I am a very social person. I am also somewhat shy. Okay, don’t believe me. But it’s true.
Yesterday, I spent 12 hours meeting people and learning about amazing ventures including: the impressive leadership programs new client Oasis for Girls provides for young women of color and Ashoka’s Youth Venture’s work supporting entrepreneurs leading food justice initiatives.
I love building connections and collaborations to make good ideas a reality, but frankly, making new friends is scary. Before you build trust with someone you can’t guess the outcome of your interaction. We feel insecure: what if they hate that idea? What if I don’t have anything to offer this relationship?
Or, you can be like me: struggling in vain to swallow a mouthful of spanakopita in order to respond to a group of people paying compliments to my necklace. FYI, grace under pressure does not often walk hand-in-hand with a raid on the buffet table.
Luckily, we’re all human. They were sympathetic to my plight. Well, at least I proceeded to have very nice conversations with all of them. I could easily have fled. And if I’d been in a different situation – like a cotillion – I might have.
But I knew we were all at that table with a common goal: to figure out ways to work together to make sure everyone has access to healthy food. So actually, I felt safe. I got over my fear of looking ridiculous and had a great evening sharing ideas and resources.
But what happens when your fears of social interaction are justified, when you try to establish relationships and end up hurting your cause?
A Board member recently told me that when she was newly appointed, she was asked to call the organization’s supporters and ask them to give. But the donors hadn’t been prepared to receive these calls. Instead of being engaged by the new leadership, they felt defensive. The volunteer had pushed past her fear and instead of being rewarded was punished. Why? Because she wasn’t just afraid: she wasn’t safe.
Feeling safe – aka, establishing trust – means you can tackle something scary in a relationship knowing both parties have already agreed to the rules of engagement and want the same goal.
I will tell you this right now: some people can roll with the punches when the rules of engagement are changed suddenly. But some people cannot. If you try to force new terms on them suddenly, then they don’t feel safe. And when thinking about your donors are you really ready to ask for forgiveness instead of permission?
These donors had a relationship with the organization where 1) they received letters asking for support and 2) they responded with a gift. All of a sudden, someone they didn’t know changed the relationship to the level of a phone call AND asked them to recommit in the same moment.
We’re all so pressed for time and resources, it’s easy to forget to check-in with each other. We know we’re ready to jump into the unknown and assume our supporters will follow us. It’s a false assumption.
You can’t skip steps in building relationships. And you can’t have a relationship with someone who doesn’t trust you. While your supporters might feel scared to follow you as you jump, make sure they trust you enough to feel safe going skydiving with you in the first place. They’ll be more willing to take the risk and your mission will reap the rewards.