“You have a fashion publication in Indianapolis? Really? That you’re staffing mainly with – VOLUNTEERS?”

That’s the sort of thing Polina Osherov often hears while speaking in larger cities about Pattern Magazine. Until the person actually sees the fashion publication – and hears her story. Then it’s instant respect.

Polina has never been one to shy away from a challenge. Even when the odds were stacked against her, the Russian native kept striving toward her vision – advancing the Indianapolis fashion community and broader design community. It’s a vision that continues to unfold with plans for Ruckus, a new 30,000-square-foot space for local designers that will be located near the Pattern retail store (yes, there’s a store now, too) in downtown Indianapolis.

I recently met Polina for the first time during a recent Twitter chat organized by Element Three. In this post, I’ll share Polina’s inspiring story and some of lessons that nonprofits can learn from it.

Forming the Pattern

Polina has made her name nationally as a photographer specializing in fashion and portraiture. She’s proud to call Indianapolis home and has been passionate about advancing the local design community. Pattern launched in 2010 as a local collective of likeminded people. They had negligible resources but shared the same passion.

Among the challenges faced by Polina and the fledgling organization were limited access to resources, and the perception from peers in large cities like New York and Los Angeles that you must not be good enough to make it there if you’re choosing to build something in a smaller city.

Lesson #1: Be bold in telling your story. And be clear in explaining the choices you’ve made.

Polina makes it clear that she chooses to live in Indianapolis. It’s her adopted hometown and it’s a place where she feels she can make a difference. She loves Hoosier hospitality and is fueled by the cause of building something special right here in the Midwest.

Start with Why

Polina’s approach to her work comes right out of the Simon Sinek playbook: start with why and be clear about your own motivations.

“When the going gets tough, that might be the only thing that carries you through those times,” Polina said in our Twitter chat.

So why is it that you’re doing what you’re doing? Part of getting people to join your movement is getting them to believe what you believe. For Bloomerang, the why is “the value of life with a mission” and empowering nonprofits by helping them retain donors and thrive.

Lesson #2: Take the time to discover and communicate your why – the true purpose of your organization.

Together, we can

One of the most striking things about the story of Pattern is how they’ve developed partnerships over time with an array of influential organizations including Downtown Indy, Harrison Center for the Arts, Indy Chamber, Central Indiana Community Foundation, Sun King Brewery and more.

Polina and other organizers have worked diligently to build relationships with people across Indianapolis and beyond through both online and offline channels: regular in-person meetups, the magazine, a retail store, blog posts and social media. The Pattern store launched last August as part of a retail incubator. Half of its profits go to help fund future projects.

Lesson #3: Build relationships both in person and online.

“It’s not a matter of creating the excitement, as much as knowing how to tap into things that people will get excited about,” Polina shared in the Twitter chat.

How do you know how to tap into those things that cause excitement? You have to actively engage your audience. And you need to make everyone feel like they’re an important part of what you’re trying to build, whether they’re making a major contribution or a small donation.

The Volunteer Statement

As a nonprofit, you’re probably making considerable use of volunteers. But imagine if you relied almost exclusively on volunteers. Pattern uses volunteers in areas like creating content, staffing the retail store and helping with events. Content creation can involve things like interviews, how-to articles, fashion lookbooks, event reviews and much more.

Volunteers agree to a six-month commitment of 5 hours a week and must attend a monthly meeting and help at one event a month.

Lesson #4: Let your volunteers choose how they can help.

So we’ve seen four lessons that Polina has for nonprofits. Now it’s your turn to hear Polina speak in person at Go Inbound Marketing 2015.

Join us June 22 for an exploration of the convergence of marketing science and creative storytelling.