• Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

Building Relationships with Business Leaders: It's Not Rocket Science

Me and The Woz


You may not ways get to snuggle up to Steve Wozniak but developing relationships with key business leaders isn’t that hard either.


For most people, getting in the door is often the hardest part of making an ask. And it is really intimidating for those who have not worked in the corporate world. How do you get in the door? What do you say to the corporate leader? What if the prospect says, “No, we’re not interested?” Do you have any relationship with these business leaders, or do you have a staff or board member who might? You might be able to cultivate these relationships into stronger ones.


The first thing you need to do is make sure you are hanging out where the corporate leaders hang out. You won’t find them by sitting in your office.


Attend a few meetings of your chamber of commerce and see if these leaders are in attendance—even if you do not get to meet them personally. Attend other nonprofit events and see if these leaders attend those events. Ask board members, development committee members, staff members, and other volunteers what they know about these leaders. Do they belong to Rotary or other service clubs? Do they travel a lot for business? Do they have family obligations that keep them at home most evenings, or are they involved in civic groups? What are their interests? Do they love kids, serve as mentors, have family members with a disease your organizations treat, have strong feelings about preserving the environment? Do they hunt, play golf, attend the local symphony, attend church?


Start with those you have some connection to and see if you can cultivate a stronger relationship. If this leader is a member of Rotary, for example, maybe you can arrange to speak to this prospect’s Rotary club. If you know a leader is a regular church attender, see if anyone on your board or staff belongs to the same church. If you know the leader attends the symphony, find out which of your board members or staff might also be a subscriber to the symphony.


Once you have a list of some business leaders with whom you have a slight connection, let’s see if we can cultivate those relationships into something deeper—before asking their companies to support you financially. You can do this through formal cultivation events or through one-on-one visits with these leaders


When meeting with these prospects individually, schedule appointments in the prospects’ offices at their convenience. Let them know you will take only thirty to forty minutes of their time. Try to give them as much information as possible in a brief amount of time. Take some leave-behinds, like an annual report, brochure, or fact sheet. But don’t expect them to read too much. You might also invite each prospect to take an individual tour of your organization if that is appropriate.


Most importantly, however, is listening to them for clues about their ability to give and interest in giving.


You are now well on your way to developing a strong relationship with business leaders. There are a few other tactics you might try, such as formal cultivation events, such as a Business Leaders’ Breakfast.


Once you have a relationship with business leaders, it will be easy to get them to talk to others about your organization, to serve as “cheerleaders” and “evangelists” for your organization. Once business leaders indicate a desire to get more involved with your organization, ask them to serve on your board’s committee. Invite them to host cultivation events for their colleagues and friends. Invite them to speak on behalf of your organization or to open the doors to other business leaders. You will soon find that a team of ambassadors for the business community will be willing to ask other businesses for money. These leaders might even start a “friendly competition” to see who can raise the most money!


Learn more in our course: https://www.lindalysakowski.com/fundraising-from-business-community


And buy the books here: https://amzn.to/2KENvbC

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