How to be a Subject Matter Expert in your Favorite Cause
Posted on December 11, 2019
It’s wonderful to be passionate about a cause. It’s good for you and for the world.
Since you are giving-minded, we at iConnectX want to plant a seed. There’s another level of commitment and awareness that’s good for you, for the world, and your career. It’s a commitment to immerse yourself in understanding your cause—the root challenges, overarching trends, and variety of approaches charities take to create social change.
The commitment is to become a Subject Matter Expert in your favorite cause.
What is a Subject Matter Expert?
The prevailing definition of a Subject Matter Expert is: “an individual with a deep understanding of a particular process, function, technology, machine, material or type of equipment.” This definition is widely used in the fields of technology and manufacturing.
In truth, every company or nonprofit in every department across every industry employs at least one Subject Matter Expert, or SME. These are people with deep knowledge in a particular topic. Using that knowledge, they advise teams on decisions and approaches to solving problems.
Why is a Subject Matter Expert (SME) so valuable?
The best Subject Matter Experts display a set of skills that make them invaluable to virtually any organization. The three core skill areas are: collaboration, communication, and the most important: critical thinking.
The above graphic outlines the key skills comprising critical thinking.
With proficiency in analysis, communication (both verbal and written), creativity, open-mindedness, and problem solving, you will be a top candidate for a wide range of jobs and for career advancement.
Keep in mind the need for critical thinkers is global. The World Economic Forum—one of the most recognized and prestigious conveners of leaders in business, government, and social impact—lists critical thinking as the second most important skill to have in the rapidly evolving workplace.
What does it mean to be an SME in a Cause?
If you think in terms of job duties, you showcase yourself as a Subject Matter Expert in a cause by:
- Keeping up on trends and challenges around your cause—such as the root causes of poverty and homelessness in your city.
- Recommending charities that make a significant impact in your community, nationally, and globally—and communicating why they are so effective in what they do.
- Creating awareness among your friends and colleagues about your cause with key facts and insights—like the connection between drug abuse and homelessness.
- Collaborating with your colleagues and as a volunteer to support the work of nonprofit charities focused on your cause.
- Organizing your friends and colleagues to create awareness, take action, and support nonprofits working on your cause—motivating your new team of volunteers by communicating how their actions make an impact.
How do you become a Subject Matter Expert in your Cause?
Everyone’s time is precious, so we suggest setting aside an hour a week (10 to 20 minutes a day) to hone your skills as an SME in your cause. To start, your main activity is research, and you can do it at your desk. Here’s what you can do:
Identify nonprofits in your community and beyond that focus on your cause. You can start with a Google search and also check out the iConnectX Marketplace, where a growing number of nonprofits are showcasing themselves, their work, and their events. Log in and look around.
Gather information straight from nonprofits. Pick 2-4 nonprofits to study. Read the About Us pages on their websites. Sign up for their newsletters, and read at least one blog article per week posted by one or more nonprofits.
Set up Google News Alerts on your cause and the nonprofits you are studying. Each day, you’ll receive articles from nonprofits and news outlets based on the keywords you use. Skim the list of articles and pick at least one to read per week.
Compile and read reports and white papers from think tanks. For more in-depth statistics, analysis, and trends, think tank produce all kinds of resources (from reports to infographics) on every social issue. Many take a specific view, given their politics. The following are independent think tanks that are not affiliated with any particular political perspective.
- Rand Corporation
- Aspen Institute
- Pew Research Center
- McKinsey Global Institute
Read the executive summary of at least one report or white paper per month.
Start sharing information. You’ll find something that moves or motivates you. When that feeling comes on, share! Send out a post on all of your social media platforms—and on the iConnectX Feed.
Brand Yourself as a Subject Matter Expert in Your Cause
In a few months, you’ll be in a position to showcase your newfound knowledge in ways that support charities and advance your career. The following ideas will help you meet career goals by “branding” yourself as a Subject Matter Expert.
Networking: It’s not everyone’s favorite activity. In fact, a lot of us hate networking.
Sharing information and insights about a cause that you care about is an authentic and comfortable way to make connections, whether at a networking event, mingling with colleagues, or on social media.
First off, it’s a great conversation starter. When you meet someone, it’s easy to ask: “What are the causes you care about? I myself am passionate about…” You can go on from there by sharing tidbits of information in “Did you know…” statements or “I’m fascinated that…what do you think?”
On social media, a mutual cause can give you a natural way to connect with a potential coach, mentor, or career advocate across industries. It’s easy to find out if someone is on a board of a nonprofit that focuses on your cause. Most nonprofits post information about their boards in the About Us section of their websites. Don’t be afraid to write a quick message on LinkedIn requesting to add someone on a nonprofit board to your network, making note that you share a common cause.
Collaborating with your colleagues: If you’re interested in getting to know and/or work with colleagues across your company, ask if they would be interested in advocating or fundraising for your cause. Organize a team to host a fundraiser or an online auction (both of which you can do with iConnectX).
Making an impression on your boss and upper management: As a Subject Matter Expert in a cause, you demonstrate an additional set of attributes and career skills of keen interest to most employers:
- Social Consciousness
- Diversity of Interest
- Eagerness and Capacity to Learn
We suggest the following ways to demonstrate these skills and attributes to your boss and upper management, keeping in mind that you know how to navigate the unique culture of your company.
Idea #1: Ask to host a brown bag lunch to discuss your cause. Explain that you will facilitate and invite your manager. Prepare for the lunch by sharing a fact sheet and throwing out three questions to spark discussion.
Idea #2: Ask to organize a giving day in your office for a nonprofit. Connect it with an already-scheduled event at your company, like a holiday party or birthday. All you need are some talking points, a computer, and a donation page link. During the event, ask your colleagues to give online. A volunteer coordinator or fundraiser at the nonprofit will be happy to help.
Idea #3: Ask to take a “volunteer” vacation. Request a few days off to undertake a project for a nonprofit, such as building a house, organizing a food drive, or training for a charity marathon. The nonprofits that you have researched will post a schedule of volunteer events, or they will employ a volunteer coordinator who can work with you to design a project.
Citing your cause-related expertise on your resume: Your volunteer work and your cause-related knowledge will help you stand out, if you are looking for a new job or asking for a promotion. Be clear that your activity is as a volunteer, but treat the work as work.
If you have a summary of experience at the top of your resume, include your emerging expertise in social change. Here’s an example of a bullet you can use:
- Committed to addressing homelessness by creating awareness online and volunteering with a local homeless shelter.
As you build a proficiency in your cause, always keep in mind the following: one of the best ways to demonstrate you are a Subject Matter Expert in your cause is to fundraise!
Fundraising requires three key skills that fall under the umbrella of critical thinking:
Communication: Whether through video, photos, or stories, you demonstrate your ability to communicate when you can motivate others to give to an important cause.
Creativity: There are so many different ways to fundraise for a cause, especially with digital fundraising tools. From dares (like the ALS ice bucket challenge) to creating a virtual event, you can demonstrate your ability to catch people’s attention in ways that catch attention, motivate playfulness, and showcase the importance of your cause.
Project Management: Any fundraising effort—whether a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign or an online auction–is a project that requires all the aspects of effective oversight—from setting goals, formulating time-lines, and monitoring results.
Fundraising is also an important activity for your career, because you can demonstrate success by many different indicators beyond the amount of money raised. Those additional indicators include the number of people you reach, the number of people who respond in some way, and the number of likes you get on a social post.
From following charities in the Marketplace to organizing an online auction to setting up a peer-to-peer fundraiser, iConnectX can help you become a Subject Matter Expert in your cause. Log in and explore iConnectX!