My CORRAL story
One of the things I love about CORRAL Riding Academy is the seemingly endless number of opportunities there are to volunteer. I began by helping with events in 2011, and by 2014 I unearthed a new professional passion while on their communications team. I thought to myself, “why not take it up a notch?” So I set myself to earning a Master in Communication through the online program at Queens University.
It was during this time that CORRAL became an Angel Oak client. During two years of brutal academic grind, I watched remotely as Angel Oak drastically improved CORRAL’s website and helped it position itself for longevity through its Million Dollar Miracle campaign. It seemed to me that things were well in hand.
Another thing I love about CORRAL? They recently hired me as Marketing and Communications Manager! After 22 years in the for-profit marketplace, I am thrilled to jump into the nonprofit world. I’m in a season where having a job serving others is the ideal. Still, the fact that my only communications experience had been volunteer based created a need to fill some professional skill gaps.
Enter the Angel Oak team
I remember when I first read the email from CORRAL founder Joy Currey about training at Angel Oak for four weeks. After seeing the results the relationship had brought for CORRAL, I was thrilled! My next thought, however, left me a bit conflicted — why in the world would they train someone who was replacing their services? I couldn’t imagine any company I worked for in the past ever extending their expertise to someone negatively impacting the bottom line (pretty good corporate speak, eh?).
As I settled into my first week at Angel Oak, not only was there a lack of tension, but I sensed I was genuinely welcome in their midst. I just couldn’t process it! I took a chance and voiced my thoughts. The response took me aback. I was told, “You’re the culmination of our long-term goal of proving the value of marketing to CORRAL as a client. They bought into it so much that they made a full-time hire!”
All at once I felt at home. Experiencing this new mindset freed me up to get down to the business of professional development. So I took out my notepad and laptop and put those hard-earned for-profit work habits to good use. If these people were for real about helping me, I wasn’t only going to make the most of it, but hopefully, find a way to pitch in. Once again, Angel Oak gave me more than I bargained for.
In the second week, there was a day when videographer Will Saunders was without his very tech-savvy intern. I am no digital native, but I can haul equipment and find a wall plug. So off we went! Will put me on one of the backup cameras for the first shoot. I watched Will conduct the interview and saw, through his deceptively casual approach, the power of the unscripted video. He had told me days earlier 90% of video prep happens in the form of research, background work and building the story arc. He knew what the client needed him to get, and he had a firm, but adjustable, storyline in mind long before we got there.
As we got busy moving to the second interview location, Will said, “I think you should do the second interview.” Now this was not what I expected. At first, I thought he was nuts! But the interview went great. Putting his instruction into practice while it was still fresh in my mind made the experience stick more. I have to admit, he was right. I was ready. More importantly, I learned insight into videography and conducting interviews.
My key takeaways
As a newly minted communications professional, the value of learning the Angel Oak mojo cannot be overstated. I went in with an individualized professional development plan and found a weekly schedule waiting for me when I got there. Here are some highlights from my transformation:
- The Digital Realm: From social media to Google Analytics, I learned the power of 1) tracking where your online traffic is coming from and 2) looking for patterns in how people respond to your content. It all comes down to capturing the specific details that allow you to prove what works and what doesn’t.
- Strategy: Building out timelines and using proven tools like a SWOT or a marketing canvas with proficiency are key elements in making a campaign successful. You can have the compassionate spirit that inspires all nonprofits and combine it with a savvy, business-like approach to keep employees focused and, more importantly, keep your volunteers coming back for the next project.
- Client Relationships: When Angel Oak does a Discovery meeting, there’s a lot of listening going on. Smart questions are asked, but mostly they listen to their client, making sure the problem is understood and clear objectives are established. Then they give themselves reasonable time to process and develop the best messaging for that particular organization. This may not seem applicable to someone going back to serve one organization. But as I observed the Angel Oak approach to clients, I realized that the reflective time spent in discovery is something that any nonprofit would do well to repeat not just annually, but any time things don’t seem to be working. So I am returning to the cause I know very well with a self-directive to do a lot of listening: to staff, to volunteers and to the public I hope to reach on behalf of the girls we serve.
I hope you, like me, have found your happy place in the nonprofit you serve, a place where your work gives you joy and a sense of purpose. You probably have a lot fewer skill gaps than I do as I take the reins of my new role. Thanks to Angel Oak, those skill gaps aren’t only far fewer than before, but I now feel I have a second home in the little white house on Blount Street.
– Neely Monemi, Marketing & Communications Manager, CORRAL