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What Do Your Funders Drink?

December 2, 2011

Developing Mutually Beneficial Relationships
At the risk of sounding as though I have a drinking problem, I would like to share a viewpoint I have developed over the years to describe different types of people. I developed this analogy to help people understand how I successfully bring people together.

One important consideration for bringing people together is the personality of the individuals and the extent to which people are likely to get along well with one another. In other words, what is the likelihood two people will build mutually-beneficial relationships and partnerships?

As I complete my second year as Managing Director of Access Philanthropy, I find my system for determining whether people can develop mutually beneficial relationships also works for institutions.

For example, many Access Philanthropy clients meet the central criteria published by major foundations such as Ford, Gates, and MacArthur. However, the culture of these major foundations does not permit them to understand or accept the routines of street organizations such as simple youth groups or neighborhood development organizations. The intent to support may be present, but the cultural distinctions (as well as time and money) discourage building relationships between a foundation in Ford’s league and the local youth group.

Sounds obvious, almost like a cliché, I know. However, whenever I explain this individual and institutional classification, I notice that people are not only laughing, but they are also vigorously nodding their heads in agreement. So I must be on to something.

The correlation is quite simple – drink preferences provide an excellent metaphor for describing different types of personalities. In short, I classify people into one of four categories:

#1) Wine drinkers
People in this category tend to be rather prim and proper in the way they relate to others, particularly those they don’t know well. They’re well behaved, but may also be described as a little stiff. That’s not to say they can’t or won’t warm up to new acquaintances, and ultimately get along perfectly well with others, but they’re a little more cautious, reserved, and quiet. If I were to go to an establishment with someone in this category, their strong preference would be for a glass of wine with the right bouquet, body, and finish.

#2) Beer drinkers
Having lived in Wisconsin for a couple of years, I have some expertise in this area. People in this category are generally friendly, unpretentious, easy to get to know and easy to get along with. They’re the type of people you want to hang out with. They’re real. And as long as they’re not drinking beer through a funnel, they’re quite pleasant to be around.

#3) People who do shots
This third category represents the real funsters. They’re also a bit on the wild side and sometimes a little rough around the edges as well, but that is often part of their appeal. They don’t beat around the bush, and usually “call ‘em like they see ‘em”. They skip the typical niceties and like to get right down to business. Usually at the end of a meeting, you know where you stand with them.

And while I’d like to emphasize that not all people need to drink alcohol in order to fit into one of these three categories (after all, there are things such as sparkling apple cider and near beer), there is a fourth category of people.

#4 People who don’t go to bars
This description is actually not quite accurate. These people may very well go to bars, but I simply would not want to go with them. Period. These people either have little or no personality, or they’re not very pleasant, or they’re simply obnoxious. Regardless, I just don’t care to waste my time with them.

Upshot (no pun intended)
So why do I go to the trouble of categorizing people like this? In the consulting business – actually I think in any business – paying attention to peoples’ personalities is critical when it comes to successfully bringing people together, and building strong relationships and partnerships.

At Access Philanthropy, we bring our clients together with the right funders and the right team of consultants for each client. Each client is unique. Some funders may fit technically, but don’t work culturally. Some consultants are great for some clients, but not so great for others.

From experience, we know that a foundation wine drinker and a client who does shots are probably not going to be the best fit. We strive to bring to our clients the talented consulting associates that “get” our clients, have chemistry and have the greatest chances for success.

What kind of organization do you have? What kind of consultant do you need?