An Interview with Colleen Wainwright (aka The Communicatrix) on the Power of Collaborating

Have you ever tried to do something big? No, I mean, massively huge — something even a little audacious? If you haven’t, you’re missing out on one of the best adventures of your life.

But if you have, then you know you can’t really pull off something ginormous without the help of other people. (Which is why my Entrepreneur’s Manifesto calls you to “Collaborate in the Kitchen.)  It changes regular math so that 1 + 1 + 1 = 300!

Here’s a story about one woman did just that…

I interviewed Colleen on Friday as part of a new audio series I’m doing called “The Word Cafe.” Here are the highlights from our conversation:

Colleen’s turning 50 in September and she likes to start thinking about her birthday really early so she can psych herself up for the big occasion. In January of 2010, she started mulling over the fact that she would be 50 sooner than she’d like.  And over the course of that year, an idea about how to really mark the occasion started to take form: she would raise $50,000 in 50 days for a worthy nonprofit.

WriteGirl became the recipient of her largesse after a friend of hers pointed out the obvious connection between their mission and who Colleen is in this world. (As Colleen, says: Duh.) From there, things started to snowball and after months of planning, she launched an online campaign.

As of this writing, her project has raised almost $15,000.  (Did I mention that’s just the first week?!) How did she pull this massive awesomeness off? Here are some lessons she shared with me:

  • Pick a cause that connects with who you are. You have to align with YOUR particular passion. It needs to be real. It needs to be something you can “care a whole lot about in front of everybody.” Colleen is a writer. And she’s a woman who cares about other women. She also loves what WriteGirl is about and has supported them in little ways for awhile now, so it was a natural fit to make them the focus of this campaign.
  • Be authentic. It will inspire others. (Colleen’s authenticity has inspired me for years.) There’s always room to inject your story into the project. It’s when you let some of real self show, that others get interested. But do it in a structured way. You don’t need to show up in your “Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes, but don’t show up in your boxer shorts either!” Being real helps attract the right people and build your community.
  • Put together a team. Don’t try this alone! Get your closest friends on board first, and then look around for a few more of the right people to partner with. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. You don’t have to have a huge tribe to make a difference, just a few, really committed and loyal audience members. Oh yeah, who really believe in you and get what you’re doing. Give them something they can take to their networks and pass on. (For more on this topic, See Kevin Kelly and his post on a 1000 True Fans.)
  • It’s not about you. It’s about everybody. Find ways to help everyone participate and make it about them.  When you have a mission that’s not about you (or at least not just about you), you’re way more likely to get people to engage — to share your thing and pass it on.  And the Bonus? The joy you’ll get back from your efforts will be 100x bigger than the amount of work you put into it. What’s better than feeling great because you’ve done good?
  • Don’t over think it. You can mull the project over for a while and you should let your ideas stew a bit, but don’t get stuck in over planning. When you’re ready, talk with your closest allies and bounce your ideas off of them. This is part of good preparation.  And of course, talk with some experts and see if you’ve covered your bases. But then, ACT. Put one foot in front of the other and have faith that all of your preparation will help make it come together. If something goes wrong, take it in stride and adjust around it.
  • Get really clear on the WHAT and the WHY. You need to figure out your story before you start talking about it in public.  In Colleen’s case, she had to figure out the answer to the question, “Why do you have to shave your head? How does that fit into this project?”  (listen to the podcast to find out!)
  • Say Thank You. Be generous and acknowledge that folks are participating by giving them something back. Colleen’s got this part down, too. Not only did I get thank you goodies for my donation, but she sent me a note right afterwards, too. Gratitude is rocket fuel for anything you do — especially when you’re involving others.
  • Evaluate as you go. Not just about how the project’s coming along. (Act like Wiley E. Coyote: make adjustments if you have to, and keep trying.) But also notice what you’re learning about yourself, your friends, the world. What do the various pieces of the pie mean to you? To others? Pay attention to what happens and you’ll keep the momentum going and building to a smashing crescendo.

To read more about Colleen’s fabulous project, check out her fundraising portal here: She’s also interviewing 50 inspirational women and sharing their stories here: If you’d like to get involved and help with this, here are 5 things Colleen would like you to do:

  1. Donate $$ (again, Duh!)
  2. Use social media to share the links with your network.
  3. Take it a step further and tell your friends about this in a personal way:
    • Tweet or post the link but add your slant to why its important to you.
    • Send personalized emails (one at a time!) to family members or colleagues. Again, let them know why this project is important to you.
    • Share when you’re out networking…when people ask you “What’s new?” Use this project (and your donation) as a conversation starter.
    • Respond to Colleen’s stuff online with your own story. For example, make a video and post it in response to hers on YouTube.
  4. Connect Colleen with a foundation or two who might have matching funds for this campaign. Here’s her contact info.
  5. Hook her up with the authors, Joan Didion and/or Anne Lamott – do you know them or know someone who does? These two have been huge inspirations to Colleen and she’d love to get an interview with them for this project.

Do you feel like you’re collaborating with Colleen? I do. And that energy is infectious.

That’s the power of collaborating.  In this case, it’s a world-wide online collaboration.

Colleen is showing us that collaboration creates something exponentially larger than the elements you start with. You can begin with just three individuals. But if all three of them really bring it (in the truest sense of that phrase), you’ll create something that ripples out beyond the horizon of where it started — something really beautiful and life-changing for people you don’t even know. What an adventure!