Hallmarks of Strategic Relationship Building
You’ll hear me say this again and again when it comes to asking someone for something, whether it’s money, a job, or just a favor: You have to get on their agenda before they get onto yours. How do you do this? By building a relationship. Those who build relationships work at it. They make connections, form networks, and show that they care personally. It goes far beyond gathering data and making a static profile: These master relationship builders treat people as individuals, form meaningful friendships while learning about them, and above all, listening to them. Whole books are written on how to form relationships, but I have winnowed it down to some key points.
Here are five of my top tips for relationship building:
- Show a form of Southern hospitality: Southern hosts are known for their generosity and caring. Their graciousness is a mix of charm and sincerity — always sharing, putting people at ease, and going above and beyond, whether it’s with celebration or concern. Showing someone that you care for them shifts their perspective from wary to warming, and helps form a relationship that, in some instances, becomes like family.
- Listen and learn: Listening is one of the most invaluable skills you’ll have in any profession, but certainly as a fundraiser. Knowing who your donors are, how they got where they are, and what their plans are will take you far in getting on their agendas. Everyone wants to have their story told. To get it, ask open-ended questions and let them talk about themselves. Write down all the details — they will matter, and unlock future discussions.
- Remember their important dates: Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and births all life-moments. Share in their joy by sending cards or a special gift that shows you know something about them. Remember, too, the more reflective anniversary of a death, especially of a spouse or child. This is the day most who have grieved find the hardest to get through. A call or letter, or an invite to lunch to talk about their loved one on this darker day shows ultimate caring and will be remembered.
- Cultivate connections: A master relationship builder knows his or her abilities are only as strong as the connections they’ve made. Being able to contact a congressman is great. However, knowing the general manager of an arts venue can be just as important when someone needs VIP seating. Knowing social secretaries who organize invitation lists, or forward mail and phone calls is equally if not more important. Make a point of meeting these people and acknowledging them and you’ll be able to call in favors when needed.
- Write: Whatever is rare becomes more valuable over time. A personal, handwritten note or card gets more attention than any email since because fewer people send them today. Taking the time to write a note, clip an article of interest, or mail a book with a card shows you care and is a gift of yourself that will be remembered. Nine times out of ten, it will be reciprocated and acknowledged as a unique kindness.
Ben’s Takeaway: Get to know people by listening first, and caring about what you hear. Everyone has a story. Let them tell theirs, and they’ll soon want to hear yours.