This question is often asked, “How do we grow our network of donors?” It’s asked because a huge part of the work of any ministry organization is securing much needed resources to advance your vision for making a difference.
The relevant questions behind the need to grow your network are, “How do you find people to talk to about giving? How do you find prospects? How do you keep from running out of people to talk to?” These are very relevant questions if you are trying to grow your giving, grow your constituents, and grow your results.
On the other hand, leaders who are consistently focused on doing the most effective things to grow their networks are actually suffering from too many people and too many opportunities to follow-up and not enough time to do it. This is a good problem to have, and what I’m hoping to help you with in this article!
John Maxwell teaches that leadership is influence. I believe influence comes from relationships. This means you constantly have to be intentional to build and grow relationships. If you believe that your leadership impact is defined by the influence you have, you have to be taking continual steps to grow your reach and your influence as a leader. Otherwise, you’re not going to have the relationships you need to accomplish anything you’re setting out to do.
- Think about growing your network as more of a “people problem” rather than a to-do list. A simple way to re-focus toward relationship building in your work is to evaluate your to-do list. If 50% of the action items don’t require you to be personally engaged with a person, then you are simply too project and program oriented. You are at risk of watching your influence reduce over time, rather than grow as your network of relationships grows. If you want people to go with you on the journey toward your vision, you have to be growing your influence.
- Building authentic relationships with people is also critically important for recruiting people at every level of your organization. Whether it is the work of recruiting staff, volunteers, or even donors. Even if you can initially attract great people into the work of your vision, you will probably be unable to keep them for very long if you are not intentionally investing in the relationship, because we tend to be the most committed to those people who are helping us grow along the way. There are few things more frustrating than someone who stops growing but still sticks around your ministry. Even if they stick with you, they are going to stay stuck.
- Remember that building relationships and influence is about your personal disciplines, not your personality. If you are an extrovert, the idea of growing your network through influence may seem easier to you, but you likely need some encouragement and accountability in building systems for consistent follow-through. If you’re an introvert, someone that finds themselves worn out from being around people, you will need to approach this as a discipline and set of habits to be effective. Remember to keep your focus on the results, which will energize you to push through those introverted tendencies. You may always struggle against your personality, but you’ll learn to love the results, and that will keep you moving forward. If you are in a leadership role, a results-oriented role of responsibility, it’s not an option to say, “Oh, well, I’m just not a people person.”
- Let’s not neglect the spiritual perspective that applies to leading with influence. God is in charge and knows what He’s doing. He has a plan, and is bringing people and resources into your life to enable you to do what He has created you to do. That means you have a responsibility to be ready, available, and disciplined in responding to those opportunities as they come your way.
- People are not coming into your sphere of influence by accident. You have a role to play in how you are shepherding them to make a difference in what you’re doing. Part of your role when you’re talking about growing your giving network is to consider the question, “Who is in my network now who I am responsible for?” Or, “For whom I am trying to be a good steward?”
- A practical action of stewardship that I encourage you to take is to, at least once a year, take a full accounting of the people that are in your influence circle. These are the people and relationships you have the opportunity to steward. For most people, this number is somewhere around 160-220 individuals. The discipline of building and updating this list will keep your focus on the responsibility and opportunity to grow your influence among those relationships.
Remember, you are not alone on this journey.