Put bluntly, successful business is about more than simply making a profit. No matter the focus of one’s business, every transaction, product or financial decision is grounded in the relationships and connections that have been constructed with other people. In order to develop a successful business, one must have the ability to interact and connect with others, whether they are customers, employees or other business owners. After all, you never know when a personal connection will lead to a business boon.
Without a doubt, one area that requires a huge amount of personal connection is fundraising. The goal of every fundraising organization is, of course, to acquire money from donors to complete the foundation’s goals. However, it takes a lot more to successfully fundraise than simply asking for a check.
Phil Pharr, executive director of Gator Boosters, Inc. at the University of Florida explained, “The first step in building a relationship with a potential donor is just getting to know them, sitting down with them and learning what they’re passionate about.”
With a two-fold purpose of raising funds for athletic scholarships as well as improving the university’s athletic facilities, Gator Boosters has enjoyed multimillion dollar success, due in part to Pharr’s ability to make crucial connections. Pharr, who’s educational background is not originally in fundraising, stated that his love of meeting new people and his passion for the University of Florida’s athletics made it easy to engage with potential donors, build relationships and form a fundraising network throughout his 30-year career with the Gator Boosters.
The key, he says, is to “Find what motivates them from a giving standpoint.” By fulfilling those needs, the money will often follow. Sometimes it won’t; that’s okay, too.
An important aspect to the fruitful implementation of this practice is noting that just as every person is unique, every business relationship and connection will be unique as well. Where it can take you 10 minutes to develop a solid business relationship, in another instance it might take you 10 months to accomplish the same. Patience is always key.
“It can be a situation where you work with somebody four to five years before the right thing comes along that aligns with their timing,” Pharr said. For some, it might be easy to focus so much on their own goals that they forget they’re working with real people. In that situation, the most imperative thing to remember about a fundraising relationship is, in Pharr’s opinion, “Never forget that it’s their wealth and they’re deciding to share it with you.”
Developing business connections is essential for success, but the relationships themselves need to stay strong in order to maintain and continue growing a strong business.
While the development of business networks should be important to every individual and company, the maintenance of these relationships needs to be given just as much significance. In some cases, it may be simpler to get what you want from a business connection and move on to another venture, but upholding and nurturing those already-formed connections will be more valuable in the long run.
In Pharr’s case, some of the most beneficial donors are those who have been giving for years. Not only do they continually renew their donations, but they also lead Pharr to other interested donors.
“People who are already supporting your program are a great resource. They’ll identify others who, when presented with the right opportunity, would be interested in joining. For me, it’s about expanding the relationships that I already have,” explained Pharr.
It is up to your own discretion and the desires of your connection as to how often you want to interact and keep in touch. According to Pharr, “You may talk to somebody once or twice a week, you may talk to someone once a month, you may talk to someone else once every three months. It depends on the individual, the conversation they’re having and where they are in the donation process.”
Financial profits may be the target of your business connection, but there are also some advantages that can be unforeseen. Fascinating life stories and the opportunity to experience new perspectives is an underrated yet often transformative perk of developing business relationships.
“Selfishly, getting to know some pretty amazing people who have done some pretty amazing things in their lives is, to me, still the intrigue of this job,” said Pharr.
The ultimate goal of developing business networks is to create a relationship that is mutually beneficial to both individuals involved. Unfortunately, there are instances when connections fall through, or maybe it’s not the right fit..
In the fundraising business, Pharr has experienced situations in which potential donors decide to back out of their gift. While regrettable, Pharr explained, “You have to be understanding of why; you have to hear them out.”
As with personal relationships, some business relationships are fixable and some are not. The key is to listen to the problem and evaluate whether or not there is a way to salvage or rectify the situation. Hopefully when you’re in a business with others, your passion and goals align enough to keep relationships on the right track for all parties.
This, Pharr said, has been a crucial component for of his operation. “Everybody we deal with has a passion for what we do, so it makes for a friendly relationship.”
In the end, there may be a million “secrets” to building successful business relationships but the fundamental question underlying every one of them is, “Do you care?”
As Pharr advised, people can tell if you care or if you’re just going through the motions to get what you want. If you love what you’re doing and whom you’re doing it with, then most of the time the relationships, connections and benefits will follow in ways that you never could have expected.
GABRIELLA ITZLER is a fourth-year English major at the University of Florida. She is an accomplished marathoner who has completed dozens of full series on Netflix. After graduation, Gabriella hopes to go into children’s book publishing and bring the excitement of reading to kids all over the world.