Everyone talks big about networking. NGOs spend money attending conferences with notable attendees, donors say they only fund organizations ‘in their networks’, even fundsforNGOs has an entire training webinar on the topic.
But networking is more than just attending fancy meetings and handing out business cards. Here are three simple ideas to guide your donor networking strategy.
Asking good questions is a great way to impress and engage donors. Questions are also often great entry points for increased contact, as donors often want to or have to answer questions about themselves. Questions can also be easily sent over email, phone, or in-person. However, it is very important to ask strong questions. If the answer could quickly be found online or the questions are too vague, they will only irritate the donor. Do not waste the donor’s time.
Examples of bad questions:
“Can you fund me?” (Answering this would require a lengthy evaluation the donor probably does not have time for)
“Do you fund xx in xx?” (Information on what donors fund is usually freely available with a little online research)
“How should I write a proposal for you?” (Too vague to answer in an email)
Examples of good questions:
“Since your organization has been supporting xx for such a long time, how do you stay current in this field? What resources would you recommend for NGOs working in this field?”
“I see you are currently funding xx project. We are planning a very similar project for next year, but are having some internal debates about the most effective ways to ensure community participation. Do you have any insights on this based on your current work?”
Donors get pitched to all the time, and so often find it immediately obvious when approached by someone with a hidden agenda. Instead of manipulating a donor to help you, first offer to help them. You may not realize it, but donors can be very keen on learning what you already know. Local, real-world knowledge can be valuable and hard to access, particularly for foreign donors. Information on local trends, tips on working with different government agencies, knowledge of other nearby NGOs, or even travel tips and food recommendations can be very helpful to donors.
The trick to all successful relationships is to think about the other party. Even while trying to get money from donors for your project, it is still possible to consider their perspective both as donors and as individuals. Is your request reasonable from their perspective? Could your request get them in trouble with their boss? Do they have time to talk on the phone with you for an hour right now, or should you make an appointment first? Can you make your time with the donor an interesting learning experience for them as well as good marketing for you?