Editor's note: this is the second of three brand-new posts (catch up on Part 1) from Kevin Monroe, Founder and Managing Partner of X Factor Consulting, LLC, and our Expert in Residence for July! Kevin will be teaching his Program Sustainability Clinic this Friday, so if you like what you read, there's still time to sign up and attend!
Sustainability is intentional, it’s not accidental. Program sustainability is an outcome of strategic leadership, planning, and action occurring within an organization rather than mere chance and happenstance. In last week’s post we focused on the necessity of producing, documenting, packaging, and promoting program results as sustainability imperatives because people appreciate your efforts, they invest in your impact (results). This post explores relationships as a fundamental aspect of program sustainability and the third post in this series will explore resources as the final fundamental element of program sustainability.
Relationships are organizational assets
Relationships are primary, all else is derivative. Think about it for a few moments. How has your organization and its programs benefitted from relationships? If you’re willing, invest a few moments now and grab a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle (or open a two column document) and in the first column list some of the most significant accomplishments of your organization (funding obtained, partnerships established, hiring key staff, finding influential board members, etc.). Now, in the second column list the relationships that were either directly or indirectly involved in making those accomplishments a reality. I bet you have relationships correlated to every good thing that has happened. This confirms what my father frequently told me, “It’s not what you know, but who you know that counts.” Countless times in my youth, I attempted to argue with him. Funny isn’t it, how our perspective changes as we mature. I’ve smiled many times as I’ve said to one of our kids, “It’s not what you know, but who you know...”
Your organization already has a network of relationships. The size may vary based on a number of factors -- how long your organization has existed, how many board members you have or have had through the years, the number of volunteers that connect with your organization, community stakeholders, investors (funders and donors), staff, and partners. However, intentionally developing new and maintaining existing relationships is a key to sustainability.
Let’s explore three key concepts that illustrate the power of your relational network.
Concept 1: Dunbar’s Number
The first comes from Professor Robin Dunbar, Director of the Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford and author of The Human Story. Dr. Dunbar has determined there is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom on can maintain stable social relationships. This number has come to be known as Dunbar’s number. Dunbar posits that people have stable social relationships with between 100 and 230, with the commonly used value of 150. Hold that thought for a moment and let’s explore the second concept, the law of attraction.
Concept 2: The Law of Attraction
Simply put, the of attraction is the notion that like attracts like or as my mother said, “bird of a feather...” you know the rest “...flock together.
By combining the law of attraction with Dunbar’s number, one may hypothesize that many of the people who are currently involved with your organization know other people that would also be drawn to your organization. Even if we take an extremely conservative approach to the numbers, I suggest that that everyone who is currently involved with your organization could most likely identity 10, 15, or even 20 other people who might have interest in your work. Think about the potential expansion of your relational network.
Concept 3: Six Degrees of Separation
If we interject a third key relational concept that I’m sure you’ve heard of—six degrees of separation this really gets interesting. The six degrees of separation refers to the relational connectedness of our world. That everyone is basically six steps removed from anyone else in the world. If you combine the six degrees concept with the two additional concepts listed above you start to get a real feel for the power of your existing relational network.
You don’t know everyone you need to know, however,everyone you know, knows someone you need to know. So how do you leverage your relational network to enhance your sustainability? By being intentional. We see four key ingredients to a robust relationship strategy—identify, connect, nurture, and engage.
Invest time in identifying the existing relational network of your organization. There are several ways to approach this. Here are two simple ways to begin mining and mapping your relational network:
1) Mine all of your existing databases (consider yourself fortunate if you have all of this in one database) to identify all past or present relationships. Develop lists to include: volunteers, investors (individuals or institutions that have provided funding), past board members, partners, and in some cases clients.
2) Engage your board (you can also do this with staff and key volunteers) in relationship mapping for your organization. Identify the key sectors in your community that are pertinent to your organization (business, healthcare, faith, law enforcement, education, civic organizations, philanthropy, government, media, etc.). You may use flip charts and make one page for each sector. Then develop lists of the key contacts each board member has in all of these sectors.
There are dozens of other ways to identify people for your network (just think about your social media outlets). It’s easily conceivable that any organization can readily identify at least 100 (perhaps several hundred) individuals or institutions that might be interested in your results and work. Once you’ve identified them, look for meaningful ways to connect.
Develop multiple avenues for creatively connecting with individuals and institutions. This can occur in very natural, organic ways that include people you know setting appointments and making introductions to people you don’t know, but should know. In many organizations board members (or others) set an appointment for a breakfast or lunch meeting, coffee or tea, or a round of golf. These are wonderful opportunities to begin relationships with others who might ultimately invest their time, talent, treasures, or touch in your organization. However (from my perspective) the first meeting is just the opportunity for you to get to know one another and begin developing the relationship. (It’s not the time to ask for money!)
Other groups take a more formal, yet still intimate approach to the initial connection and host small informational meetings (breakfast, lunch and learns, facility tours). Regardless of the format (one-on-one or small group) the purpose is the same—simply connect with people who may want to get involved. Your organization needs to find the right mix of opportunities to connect. Once you connected, then its time to nurture the relationship.
Nurturing is an important aspect of all relationships (personal, professional, brand new, or lifelong) and also takes a myriad of forms. Handwritten thank-you notes are still incredibly valuable and make a great impact. We encourage leaders to load all of their key contacts in their telephones and when you find a few spare moments in a day—stuck in traffic, waiting for someone to arrive for a meeting, or on a long commute—reach out and touch someone with a personal call or voice mail message. Keep it short and succinct. If they’re a current investor, thank them for their support and share a short success story.
Make it a point to make the most of your limited time and find ways to naturally and continually nurture relationships. Thinking about Dunbar’s number; you may have upwards of 200+ people with whom you want and need to nurture relationships, so find meaningful ways to do this regularly.
Finally, you want to engage (and continue to engage) those with whom you have relationships. Along the way you will discover how it is that they most want to engage and serve your organization; whether they invest their time, talent, treasure, or touch (or better yet all of these) and when the time is right, you want to provide them the opportunity to get involved. For some their first involvement may be as a volunteer (time), for others it may be a financial investment (treasure), while others may provide an in-kind offer of some service (talent), and others may be as an advocate or networker (touch).
Of course this is a virtuous cycle and you continually find new ways to connect, nurture, and engage people as they get engaged and hopefully they willingly and excitedly introduce (refer) you to others in their spheres of influence (6 degrees) because of the law of attraction (if I like you and what you do, so will...).
Relationships are primary and everything else derives from relationships. From a program sustainability perspective your goal is to identify as many individuals and institutions as possible that value your results (outcomes) and discover ways to connect and nurture relationships with them to ultimately engage them as partners who provide resources that allow you to continue producing results.