Right before Thanksgiving, I was invited for a business lunch in a cozy Alexandria restaurant. It was a rainy Wednesday: the traffic was slow, there was no parking, and I ended up six minutes late. I hate being late, so when I finally parked the car on a street across from the restaurant, I sprinted across huge puddles to the building.
A gentleman, whom I met via LinkedIn, was all-forgiving and accommodating. “Sorry, I always try to be punctual,” I said. “Not to worry, not to worry,” said my host. “Let’s have some food on the table and enjoy conversation.”
Well, the food was fantastic, and the conversation took its fruitful turn – of course, we were talking about fundraising. My counterpart came from another city, but he had incredible experience in business development and fundraising. After we traded stories of good ol’ international experiences we’d had, we transitioned to the realities of fundraising. No one said that it was supposed to be easy. And there is a plenty of stress involved. Yet success is closer than you might think.
What he said was marvelous advice. “When you’re looking into funding sources, be it a foundation or the corporate social responsibility department of a Fortune 500 company, who do you think makes the decision? Is it some amorphous foundation, or is it people? Of course, it’s people who make that decision for the foundation. It’s actually just one person whom you need to talk to. To be successful, you need to find out exactly what drives this person, and make sure you connect with him on a personal level.”
Simple? Yes, but profound. People make these decisions, and the best way to connect with people is not through email, but in real conversations. Whatever your situation is, I’m going to help you discover how to find your magic source. And the secret is to be razor-blade specific about your concrete target. Let’s see some examples.
Laser-focus your way to success
Squint your eyes and look at your computer screen. Do you see how the picture becomes vague and foggy? Now look at the word “foggy” carefully. Do you see that two letters “g” look like number 9? That’s focus on a specific feature.
That is your first answer – be very specific in what you are trying to do.
Let’s imagine that you’re trying to find partners for your first U.S.-China social engagement project, which helps high school students work together and learn about social engagement and entrepreneurship. Where should you look first if you have no existing partners whatsoever?
You will need to take your magic lens and be very specific. What U.S. and international foundations support social projects for high school students in China? What organizations in the U.S. fund social entrepreneurship programs in Asia? What U.S. companies do business in China and have social engagement as part of their corporate social responsibility ethos? Do these U.S. companies have representative offices in your state? How about a Washington, D.C. or NYC office?
Once you’ve identified these organizations, go ahead and create a list of concrete people in charge of departments responsible for funding these projects. Where do you find these people? After you’ve done your excessive search on Google and Bing, your next step should be LinkedIn. Find out how you are currently connected with these people. Do you have common contacts? Do you play tennis or golf on the same field? Or maybe, they like rumba? Every detail matters.
The best course of action, though, is to find out where these people are going to speak next. Perhaps there will be a conference in your town next week? Or maybe they’ll be attending your favorite trade show? Write down your information and make sure that you have a plan.
Now go and get them.
Find them at these events, and meet them. One well-known networker shared that he has two favorite spots at these conferences, right near the stage when the person is leaving the podium, and the entrance door.
The trick is not to just show how firmly you can shake his hand, or how charming your smile and your little elevator speech are – those words that she’s going to forget in the next five seconds.
The point is to make her remember you because you care. Show your passionate belief that your non-profit’s expertise is going to make all the difference. The truth is that we are all human, and genuine expression of the simplest idea can become that magic element that delineates success from failure.
So do your super-specific homework.
Google your target organizations. LinkedIn your top target contacts. Bing the next conference or trade show they will attend. Get yourself in front of this person. Perform a wonderful one minute verbal beauty. Believe what you’re saying. Make sure that you get this person’s business card. Shake his hand nicely while looking him straight in the eye. Promise to follow up shortly. Follow up immediately after. Set up a meeting with this person. Write a special handwritten note (not on a CVS card please!). Prepare yourself for the win.
After that you can do your powerful presentation, finalize your impressive sustainable proposal, and request the dollars that you need to make it happen.
I promise you, if you follow this approach regularly, you’re going to build your pipeline so rich and diverse that your rainy day fund will grow like wheat.
P.S. Whatever you do, make sure you follow up.