In this episode of The Strategic Nonprofit we have Jessica Villa Sikora. Jessica is the founder of SUPERBANDS which is a not for profit organization that builds a community of hope using music to support mental health. We discuss how to strengthen the connection to grow your non-profit organization.

We also talk about:

  • Why use LinkedIn to gain more meaningful connections
  • How to engage your members and donors

More about SUPERBANDS, their mission is to raise global awareness for the youth mental health crisis and provide those who struggle the key resources and support they need. By bringing young music fans closer to their favorite artists and bands through thoughtfully curated VIP experiences and virtual events, and uniting them through the honest conversations about the soundtracks of their lives, we strive to remind everyone to ‘stay strong and keep rockin on’. 

Connect with Superbands on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

Transcription

Hi everyone Trista McIver here, program advisor at AMC NPO Solutions. Today on the not for profit podcast, we welcome Jessica Villa Sikora who is the founder of Superbands. Today, we’re going to be talking about going virtual and what that looks like for a not-for-profit to be fully virtually sustainable and online for their members.

Hi Jessica. Welcome to the podcast.

Hi thanks for having me.

Hey. Jessica please tell us a little bit about yourself and also about Superbands.

Yeah, so I am the founder of a non-profit called Superbands. We actually recently got our 501c3 status but we have been operating on a very slow pace level since 2014. The mission of Superbands is dedicated to building a community that lives at that intersection of music and mental health so a very unique kind of combination and where those spend diagrams, kind of intersect and the mission is looking to raise global awareness for the youth mental health crisis and encouraging those who need the support to get that support that they deserve. But also bringing young music fans closer to their favourite artists, their favourite bands through virtual and live VIP experiences so giving them a night to remember, an amazing experience at the concert of their choice with the artist of their dreams and uniting them through these honest conversations about the soundtrack of their own lives. And our tagline that we like to say as we remind everyone to stay strong and keep rocking on.

Well, that’s great. Oh, I like that. The demographic that you cover that your organization supports is that youth is it, adults, anywhere in between, so originally when I first started Superbands it was stemmed through my own experience and I struggled with depression from the ages of 13 to 17. That was originally our target audience but as I’ve come to learn and as the years have passed. We’ve noticed that our audience is more than just that young age, it’s also spanning to young adults, early adolescence so anywhere between 13 to 25, we’ve noticed is primarily where our audience sits. However, we have been very fortunate enough to receive a lot of support, a lot of really great feedback and a lot of you know involvement from people of all ages from around the world.

Excellent, good. I understand that everything runs virtually on your platform. What are the challenges and benefits of that?

Yeah. I think that’s kind of how we’ve always operated in that way and before it used to be so strange and such a foreign concept. When I would tell people but now I think of course it’s slowly but surely getting readily accepted whether it’s by force or and a lot of companies are adapting they’re adapting to this digital age that we’re in. So, I think when we first started well it was just me and I noticed in my own immediate circle, I really lacked the support from the people I knew. And the people in my immediate vicinity ideally, I mean when I first started it, I would have loved to have sat down conversations with people but as a non-profit, you really want to connect with people who are passionate about your mission, who really resonate with what you’re doing. And I was finding that there was everywhere from around the world, miles away from where I lived. So, I did try to look into what ways can we collaborate and before there were very pretty limited tools. There were things like Google and social media which is how we have been able to unite so many people so social media is not being discounted by any means but as time has passed, we’ve gotten a more comprehensive toolbox of tools such as Slack, Google Drive which has always been our tried and true. Asana and Base Camp for project management. So, there are so many different tools and I think, one of the biggest challenges is our team is relatively young and it being virtual.

I think, you kind of lack that those real connections that you might get almost immediately when you’re face to face so we try to do team building or collaborating in other ways. We try to just have those type of water cooler conversations on Slack and ask how you’re doing? How are your pets? How is everything going? But it is difficult to establish those connections and it definitely takes a lot more time on a virtual basis. You can’t always, well as a virtual team, pop in on people and ask how they’re doing. You really have to dedicate time to figuring out your project management and organizing thing so definitely has helped me become more organized in the sense of running a virtual team but something that I think that I kind of touched on earlier that is amazing about having a virtual team is I wasn’t forcing people in my local community to fit into this mission and vision of Superbands. it was people coming to me who resonated with the mission so our team is they’re 100 passionate about the work that we’re doing as a group. They’re bringing in so many different ideas based on their experiences from around the world, the different ages, the different backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. Everybody has something to bring to the table but the one thing that unites us is how passionate we are about the work that we’re doing.

