28 Feb

Finding Our Ball in the Pool

Having just returned from the vacation, I was struck by how effortlessly my kids always seem to strike up a game of catch in the pool with any and all kids. Day after day, it happens without fail. It doesn’t matter if they have an old Hacky Sack, a rubber ball, a tennis ball, a baseball or a football.  One little girl they started to play catch with, and then moved on to a made up game involving slinging a headband across the pool for the other team to catch, even invited them to her makeshift birthday pizza party after an hour of playing together. I am not sure that she even knew their names.  There is something about a ball in a pool that lowers the barriers and allows for kids to connect.

This got me thinking. Nonprofits are in the relationship business. We work with people to bring about social change. In the process, we have lots of meetings, events and social interactions. Yet often at these events, people stick to themselves or those they know. How can we replicate the ball in the pool experience at our meetings, gatherings and events?  How can we lower the barriers and help people connect?

Here are 5 ideas:

  1.  Always provide name tags. Even better to provide some kind of color coding or symbol on the name tag that can be used for conversation starters.
  2. Facilitate ice breakers. Depending on the occasion, this can be as simple as putting conversation starters like Chat Packs on tables, asking people to organize themselves by birthdays or years of involvement without talking in a room, playing a round of personalized bingo or putting a sticker with a word or celebrity on each person’s back and asking them to walk around and get clues from others until they can guess. The possibilities are endless.
  3. Put out tchotchkes (choch-ka).  Adults don’t get to play enough. Put out markers, play dough, silly putty, rubick cubes, silly putty, stress balls, etc.
  4. Encourage a group activity. At your next event, put out dominoes for a quick fun game or to build a tower, commission a personalized jigsaw puzzle with a picture of your organization’s mission in action or logo and give each person a piece and ask them to add it to the puzzle, provide a cooking together opportunity, have a mystery dinner component or organize a mini-scavenger hunt.
  5. Encourage social media sharing. Like it or not, our phones are extensions of most people. Ask participants to come up with a personalized hashtag for your event (or you can provide one) and post their pictures on their personal and your organization’s social sites.

While none of these have the simple magic of a ball in a pool full of kids, they may help people feel more relaxed, more social and more connected. What else would you add?




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