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6 Ways Nonprofits Can Build Loyal Business Partnerships

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I once bought a home when I lived in Las Vegas years ago. The housing market was prime at the time and it was a starter home for my young family. We just moved to Las Vegas. Knowing absolutely no one, we chose our realtor randomly. We closed the loan, moved in, and never heard from the realtors again.

Eventually, we moved our growing family to our hometown of Portland, Oregon. This time, we were referred to a realtor by the name of Bob Bramel, who happens to still be in business.  After the loan closed, he sent us a thank you card with an invite to stay at his beach home located 2 hours away, he yearly sent holiday cards, and randomly checked in to ask how we were doing.

Which realtor would you choose if you gave a referral or if you were ready to sell or buy a home? Two decades later, I still remember the name Bob Bramel and yes, I still recommend him. You can tell him I referred him! (wink)

College courses and many online resources focus on how to build a loyal customer base but what about partnerships? Networking in order to build partnerships seems to be a lost art lately. But not to fear! By keeping these key strategies in mind, you can gain momentum, confidence, and the trust of your partnership developing a loyalty that will last.

I am honored to work for a nonprofit that has increased in partnerships by at least 40% since I took the role of fundraiser and development manager in 2018. I have had colleagues and coworkers share that I am a natural in communication and ultimately, communicating effectively is all you need to be successful.

Before I dive into strategies, it’s important that you take time to self-reflect and unveil characteristic traits about yourself. There are personality tests online you can take if you need a starting point. This step is vital – like laying a foundation for your development approach. Be honest with yourself to get the most accurate assessment. List your strengths and weaknesses and then take one step at a time to overcome the weak areas. You do not have to master your traits to initiate networking, but like anything, to excel means to practice. The more you do it, the better you will become.

1. Sincerity

If you get any take away at all from this blog, it is be sincere! No one wants to be insulted with insincerity and a person would likely shy away from doing business with someone they believe is not being honest. For example:

  • Show a genuine interest
  • Ask open questions while avoiding questions that have a yes or no answer.
    • Yes or No question: “Do you like sports?”
    • Open question: ‘Who is your favorite sports team?”
  • Send cards for various occasions
  • Offer volunteer hours
  • Provide empathy and compassion when appropriate

2. Observe Personality Types

The DiSC® model provides a common language that people can use to better understand themselves and to adapt their behaviors with others:” 

DISC profile matrix
Image courtesy of Speakout, Inc.

Research shows there is not one definitive personality type, but a blend of traits. Myers-Briggs is a popular resource to divulge at your leisure. For now, I will focus on the basic four. It is important to study the person you are approaching in order to adapt your style of communication. Yet, it is vital to stay true to who you are to not lose sincerity. It’s as simple as showing the person respect for who they are and their valuable time.

  • Direct – Best not to engage in friendly chit chat. Directs often want you to get straight to the point and often are limited in time. Add the message that if they would like to learn more about a program or subject, you will set a time that works for them or send them documentation in email.
  • Influencer – These types open up willingly and love to share. They make it very easy to learn their likes and dislikes and you can glean information to form a common ground (see below).
  • Conscientious – They want numbers! They are interested in data, history of accomplishments, and how a plan is going to be executed. Be prepared to have your information outlined as well as a hard copy to leave with them.
  • Steady – Not as open in conversation, yet are willing to have discussions should you ask open questions. These types you will find easy-going, flexible and open-minded.

