4 Tips for Building Social Capital

With Guest Blogger, Ronald O. Wastyn, Ph.D., professor of managerial studies, St. Ambrose University

I write this as I return home from the Grant Professional Associations' Annual Conference in Portland, OR. This year's conference theme of "Building Bridges" underscored numerous presentations about the need for successful grant professionals - and all fundraising professionals - to build relationships. Building on this theme, successful fundraising requires more than simple relationship building; it requires that you build social capital.


A lot of people talk about social capital and the desire accrue it. But exactly what is social capital? How do you get it? What prevents you from having more of it?

To begin with, social capital goes beyond just having relationships. It is the active connections among people that allow cooperative work to occur. It comes from the trust that you create over time with another person. Social capital explains why when one person asks you to work late on a project, you do so willingly while if another person asks, you either decline or do so begrudgingly. You stay for individuals that you trust and respect. That is the nature of social capital.   

Fundraising succeeds when we have relationships that allow us to work cooperatively with a co-worker, fellow fundraiser, or donor. For example:

• When you need an introduction to a potential donor or collaborator, who do you ask? 

• When you run an event, which staff members stay late and help bring a sense of community to the event?

• Do you have a donor you call when you need funds in an emergency or to cap off a project?

• Do you have funders who call you when they need insights into your nonprofit sector?

These types of relationships go beyond the traditional because of social capital.

So what stands in the way of creating social capital with other people?  Plenty.

  1. Time presents one of the biggest obstacles. Because of our busy lives, we take shortcuts, focusing on the quantity of contacts we make at the expense of quality relationships. 

  2. Technology. Face-to-face communication allows us to establish trust much better than email and texting. You cannot really get to know people virtually. Put down the iPhone, get off your email, and go see people. Walk across the hall; walk across the building; meet someone over coffee

So what can you do to establish these connections and build your social capital? 

  1. NETWORK. Many fundraisers, especially in small organizations, work alone.  Join your local AFP chapter. Even if members work for other organizations, treat them as colleagues. I can tell you from first-hand experience that these relationships can prove invaluable.

  2. Commit yourselves to really getting to know and understanding the people with whom you work. Social capital develops when relationships go beyond the superficial. What you invest today will reap time-saving benefits tomorrow.

  3. Engage in real conversation. Even if you have a professional relationship, take the time to get to know them as people. These conversations allow you to establish the active connections that form the foundation for cooperatively working together.

So, get out there, meet people, and really get to know them.


One day, your success just might depend on that relationship and the social capital that you have developed.