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Don’t be shy: Invest in cross-sector relationships

It’s worth it to make connections and ask for help.

Often, when I help organizations with strategic planning, they want to get input from those who they serve (their stakeholders). They want to know what their stakeholders and community members want/need to ensure they offer responsive programs and services.

Too often though, they haven’t invested time and energy in building these relationships prior to the process; and are disappointed when the invitation is sent and only a small number choose to participate.

Maybe it’s time to take a page from the business sector?

Business people understand how to build relationships that help their businesses grow.

The most successful business networkers are not “users,” they are givers. They make the initial connection; they learn about the needs of the person they are speaking with; and they look for ways to help the other person achieve their own goals. They establish themselves as a trusted resource; someone who gives back and looks out for those in their “community.”

When these businesses ask for help promoting a new product, for referrals, for connections, or help finding the “rockstar” that will complete their team, their stakeholders want to participate and get involved; they want to help; they want to give back.

As non-profit leaders we are comfortable building relationships with those in our sector; however, relationships with businesses and those outside of our sector are often approached with trepidation. Often, non-profit leaders shy away from away from business networking groups, service clubs, and other ways of connecting with those outside of our sector.

I’m not sure if it’s a fear of the unknown, a belief that our value systems are too different, anxiety around highlighting the great work our organizations do, or the perception of “for-profit” businesses as bad.

And yet, I propose that if we truly want to engage our stakeholder groups and community, we NEED to connect with the business sector and wider community.

As I write this, I am thinking of four non-profit leaders who are experiencing success in stakeholder engagement, building community, and achieving organizational goals. What sets these non-profit leaders apart is that they have reached outside of the non-profit sector and nurtured relationships with business people, community leaders, and individuals.

They have connected with the community as a whole. They sit on non-profit boards with business and community leaders; they say “yes” to sharing their organizations’ stories at service club meetings; they seek input from outside the sector from suppliers, funders, and individuals; and they ask for help in achieving their organizational goals. These non-profit leaders get results!

All because they reached out early, invested in relationships the wider community consistently, nurtured personal and business connections —and they ASKED for help.

And this is often the piece that those of us with a social service mindset miss—that those we invest in often want to invest in us. If only we’d ask!

What action will you take to get to know those outside your sector this month? Who will you be accountable to?

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