Collecting — whether business cards, numbers of followers on Twitter or ‘likes’ on Facebook — is meaningless without a strategy to turn those relatively “blank” connections into meaningful relationships. If your marketing and/or fundraising strategy is based on counting, it’s time to rethink this strategy. Collecting is merely the “on ramp to build new relationships.” In his new book “Power Relationships,” author Andrew Sobel tells us there’s a better approach to networking.
Quality trumps quantity.
In order to get anything meaningful out of the process, you need to go deep; not shallow. Merely collecting LinkedIn and Google+ connections won’t do you any good unless you reach out and dialogue personally with these folks. Sobel’s book is oriented towards personal networking, but I believe the principles apply equally well to connecting with prospective volunteers, donors, influencers and advocates.
In How to Network Like You Really Mean It, Minda Zetlin summarizes Sobel’s research and take-aways from interviewing hundreds of successful executives. While these folks might be in the 500+ LinkedIn connections category, most could identify only 25 – 30 relationships that made any difference in their careers.
I’m guessing the same holds true for your nonprofit. How many of your social media connections are truly valuable to you? How many major donors are really contributing to the lion’s share of your bottom line?
Are you identifying these ‘high impact’ folks and developing targeted plans to network with and build stronger relationships with these key influencers?
Here are 8 ways, adapted from Sobel’s recommendations, to reframe your nonprofit marketing and fundraising stewardship objectives so you actually get something out of them — beyond counting.
8 Relationship Building Secrets
1. Figure out who matters most.
Make a list of your top 20 – 25 professional contacts. Who helps you identify new donors? Who helps you open doors and make valuable connections? Who helps you ask people for more support? This group is what Sobel calls the “critical few.”
ACTION TIP: Once you’ve identified your critical few, develop a plan to keep in regular contact with these folks. If you wish, you can develop separate “Top 20” lists for (1) influencers, and (2) major donor prospects. There will likely be a lot of overlap. Note that influencers can be folks who open doors for you offline, as well as folks who make connections and share information on your behalf online. Make a calendar, and include things like sending a holiday card with a personal note, picking up the phone and/or sending a direct tweet to extend birthday greetings and extending an invitation to join you for coffee (or a skype) and a schmooze. Periodically call on these folks for feedback and advice. Treat these people like friends and stay in touch. If you see an article you know would interest them, send it along. Get to know them better and better.
2. Pick your next tier.
This group might be 50 to 100 contacts. These are people who have helped you and/or have the potential to do more in the future.
ACTION TIP: Make a separate relationship-building plan for these folks. You’ll follow up with less intensity than with your top tier, but you’ll still want to reach out and touch these folks more deliberately than you will with the bulk of your constituents (for some ideas, get “50 Ways to Move Your Donors: A Relationship-Building Solution Kit”).
3. Find easy ways to engage everyone else.
In Sobel’s case, “everyone else” is about 10,000 people. He sends them his monthly newsletter and an instructional video at the end of the year.
ACTION TIP: I’m guessing you may already have an e-newsletter. I’d encourage you to also adopt a more inbound marketing strategy, expanding to a blog and judicious use of social media that offers your constituents opportunities to interact with you. I’m particularly partial to contests. They can be super simple, like “Tell us your favorite children’s book (relate this to your cause) and be entered in a raffle to win a logo tee shirt”.
4. If you want to connect with someone, find a way to help that person.
I’ve often told fundraisers that if you want gifts you must give them. It’s important to adopt an attitude of gratitude. Philanthropy means “love of humankind.” Show your philanthropists and philanthropy facilitators some love.
ACTION TIP: Figure out what your constituents want and need; then give it to them. It doesn’t have to be expensive or tangible. It can simply be an article you’ve written with answers to frequently asked questions. Or a “how to” guide. Or “top 10 tips” to keep your aging parents safe… go a little greener… get your kid to finish their homework… communicate your concerns to your legislator… etc. Share what you know and provide little “gifts” now, to promote longer and more lasting interactions later.
Engaging with influencers and major donor prospects is a two-way street.
If you want trustworthy folks to spread your message they have to trust you too. Learn to become what Chris Brogan calls a “trust agent.” Be the person who networks from a human perspective, not an automated robotic stance. Listen. Learn. Respond. Care. Become a “human artist” — the person Brogan says differs enormously from ‘that guy.’ “ You know who we mean: that person who shows up with a bullhorn to promote her projects, to blurt about her interests.” Instead, you want to be the person who puts the horn aside and simply begins a conversation. You join the group. You become one of them. Slowly, you share what you know and establish your credibility as a thought leader and actor. In this way, you begin to become a “builder of armies.”
How are you building your armies using online strategies? Please share.
For More Online Relationship Building Tips…
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