3. Finding Common Ground

Perhaps you have run across a potential partner that you find difficult to overcome barriers; inability to reach, inability to gain their support, inability to have an opportunity to network with. By finding a common ground, you have an opening to start building their trust and respect. Use common affiliations to connect with potential partners and prepare to give your 30 second elevator pitch. Examples of common ground:

  • Affiliations such as chambers, clubs, or mutual partners
  • Core values-
  • Mutual target audience
  • Local events

4. Sandwich Effect

This technique is a simple rule to remember. Bread, Filling, Bread. When checking in with partners, get a feel for their situation by asking how THEY are doing- first slice of bread. Things to keep in mind in their response: Are they sounding out of breath? Are they talking fast? Were you placed on hold to locate the person you asked for? These are signs you may have caught the person at a busy moment and it’s best to address if it is a good time and simply offer to call later. Next, share the reason for your call or visit: updates on your business, new offers, current fundraisers and what benefit it will serve them to partake- the filling. The close – two things to ask; how can you be a support to them and when is good to follow up- last slice of bread. Remember to ask open questions. (Yes/no – “May I follow up in 2 months?” Open question, “May I follow up in 2 months or will 3 work better for you?”)

5. Face-to-face (FTF)

Do not discount the value of FTF meetings. I often see colleagues rely on technology to communicate and doing so loses emotion behind your message. Think about your own personal relationships. Would you rather visit a friend passing emails back and forth or sitting across a table for lunch or coffee or tea? Introverts tend to be okay with email correspondence, but you lose the value of sharing body language, tone of voice, and again –the key element of sincerity! Emails or phone messages can also get lost or misconstrued and frustration or misunderstandings can arise. To reduce stress in FTF networking, initiate meetings in a place of familiarity – perhaps invite them to your local coffee shop, to your place of business to give a personal tour, or to an extension of an affiliated event such as a chamber meeting.

If this hasn’t convinced you yet, check out the study reported in the Harvard Business Review on April 11, 2017 by Vanessa K. Bohns titled “A Face-to-Face Request Is 34 Times More Successful Than an Email.” Most people want to be or feel helpful by nature and it is more difficult to say no in person. And many wouldn’t mind having you treat them to a coffee or lunch in exchange for giving you their undivided attention.

6. Follow Up

Whether you are successful in building a connection or not, it is still a lost opportunity if you do not follow up at all. Businesses are continuously evolving as well through turnover department directors, or board of directors, or modifications in business plans and strategies You will stay fresh on their mind should internal decisions alter.

I want to include here that it is equally important to take time to just check in with your partners for no other reason than to remind them how you value them. Kindness goes a long way! With the pandemic our world is currently facing, I spent time reaching out to partners, members of mutual affiliations, and local businesses within proximity to our business locations to inquire how they were faring and how I could be a support to them. One response was from a teary-eyed voice, scared they were facing permanent closure, “No one has called to ask how we are doing. I can’t tell you how much this means to me. It’s nice to know someone cares.” I couldn’t solve her problem. I couldn’t pay her debt. But, I made a connection that I know will reflect a positive image for my company. That is a win!

Remember, above all, sincerity is key. Be observant to adapt your style of approach. Find common-ground. Use the sandwich effect to guide your open, content, and closure. Make the effort to meet face-to-face. And finally, follow up to keep interest. Show partners your value and what you represent. Communicate what good you can and will provide because partnerships are not one-sided. Honor your loyal partners. Provide them recognition. Support and champion for them. These elements along with key strategies create healthy, lasting and loyal partnerships!

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to Neurotherapeutic Pediatric Therapies.

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  • Melissa West

    Fantastic article! I love how it is organized into easy to digest sections and offers real simple ways to implement! Stephanie really is a fantastic resource and a wonderful and caring individual!
  • Stephanie

    Cyndi - thank you kindly for the warm compliments. You have been extremely supportive of me and I appreciate it greatly. Robert - I am so glad this article resonated with you and that it does make a positive impact with your start-up company.
  • Robert Zozaya

    Nicely written article Mrs. Vachos. As a new start-up company we're looking for ways to network and build relationships with our partners, suppliers and customers. Your loyalty building tips are quite appropriate and timely. Thank you for sharing your insights and expertise. I look forward to reading your future blogs
  • Cyndi

    Stephanie Is an amazing, friendly, caring woman with a heart of gold. She is a great communicator and exudes so much empathy. I see how she treats others with kindness and is such an exuberant ray of sunshine. I am so blessed and fortunate to know her! Cyndi Adams Vancouver, WA
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