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Allison Gauss

5 Relationship Building Hacks for Nonprofit Professionals

Building relationships with other organizations, media outlets, and individuals can provide limitless opportunities for your nonprofit to grow and thrive.

A far-reaching professional networks allows you to:

  • Partner with other nonprofits
  • Find quality vendors for events
  • Recruit volunteers and donors
  • Attract new board members
  • Make a name for yourself in the community

You don’t have to be a total extrovert to be a good networker. Utilize your personality and your passion for your cause in building a network of synergetic professionals around you.

1. Initiate

Remember in fifth grade when you would ask your crush’s best friend if he/she liked you back? It seems a little silly now, but that strategy comes from the fear of being rejected. Often, plucking up the courage to say “hello” is the hardest part of starting a relationship. But one of you has to take that first risk. Why not you?

If you want to meet someone at an event, start by mentioning a colleague they may know, or an issue that relates to their organization. Conversations are much easier when you have something to talk about.

And if they’re not interested?

Life will go on. When it comes to approaching a new contact, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. That stranger at a fundraising gala may brush you off, but they might also be a powerful philanthropist looking for a worthy cause.

Be brave, say “hello.”

2. Find Common Ground

The first step to connecting with a business or organization is to connect with one of their representatives. So think of networking the same way you think about making friends.

When you meet someone new, give them your full attention. Show your interest by asking questions. And don’t be afraid to talk about the little things! Your mutual love of basketball or jazz may start a conversation that leads to a partnership.

Psychologists have found that individuals feel closer to people with whom they have something in common – and that personal connection makes them more likely to help the other person. You probably won’t remember everyone you meet at a networking event, but you will probably remember the Development Coordinator who talked to you about your favorite baseball team.

3. Help Others Connect

Be a matchmaker! Creating connections for others strengthens your own network. Introduce your new contact to a colleague in the same field. The colleague will appreciate that you thought of them and the acquaintance will remember your help.

Once you have made this introduction, you immediately have a mutual contact – another thing in common.

4. Treat Everyone Like an Expert

Not everyone you meet is going to open doors for you, but everyone you meet can teach you something. You may know more about online fundraising, but that grant writer might have some tips on writing your donor communications.

That intern can’t promise you a sponsorship, but they can provide valuable insight and a good word on your behalf. Ask about their organization’s plans for the coming year. Ask what they are learning from their internship. If the interaction goes well, you can even ask them introduce you to a more senior staff member.

5. Follow Up

The process of following up begins when you say goodbye. Don’t leave without a business card, or at least the person’s full name. If you think of a project or event that concerns you both, mention it before leaving. Then, when you contact them, you can pick up where you left off.

You should reach out within a couple of days of your meeting, but keep this first correspondence short and simple. Instead of pitching a partnership immediately, ask if you could meet with them in the future to talk more.

Sometimes you and an organization will have an obvious common interest and your relationship will develop quickly. In other situations, the opportunity to work together may come much later. Even if nothing concrete comes of the relationship, introducing your organization can only help spread your mission.

Have an Idea for a Fundraising Campaign?

Image Credit: jairoagua

Reference: Small, Deborah A. Sympathy Biases and Sympathy Appeals: Reducing Social Distance to Boost Charitable Contributions. In Olivola, Christopher Y. & Oppenheimer, Daniel M. (Eds.). (2011). The Science of Giving: Experimental Approaches to the Study of Charity (pp. 149-160). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

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