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Grabbing Coffee Might Not Involve a Cup o' Joe

Throughout my career, I've been encouraged to leave the office and grab a cup of coffee. As Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz describes, coffee has become synonymous with relationship:
“We're in the business of human connection and humanity, creating communities in a third place between home and work.”


It sounds ideal to sit down and chat about how our interests align, sketch out ideas on the back of a napkin, and come to mutual agreement before the coffee runs out. The reality, however, is that projects rarely take shape isolated from the organization's team and processes. By examining this interaction, we can understand its essential elements:
Making time
It takes time to leave your office and get away from your lists, but the environment you step into sets the relationship's tone. Are you taking the time to find the right prospects? Are you asking your prospect to find you, or are you going to their home turf? Do you have margin to allow conversation to flow naturally?
“How will I know it is you?”
I used to have to ask a person what they were going to wear in order to recognize them during a first meeting. Would they meet me at the door, or would they have already gotten their coffee and started working? Today, LinkedIn shows us what the person looks like, and helps us to understand their professional background.
You also need to look up a foundation. Do your research. You might start with Foundation Center, but do not neglect to read recent news stories, identify their staff's passions, and discover the commonality between funded organizations (such as recent leadership changes, or being founded by families).
“What will you have to drink?”
What are the foundation's interests and preferences? Does their style align with yours? Will you change your order because they got a cold drink, or will you still get that extra-hot mocha? Schultz says: “A great business has to have a conscience. You have to know who you are and who you are not.”
“What brought you to this area?”
When you begin telling your story and listening to theirs, there is an opportunity to find areas of alignment in their purpose and history. Rarely do you see one person doing all the talking over a cup of coffee. It is not all about you, but neither is it all about them.
“Do you have a pen?”
When something resonates, the conversation shifts from exploration to energetic creativity. Often, ideas are sketched out on the back of a napkin. When the two missions align, that initial brainstorming gives you further opportunity to determine if the strategies and values of the Foundation align with your own.
“So what should we do about it?”
Despite a common goal, the next step determines whether the relationship will grow into something more or become stagnate.
One organization I worked with prioritized creating partnerships to help achieve its mission. One strategy was an ongoing group meant to build relationships, but which ultimately fizzled out. The second strategy was a short-term partnership that culminated in a shared study participated in by people throughout Los Angeles. One was a support group, while the other was an action team. Seek relationships that result in action.
Care more than others think wise. . . .Dream more than others think practical. . .
Risk more than others think safe. . . . Expect more than others think possible.”

-     Schultz 
Imagine this coffee conversation with one of your prospects. How did it go? What does that tell you about your next steps with that prospect?

Jen Hurst, M.A. has developed programs and strategies for nonprofit organizations her entire career, all the way back to middle school when she and a few friends started their philanthropic work by raising $150 for the local animal shelter. 



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