Q&A: How To Maximize and Expand Your Connections
A: I see you already value connections and connectedness. At this point, work on deepening your scope of influence within the foundation community. This may mean stepping up your visibility within the circles which include key foundation leaders. Fundraising events provide wonderful ways to connect with movers and shakers in the foundation world as do community service and cause-based events like marathons, community clean-ups, etc. Faith-based organizations frequently partner with foundations to achieve common goals.
In addition to branching out into new realms, review your existing professional connections to see if there are some critical foundation links you have overlooked. Perhaps a colleague has a relative who works closely with or at a target foundation. Or, it may be you know a couple of major donors who have consistently sponsored a particular foundation. Perhaps someone sitting with you on the Parent-Teacher board may have foundation ties. You never know where you may uncover connections that are right in front of you.
Talk about your interest, and be open to getting helpful feedback and additional connections. Once you obtain additional connections, be strategic about making fresh overtures to the foundation(s) of choice. Personal introductions work best. Information interviews can also be extremely helpful. Plan your meeting carefully, and really think through the reasons prompting your interest. You need to be quick and persuasive when explaining why your skills and interest would add value to the foundation’s current priorities and activities.
Another way to proceed is, at least for the short term, to broaden your search goals. Depending on the internal practices and needs of the foundations you are pursuing, it’s possible you have too narrowly defined your search at this point. For instance, your foundations of interest may be highly specialized, localized or simply not hiring. As well, these days, many organizations are recruiting at lower levels and then using professional development tools to groom insiders for leadership roles. Using this model, there is minimal turnover and even fewer opportunities for lateral hires. This may be the current practice at the foundations you are pursuing.
Be prepared to work on the foundation role as a long-term goal, and take affirmative steps to ready yourself to take it on in due course. In the interim, use your list of the most desirable foundations to identify missions you find most compelling. Target the universe of mission-driven organizations that might be interesting including the foundations you most admire. You will probably find a number of social entrepreneurship organizations, corporate community relations groups and even think tanks that are exploring issues near and dear to you. In doing this, you will broaden the scope of your search increasing the potential for you to land a satisfying leadership role. If your target foundation(s) work(s) with a group of grantee organizations, another viable strategy is to identify the related grantee organizations you find most appealing, and seek a leadership role there. Down the pike, you can segue from such a role into holding a leadership position with the foundation of your choice.