Social Value (Issue 643)

In which we are encouraged to “play big” in the charitable or non-profit world as a way of leveling the playing field with people with whom we’d like to do business.

“Well, it’s been great seeing you, Nick,” he said, smiling, before he drifted off into the reception haze.

“Great to see you, too,” I said, smiling, as he turned away.

Rob is a “very senior level” leader in his organization, quite well known in the Boston business community. We had met and talked before, when I was consulting with people in his organization. Those engagements over, he was that evening a prospective client for me or a possible “introducer” or door-opener.

We were at a fund raising event for a Boston-based school, both looking snappy in our black tie best.  We had connected by accident, drifting through the crowd.

The conversation had started well enough –  shared news about “Great to see you! What brings you to this event? Someone in your family connected to the school? What are you focused on now?  What’s going on with your kids? What are you seeing for the coming year?” – but lost momentum quickly.   We were about five minutes into the conversation; in his face I could see, “This is conversation is wasting my time.”

I tried a “what do you think …?” question.  Short response.  I tried another. It died.

“Well, it’s been great seeing you, Nick,” he said, smiling.

“Wait!” the voice in my head screamed. “Let’s talk more…”

“Great to see you, too,” I said, instead, smiling back.

There are many possible reasons for this conversational crash some obvious, some less so.  One likely reason, going back to the very basics: He perceived that (relative to others in the room) my financial or personal assets, networks, knowledge, and experience could contribute little to help him  stand out, gain stature,  prosper, or, in the vernacular, “get ahead.”

In our roles as “mere mortals and sales people,” we face this challenge frequently: The people with whom we’d most like to do business are the least accessible.  They run in different circles, they breathe different air. No amount of calling, emailing, blogging, or Linking In seems to help. Introductions from trusted friends or colleagues help us gain access… but, then, what?   We’re still “mere mortals and sales people,” hitting on them, hustling business.

One way to level the playing field and increase access to senior decision-makers is “cause”-based. Our vision for and engagement in charitable or non-profit work, particularly on a significant scale relative to our communities, increases our social value and creates bridges to conversation and engagement.

Through our work with charities and non-profits, we can play on much bigger stages on an equal footing with people who otherwise wouldn’t give us the time of day.  When we’re connecting with them, whatever the setting, shifting conversation to THAT ground can create comfort and alignment that, with time, opens the door to business in our paycheck lives.

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