Social Value (Issue 803)

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.

Rob is a “very senior level” leader in his organization, quite well known in the business community. We had met and talked before, when I was consulting with people in his company. 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 charity, both looking snappy in our black tie best.  We had connected by accident, drifting through the crowd, each looking for people to connect with. And, there we were.Smiling man in tuxedo window shopping at night in christmas time.

The conversation had started well enough –  shared news about “Great to see you! What brings you to this event? What are you focused on now?  What’s going on with your business? 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.”

“Well, it’s been great seeing you, Nick,” he said, smiling, as he began turning to drift  off into the reception haze.

There are many possible reasons for this conversational crash…some obvious, some less so.  One likely reason: 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 LinkingIn 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.

So, I asked him, “Before you go, how are things going with the XYZ Foundation?  Are you still on the board there?”

His face brightened a bit and we talked for a few minutes about the Foundation, some of their successes, some of their challenges, and so on.  Thinking about one of his challenges, I said, “There’s someone I’d like to introduce you to.  He’s been working on the same issues and perhaps the two of you can share some ideas with each other.”

“Thank you,” he said, extending his hand to shake. “That would be very kind. I’d really appreciate that.”

And then, he turned, again, to go.  As he turned, he said, “I’m glad we ran into each other. I look forward to seeing you again and thank you for the introduction.”

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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