Yeah, that’s beautiful. I mean, we use Slack as well and that definitely has helped us with the remote team building and celebrating each other. You can do the handclaps and the thumbs-up right here, motion so on. Let’s say a call which we’ve been using for a long time as well so with your staff, how did you find your staff? Because they’re mostly virtual as you say are they in different areas of the country, are they in different areas of the world?

Yeah so originally I was just thinking of posting kind of a call to action on social media. Social media was our very first method of not just collaborating as a team but really getting the visibility out there even before we had a website, we had a twitter, we had a Tumblr account. We really did we were born on social media essentially so that’s how I was intentional or initially planning on getting the word out and we still do that. We still do have our calls to action but actually more often than not the people who are a part of the team or who have been in the past have come to us because they found us online and they were they really felt connected to the mission, they really felt that they had the ideas to offer. And for me, I really do put a lot of weight on the passion more than the experience more than your area of expertise because if you care enough about something you can make anything happen so most of the time people have come to us, one of the people on our team actually has been following superband since 2015, 2016 and she lives in France and she reached out to me after all these years of the kind of connecting back and forth on social media. She said if you’re looking for someone and you need a little bit of help, she’s more than happy to get involved. So relying on people coming to you has been really, really great.

For us personally but we also do typical things like job postings on Linkedin, internships.com is a great one for younger individuals who are college-aged. So yeah, kind of a mix of both.

That’s really neat that you actually have somebody that’s from France. So with you talked about with your staff, I guess staff engagement, just keeping everybody connected on Slack or other your other ways to keep the staff connected virtually. Now, what does HR sort of look like in that respect how are you able to remotely manage the team?

Yeah so luckily for me, I don’t have to just do it alone so I do have interns who are relatively young and new to the work experience but I also have volunteers who have worked professionally in various industries who can contribute their knowledge and help me with oversight. The nice thing about our internship program is that it’s pretty, we like to call it, like a choose your own destiny type of internship where we have a general application and we kind of match people based on what types of experience or projects that they want to get involved in for their careers. So it’s a little bit have like heavier lifting on our end because we do kind of have to guide them. But between myself and two other individuals, we are able to kind of divide and conquer and of course continuing to stay connected between the three of us and continue to stay connected with all of our interns.

Yeah and how do you do the connections or say from the applications that you already have and that type of thing?

Yeah for sure so definitely using what we have and in terms of I guess staying connected again because most of our team is relatively young and have very similar interests despite being around the world. Really staying connected on a personal level beyond just Superbands. Following each other on Instagram and and seeing what each other is doing or what you’re up to and following up with those conversations and congratulating people on different milestones and really celebrating not just super band’s milestones but celebrating each other.

Oh, that’s great, lovely. With them with connections, it sounds like you’ve sort of made connections by just having your content out there in the industry, what sort of tips would you share for others that could generate more contacts in in their industry?

Yeah, I feel like I used to be on other social media networks like Instagram, Facebook. I used to be on those pretty regularly but Linkedin has become my favourite social networking tool, honestly. In more ways than one. I’ve been able to build friendships that way but really being able to develop connections with people who are are in the industry that we want to go after, so media and entertainment is such a big broad world that I personally don’t have any true connection to beyond Superbands so how is someone like me from a small town in New Jersey breaks through such this big industry. So, being able to connect with people through Linkedin and reach out to people in the appropriate industries, the right companies, a lot of it more often than not is a shot in the dark.

