully
While I like to think of inviting as a superpower, for use by the good guys, superpowers can be misused – intentionally or unintentionally. I’ll assume readers don’t need more on why you should avoid doing this intentionally. Unintentionally, though…
While personalized invitations are powerful in getting responses, using them exclusively can give the impression that other people aren’t welcome. I always send a general open invitation sent to everyone who is eligible to participate. They don’t often result in additional attendees, but the transparency is critical to building trust, and when they DO, they are the motivated people you most want to come.
Avoid inviting the same few people to many different things. If they say yes, you run the risk of burnout, have fewer active members, and may create a group of ‘insiders’ making it socially challenging for others to engage or join. If they say no again and again, they may feel guilty for not living up to your expectations (a nastier side of reciprocity) and disengage.
I love that invitations are a tool I can use without having to marshal resources beyond a bit of time. I love that they are a tool that can help me achieve relationship-building goals and educational goals. I love that people respond to a well-crafted invitation.