Creating partnerships: How to ask for (and get) help

A hand shake. Katharine Hirst of Expert Impact shares five tips on how to develop partnerships. Photo by: Laura Glover

Every development organization wants to create deep senior-level partnerships with investors or donors, journalists, celebrities or other advocates, and with mentors and advisors.

Through our work at Expert Impact, we catalyze the process of building these partnerships by matching organizations that are addressing meaningful problems in sector like health, education and the environment, to the U.K.’s top entrepreneurs such as Sir Charles Dunstone, Jochen Zeitz and John Frieda.

Along the way, I’ve learned how to get this done by watching people develop real relationships with very senior advocates. Here are my top five tips:

1. Create a story that anyone can tell for you

When you run any organization, finding the support you need is unquestionably tough. But while resources tend to be limited, in the “impact world” we have powerful stories — and connecting your story to the people you need to help you is the first key step to unlocking the help you need.

In general, you don’t know the people you would love to be your advocates and donors, but the people in your network may well know them. Arm everyone you meet with simple engaging ways to be your advocates. The simplest version of this is the two-sentence pitch — can someone else explain what you do and the difference it does/will make in words intelligible to your grandmother? It’s also absolutely crucial to have a modern, simple slick website to introduce them to your organisation, ideally with a short video showcasing the impact you make.

2. Put yourself in their shoes

Imagine for a second that you are Bill Gates, or Angelina Jolie, or the head of the Red Cross. People are asking you for things all the time. How would you filter these requests and decide how to allocate you money and time?

Pretty much all of the senior people I’ve been lucky enough to work with filter requests by asking themselves one question: Was this recommended to me by someone I trust? There is essentially no other route, except perhaps to strike up a conversation with them in a place where they trust the quality of the other people in the room — so going to conferences and networking events is unquestionably important.

3. Make it personal

So you have their attention  now what?

After you’ve shared the short elevator pitch about what you do and why you are passionate about it, make it clear why this person would be specifically interested. Do you know they are interested in your sector? Do they know the very person you need to meet in government? Do they frequently visit the country you are trying to help?

Google will of course help with this, but if you’re at a cocktail party this is the moment to start asking them questions and stop talking about yourself unless they ask for more details.

4. Don’t ask for the world

They’re hooked! They like you, what you do and you’re ready to ask for help. But what do you ask for? Ask for something that will also teach them more about you. Maybe ask for them to come visit and see your project for themselves (with no press), or ask for advice about a specific business question they’ve faced before. Do not ask for money, and or an endorsement  these people will offer you when they’re ready.

The “no press” point is very important. Adam Grenier recently shared his tips for getting celebrities involved in social projects at the Nexus Global Summit, and noted how often people want to turn a celebrities first-time visit into a press call, and understandably there is little more off-putting.

If your new friend is ready to help they’ll tell you so, and then you can ask for what thing you really want (investment, high level introductions, an article in the New York Times). It is vital to make this request specific and make it clear why you are asking: more along the lines of “I’d like to meet someone senior in buying at Tesco to talk about my eco-friendly detergent which has been independently rated as better than the two they currently stock” than “Can you introduce me to anyone in retail?”

If the request requires your contact to get in touch with someone, I cannot stress enough the importance of sending a clean email (not a reply to a previous conversation) that they can forward with all other information that they need about you, your organization, your request and the impact it will have. If forwarding your request takes more than 30 seconds, you are not respecting their time.

5. Follow up lightly and often

Lastly, if someone helped you, follow up with not just a “thank you” note but talk about the impact it had. Even just a quick one line “I met Fred and it was incredibly useful to me” is powerful and will make your network want to help you even more.

SIME is Northern Europe’s largest conference about the Internet and digital opportunities with flagship events in London, Stockholm and Miami. SIME Non-Profit has been founded to mix the 1600 business participants at SIME Stockholm with 200 specially invited actors from the non-profit and social entrepreneurial sectors. The aim is to see how they can work together in win-win collaborations, using digital channels and technology to take on the world’s most challenging social and environmental issues.

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About the author

  • Katharine hirst

    Katharine Hirst

    Katharine Hirst is program director at Expert Impact. Expert Impact connects experts who want to help with those who need their help to create a positive impact on society in the areas of education, healthcare, art, science, human rights, poverty and the environment.