But if I could give any true advice, it’s you never know until you give it a shot. I’ve given it. I think I’ve sent maybe over a thousand, maybe over two thousand Linkedin requests, messages you know hoping that someone will give me their time of day or really see the potential and you can’t let it affect you if they ignore you or if they reject your invitation but you’d be surprised at how many people will give you a shot or will really, really resonate with the mission and have given me you know 30 minutes to 60 minutes to tell them about what I’m doing. Or advisors not even on a board member level but just providing advice giving me feedback. I get like emails from some of these people, I’ve connected with only on Linkedin regularly people forwarding the articles or forwarding the other organizations that they think I should connect with. So Linkedin has been such a great tool and on top of that, I’ve joined Masterminds and tried to connect with people who get what I’m going through. I think the people that I am in close connection with on a daily basis just in my own life, they don’t really understand what it’s like to run a non-profit to run a business, to manage a remote team but joining Masterminds of like-minded people who can offer each other advice, connect you with the right people is such a valuable tool. As well yeah that sounds like community sounds like a community building. For sure and can you tell like why is that so important. I think what I’ve come to learn when I was struggling with depression as a teenager, I think a part of what made it so difficult is that I felt that like I was the only one I felt like I was the only person that was going through these awful days at school and feeling so down about myself. But going to concerts was was where I felt connected to people who understood me, who understood my love for this band, who understood how much we loved and resonated with these lyrics so I think that was my first kind of in encounter with what the power of community really is and as I’ve kind of come to grow Superbands. It’s so simple but just connecting people with each other and creating this organization where a teenager who feels like they’re alone realizes that there’s thousands of people around the world who are dealing with this just like I am and I’m not the only person so being able to encourage each other through our favorite songs but also there’s always just been the strength in numbers and I think that every person should have a community whether it’s in person or maybe a non-profit like superman’s kind of cheering them on and standing behind them.

Yeah absolutely. Now, you touched on a few things, how you’d keep this community engaged? Is there anything else? Because you mentioned Linkedin or sharing your information is there any are there any other ways?

Yeah so keeping our supporters engaged is a tricky one because we have a relatively young audience and everything is changing. Like they’re between the pandemic currently but also things like going back to school or different observances from mental health like for example September being suicide prevention awareness month, there are a lot of moving parts. Being able to juggle our content and really pivot based on what we see is performing better or what more people find value in so whether it’s posting educational resources and articles but also maybe sharing news about one of the top bands that people in our support in, our supporter base care about or asking people for their feedback about a new song that was released or encouraging them to send an encouraging tweet or an encouraging message to somebody so really not just posting things but trying to open up that two-way conversation and engage them directly has been very, very important to us and very valuable more than anything.

Yes absolutely. Yeah that’s interesting about kids going back to school like here, I’m sure there’s a lot of challenges around what looks like and if they’re going to be if they’re going to have their peer relations and yeah it’s interesting times yeah so it’s definitely a a whole new world and more than anything not just the health scare of returning to school or maybe the struggle of physically doing school from home, it’s the mental capacity or the mental turmoil that this could cause or the stress and anxiety that this could cause really trying to tie everything back to mental health and and open up that conversation because it isn’t talked about you know we’ve come so many years since i was a teenager but we still don’t talk about it we still have a little bit of taboo around it and and it is a little bit of a unknown space so really trying to just make it make normalize the conversations and do it in a way that really resonates with teenagers which is music and pop culture and entertainment and me too.

Yes yeah same I love this my brother played this song for my son last night and it was really cute because I had no idea what it was but it was such a lifting song yeah this band apparently only does it did this one song but yeah I know it’s amazing how music can change and uplift your mood.

Yeah so vital. Was there anything that I missed that you’d like to discuss that could help the growing non-profits out there?

Yeah so i guess something that I didn’t touch on or i guess i briefly touched on it is don’t be afraid to take chances whether it’s reaching out to people that you don’t know on Linkedin or attending a, well when things return to normal, attending like an in-person group of non-profits or business owners where you can learn from each other and really build those connections and build that community aspect. But on top of that, it’s okay to not have all the answers I definitely did not still don’t just figure it out, don’t lose sight of your north star and that mission that you’re going after. And again to that point I made earlier, I think if you’re passionate about something enough you can make anything happen so you’ll figure it out day by day connecting with the right people but if you care about something go for it.

Great. Oh that’s so nice. Thank you so much for sharing. How do we how can we learn more about yourself and Superbands?

Yeah so you can find superbands online on our website at www.superbands.org and we’ve linked our social media handles on our website but on for Twitter and Instagram we are Superbands with an underscore at the tail end of that so s-u-p-e-r-b-a-n-d-s underscore (superbands_) on both those social media platforms but yeah we look forward to continuing to grow our audience and I do appreciate the opportunity to share a little bit more about my story as well as the work that superbands is doing and you know really hoping to change lives.

Thank you so much jessica

Thank you for having me.

You’re welcome.

About Tom (TJ) Abbott

Tom (TJ) Abbott, CSP is the Managing Director of AMC NPO Solutions and an authority on Governance. He has over 25 years experience as CEO, President and board director of several not-for-profit organizations. Tom has also spoken in over 20 countries.