Keeping Connections: How to Maintain your Business Relationships
I recently wrote a blog post about how to access resources for your organization and create useful partnerships. I’m usually very optimistic, so I will go right ahead and assume that you have gotten yourself at least twenty partners since reading that post! Whilst the first step of getting a resource provider is difficult, keeping them is a greater challenge - and the way in which you do that depends on what kind of partner they are. Partners exist in many forms. They can be donors, volunteers or paid staff. Many people make the mistake of thinking that to keep them, they all need to be treated in the same way. However, it doesn’t work. In my organization, Mazingira Safi Initiative, we have two sets of partners: donors, and volunteers/employees. It would be wrong for me to try and keep them all using the same methods in my interactions with them. Every resource provider is different, as are their motivations to collaborate with the organization and stay involved. Keeping functional partnerships is all about building strong relationships. The question then arises: how exactly do you do that?
The first thing you need to do is to know the motivation of the person or company you’re dealing with. Why did they choose to partner with your organization? For example, the Kenyan environmental department partnered with us because we have a similar vision of keeping the environment clean, green and beautiful. One of our individual donors chose to partner with us because he wanted to contribute to a cause greater than himself and the environment was a great option for him. Knowing your resource providers’ motivations will enable you to understand them better when interacting with them.
Secondly, knowing their expectations from you and your organization is crucial. What is it that they want from you? From your organization? It’s important that you ask them to be very specific. Most donors want a financial report, and sometimes volunteers want a specific task assigned to them. Note this down. Once you are aware of these expectations, be honest about what you can and can’t deliver. If you know you can’t meet their expectations or if will be late in doing so, be upfront about it in the beginning. When you’re supposed to have a meeting scheduled on Friday at 9am, showing up at 9:15am isn’t okay.
The third thing to do is meet their expectations. Keep them in the know about the happenings in your organization. Every month, I always write an email to our donors about the events of the month. In addition to this, I give them our financial statements every six months. This enable them to not only know where their money is going, but what impact it is creating. I also make a point of calling the Head of the Environment Department and the volunteers to thank them for their support. A thank you text could also do, or a photo on social media. Personalising business in this way makes sure that the individuals you work with feel connected to the project. If you need something from them, communicate in good time. Meeting their expectations, even when it comes to the small things like being on time, makes them feel acknowledged. You will build trust between you and your partner.
Lastly, my favourite of them all: care about them beyond their relationship with your organization. How do you do that? Know and refer to them by their name, call to find out how they are doing in their own lives, meet them for lunch or coffee, pray for them, remember their birthdays and send a card. You should also reward and recognize work well done even if it’s a verbal affirmation or give a certificate. I always try to know how the board members/volunteers are doing myself or through one of my other colleagues. It makes them feel valued and truly appreciated. If you truly care about them, they will care about you. I once read somewhere that people give you business because they know you. Have you ever wondered why some organizations keep getting one opportunity after another? This may be the key. If resource providers know and believe in your character and that of your organization, they will take every opportunity to make you grow.
While all of the above are important ways to keep partnerships alive, it is impossible to always keep ties to everyone you work with. Some will come and go for various reasons, especially the volunteers. Some volunteers tend to let other things take precedent over their work at your organization. To avoid disappointments, have volunteers sign contracts and don’t give them work in the core areas of your organization for long-term jobs in you know other priorities may arise. And when things don’t work out, take it in stride and don’t begrudge them forever for in the world of business, as you never know what connections will be useful to you, and when!
By Purity Wanjohi