Philanthropy, Resources

The Bruder Principles

In the last couple weeks I’ve become a big fan of Simon Sinek. I’m reading his book Start With Why, I follow him on twitter, I’ve been scoping out his website, and I just finished watching his live presentation at TedX San Diego. I really like what I’m learning. On Simon’s blog I came across his principles for forming new business relationships and I’m thinking through how they apply to grantmaking. Here are the Bruder Principles with my thoughts in italics after each one.

1. Do a Background Check

Be it an individual or a company, it takes only a few minutes to google them and do a D&B check.  On more than one occasion I’ve discovered that a company was on shaky ground before we worked with them.

This is so basic it can be easily overlooked. I’m grateful for friends like Bridgeway Foundation who are more diligent than I tend to be and who have loads of experience with so many charities. A phone call to Mark or Brent can save me a lot of time and frustration, so can checking info on the CRA website and asking to see previous annual financial statements.

2. Slow Down

So many deals, especially between small companies, are done with excitement and optimism driving them. Simply slowing down the process reveals so much. I slowed down a deal that was going too fast and it completely changed the dynamic of the relationship.  The other party became more aggressive, more impatient with me.  They seemed a little too keen to get the contract signed quickly.  Good business relationships should not be built to go fast, they should be built to go far.

I’ve messed this one up on more than one occasion. Nonprofit leaders are often so enthusiastic and contagious that I find myself hurrying to help. Without exception I’ve regretted it. When I temper my early excitement with deliberately slowing the pace I end up making much better long term decisions. I suspect this one will continue to give me trouble unless I am very intentional about a process that requires time.

3. Start Small

No deal needs to be comprehensive from the start.  A new relationship should start small.  Doing so often reveals true intentions and, more importantly, allows you to test the relationship with less on the line.  Instead of a complete rebranding, for example, start with just a logo and see how it works out. I won’t do a big deal with new relationships anymore. They all start small.

The wisdom here is quite obvious.The tension for me is that I ultimately believe that too many funders are spreading their resources too widely by funding too many small projects and not engaging deeply with the work they support. Start small for sure, but I think that should be an exploratory step towards larger and longer commitments.

4. Don’t Work With Anyone in Trouble

Pay close attention to the kinds of things that are causing someone stress. If they seem to be under financial stress, either their business is not doing well or they are having personal money issues, do not engage with them. You cannot have a productive business relationship when someone is panicked about where their next pay check will come from.  (note: there is a difference between not having a lot of money and being stressed about it).

Again, this is fairly simple. There may be exceptions when a funder is so persuaded of the purpose of the organization that they feel they can step into a crisis, but it requires a deft touch and a lot of effort to fix the urgency and move towards health. I’ve erred on this one too; the desire to help (and to be needed) are a dangerous vulnerability.

Anyone else have thoughts on how the Bruder Principles apply to philanthropy?