By Jennifer Cullenbine, “Queen Elf” of The Family Giving Tree, a philanthropic business supporting children in need in local communities.
I’m sure every business owner has heard this kind of advice before: “You never know where your next best customer is going to come from.” “You cannot afford to alienate anyone.” More emphatically, “NEVER burn a bridge.”
People prefer to do business with people they like, and “liking” happens through relationship building. For entrepreneurs, this is especially important because, in general, your customer base is likely to be small— at least at first. This base will grow proportionate to how effectively you develop and nurture relationships with your clients or customers, vendors and suppliers, investors or sponsors, the media and the public.My company, Family Giving Tree, is a non-profit organization, but we are, in every practical sense, a business just like the myriad retail, research and professional services businesses EO members represent.
As is true with all of you, relationships are our life blood. Our mission is about inspiring kindness and providing happy memories to disadvantaged children in the Greater San Francisco Bay region of California, USA. Since the organization was founded in 1990, we have served more than 750,000 children.
The relationships we enjoy with our host companies are based on five key principles that apply to all businesses, non-profit and for-profit alike:
- Make it easy
- Ask for feedback and customize where possible
- Be generous with recognition
- Add value
- Make personal contact
At Family Giving Tree, we provide the host companies’ project coordinators with everything they need to make their job easy. We anticipate their needs by giving them complete support materials and access to online resources, including downloadable posters, sample e-mail messages and other aids. We provide statistics and lists that clearly explain their role in the project, and we offer customizable virtual sites where they can track their organization’s involvement. Should concerns arise, we guarantee a response from the host liaison within one business day.
In addition, we make it a point to ask for feedback regularly and pay close attention to exactly what our host companies need. We are open and creative in order to ensure that our relationships are beneficial to both of us. If any host organization has a particular need or request, we make every effort to tailor our product to suit them.
Over the years, we’ve made great strides in the way we recognize our host companies. We hold a celebration luncheon after each drive and award prizes to the winners of contests conducted during the drive. Our recognition efforts are enthusiastically received because participants feel appreciated for their involvement and their commitment to the success of the drive. We also let our hosts know that we’re here to support them in any way we can, which adds value to their decision to support us.
For us, nurturing relationships often simply involves a staff person’s time— hand-picking request cards for a particular group, dropping off an award if they weren’t able to attend a luncheon, or showing up at their event. We also utilize social media sites like Facebook, where postings are very close to in-person interaction and provide an easy-to-use tool to develop relationships with our host companies’ employees and donors.
Personally, I believe that “being there” will never be replaced, but approaching relationship building and management with a variety of creative ideas, trying them out and discovering which are most effective, can only mean a stronger organization through stronger connections with people.