Friday, April 25, 2008

Have you offered to help someone today? Part I

Often I have noticed that people seem lost in their efforts to connect to others - particularly when they want help. Often when we need help the most - we feel desperate, and we are too quick to assert our needs over the needs of the other people around us. Another huge stumbling block is the interest in only having the other person provide help, and not ensuring reciprocity.

While it might seem counter-intuitive, this is a bad move to assert one's own needs too aggressively. This tendency, while seeming to be direct, is actually somewhat selfish and unproductive. You are essentially saying, "hey, I don't know you, or don't care about your situation, but you ought to help me because I am me." Unless they already like you for whatever reason and are willing to help you for their own reasons, you probably will not get what you are seeking on the short-term, and may even have sacrificed great long-term benefits.

Why? Because you have not honored the need to develop a relationship or friendship with others that will be true before making the ask for help. My wife, a non-profit development officer, has helped me understand these principles from a development perspective. My wife would tell you that "people don't give to causes, they give to people." People connect best by developing a relationship first - based upon common goals, common beliefs, common attraction, whatever. Even with people who are most generous with their time, they are often going to be hit up by too many people, and you have to ask yourself if your cause or need is more worthy then those they already support. Maybe! But until you know more facts, maybe not! And even if it is, it may well take time and experience before the prospect might agree.

Here is an example I have experienced. A non-profit called me up and said, "hey, give to us because we are a good cause!" although I have no prior relationship with them. Often in such instances, I indicate that we have already given to many non-profits and are currently tapped out. In some of those occasions, I had overly zealous non-profit solicitors get abrasive or simply insistent that they are the most worthy cause. The more effective way to develop that relationship as the solicitor is to say sincerely in response to such rejection, "Thank you so much for being involved and what you do in the community!," and then giving them contact information in case they might be interested in your mission in the future. You might not get their $$$ that time, but the next time they would regard you well - and might contribute or help in some other way.

I don't think asking for help is a bad thing, but definitely soft sell the ask if the relationship is still maturing - and I might suggest putting it in generic terms. Try saying, "I am trying to find people to help me do X; if you know of anyone who might be able to help and don't mind, let me know!" Also, make sure to measure the ask against what they might reasonably be able to do. If the ask is small, you might make it - but still be gracious with a "no." If they are in a position to help, they might. If the ask is a big one, avoid asking people you don't know well, if you can. If you feel you need to ask people who you do know well, I would even suggest saying, "You probably can't help me and I understand but I am desperate and need X. Do you know someone who can help?" In other situations if the relationship is a strong one, you are in a better position to be direct, but if you get a "no" in any circumstance, find a way to lighten the mood immediately so they know your relationship is still strong. You want them to know you care for them regardless of whether they help you at that instance!

While the above utilized analogies to non-profit, the tips by no means are limited in that context. They, however, are enlightening about "what not to do!"

Tune in to Part II for a better way to develop relationships, by offering to help instead!

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