Healthy relationships are at the heart of any nonprofit organisation’s success.

It is impossible to run social development programmes in isolation. The social impact space is an industry where collaboration, connections and networking with a network of stakeholders are critical to achieve success.

Building and maintaining mutually-beneficial relationships is therefore one of the most important aspects that nonprofits need to get right.

You don’t have to be an extrovert to be a good networker. It is all about your accessibility, positivity, authenticity and passion for what you do that will enable you to build a strong network.

Here are 5 top tips to build a network through strong relationships:

1. Put yourself out there

To say “hello” is the hardest part of starting a relationship.

You might not be a fan of networking events, industry meetings and online gatherings, but in order for people to get to know you (and what you do), they need to interact with you first-hand.

Emails and WhatsApp messages are effective tools to stay in touch with people, follow up on matters or communicate official messages, but nothing beats interpersonal interaction with other humans.

Be pro-active: sign up to attend that event, organise a Zoom call or schedule a coffee date to regularly engage with your stakeholders.

2. Build a trustworthy reputation

Always be authentic and reliable when building your relationships. Small acts like being on time, being present in the interaction and being helpful will establish a reputation for being trustworthy.

People need to feel comfortable enough to be open and honest with you.

They should feel that their ideas and concerns will be taken seriously and that their relationship with you is meaningful and adds value to their cause.

It can be tempting to want to appear agreeable and avoid uncomfortable confrontation by withholding your true opinion. By confidently expressing your honest thoughts in a tactful manner, people will respect your initiative and desire for excellence.

3. Make it personal (with healthy boundaries)

The Zulu greeting “sawubona” directly translated means “I see you”. While your work relationships are professional of nature, you need to “see” and acknowledge them as human beings and be genuinely interested in their well-being too.

Transactional relationships are when people only engage with each other because of what practical things they can gain from the other person.  This is a not a healthy way to build and maintain strong, enduring relationships.

A great rule of thumb, is to always start a conversation by checking-in on a personal level first. If you know the person is a parent, you may ask them how their children are doing. Or you can link to something they mentioned in the previous conversation.

The extent to which this personal connection is appropriate will vary depending on how long you know a person and the person’s personality and preferences.

4. Keep the communication going

Without regular two-way communication, no relationship will last.

Use your calendar to pre-schedule big engagements, like meetings, events, webinars and newsletters, every quarter. Then, remind yourself to check-in on a more informal basis every now and then to keep the communication flow consistent.

Perhaps you can forward them a news article regarding a topic that they are passionate about? Or share opportunities that they might benefit from? This is your opportunity to share information that will help them understand what your organisation does and what you can offer, which will build trust and confidence in the process.

On a more personal note, you can send them a digital card on their birthday or when they are going through a difficult time. Sometimes the only thing people need to hear is: “Thank you”.

5. Be a matchmaker

Like with dating apps, two people with similar interests and values need to find each other.

Don’t always view yourself as the main character in the story who needs to guard your relationships. Most often, relationships are all about being the middleperson, guide or matchmaker.

Introducing a new contact to someone in the same field not only opens up opportunities for them, but it builds a mutual connection. Sometimes the new contacts will have an obvious common interest and their relationship will develop quickly. In other situations, the opportunity to work together may come much later. Even if nothing concrete comes of the connection, the introduction helped spread the mission of the nonprofit by word of mouth.

In the end, you strengthen your own network by creating connections for others.

By building a network through strong relationships might just provide limitless opportunities for your organisation to grow and thrive.


Article compiled by Jolanda van der Lingen; Relationship Manager at Valcare.