Giver’s Gain: Leverage Your Network Without Abusing It

Steve Boyle runs a cool nonprofit called No Excuses, No Regrets Basketball (the site is being redesigned right now, so follow him at @SteveBoylenenr if you want more information). The organization is dedicated to motivating players to achieve academic success and to be a better person on and off the court (I’m paraphrasing here).

Needless to say, Steve is facing the same difficulties as every other nonprofit: trying to build a base of donors, volunteers, and members while raising funds. So he has the same old problem, which he posed to me in an email:

How do you find the “happy medium” between taking advantage of your contacts one has built in their respective network yet not seem as if you’re looking a gift horse in the mouth?

This is the problem everyone who tries to build a personal brand or grow their business faces. Whether you’re raising funds for your nonprofit, trying to find a job, or telling your friends about this great new MLM you just joined. (Hint: don’t bug your friends about your MLM, at least if you want to keep them.)

Ancient philosophy of give to receive

This is where Giver’s Gain becomes important.

Giver’s Gain, a philosophy espoused by BNI, says that the more you give, the more you gain. If you help someone achieve their goals, you will be helped in return.

photoIt’s important to note that this help will not be reciprocal, nor does it have to be. In other words, just because I help you doesn’t mean you owe me. You don’t have to help me in return. Instead, you go along with life, and help other people. Help them achieve their goals, help them make a networking connection, help them find a new job, or whatever. Then, let them go about their own lives, also helping other people.

Here is where you, the Giver, will Gain for your efforts:

  • The person you help may connect you with someone who can help you, or plug you into an opportunity that is just right for you. (Okay, that one is reciprocal, but remember, you don’t help others so they “have to” help you.)
  • Generosity breeds generosity. Your generous act enables someone else to be generous, which, in turn, enables someone else to be generous. I’ve seen an act of generosity returned to someone months and even years later, through a chain of several people.
  • You establish a reputation as being someone who helps a lot of people. People who are generous attract people who are also generous. These people are willing to share their network, their knowledge, and their business, which can turn into new opportunities for you.
  • You will feel awesome. I heard from two different people last week that some advice I had given them had really paid off in a huge way, and I felt great for the rest of the day. Nothing, and I mean nothing, feels better than knowing you made a major impact on someone’s life.

So what does all this mean for Steve? How can he leverage his network without them feeling like he’s hitting them up for more money.

Servant’s heart

Easy. Ask this question every time you meet with someone: How can I serve you? Or if you’re not comfortable with this phrasing, What can I help you with? (And you have to mean it.)

This attitude of service, of helping, means that you have to be willing to help someone achieve their goals. Let’s say Steve hears about an opening for an internship at an athletic apparel company, and he also knows someone looking for an internship, Steve can connect the two of them. “Dave, I want to introduce you to Kevin. He’s looking for a marketing internship this summer, and I think he would be great for your company. I’ve known him for three years, and found him to be a hard-working young man. Can I have him call you?”

Or if someone needs a speaker for an event, Steve can connect an alum of No Excuses, No Regrets who has gone on to do great things as a result: “Betty, I heard you’re looking for a speaker for your next luncheon. My friend, Kelly, was in my No Excuses, No Regrets program, and has gone on to play college basketball, and may go pro. I think she would be an excellent speaker for your event. Do you want her email?”

So, Steve has done something special for Kevin and Kelly, but he has also helped out Dave and Betty. He provided them with something they needed, and never mentioned something he wanted. He helped them achieve their goal — finding a college intern, finding a speaker — as well as helping his two players achieve theirs.

He should also spend time over coffee or lunch with people in his network, learning more about them, and learning how he can serve/help them. This is a common practice for a lot of nonprofit fundraisers — get to know your network and how you can help them — and you can make these connections on a regular basis.

By serving as this Connector (read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point for more on Connectors), Steve is able to maintain contact with his network and provide them value, but not have to ask for a single dime. As a result, Steve will begin to see more opportunities for him and his organization through his network, which are more than willing to share their networks with him.


Erik Deckers is the co-owner and VP of Creative Services for Professional Blog Service in Indianapolis. He has been blogging since 1997, has been a published writer for more than 24 years, and a newspaper humor columnist for 17 years. Erik co-authored Branding Yourself: Using Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (Pearson, 2010) and also helped write Twitter Marketing for Dummies.