What is social capital?

Have you ever been in a situation where someone else could help you, and you could ask for a favor, or advice or the like, and didn’t feel bad about it because you had once done something for that person? If so, you have social capital.

Do people call you for advice, ask you where to go for things, use you as ‘the mayor’ of your town so to speak, the go-to person for information? Where to go, what to see, who is a good realtor, who has the best burger, are there good grant writers around the area, what local artists are wood turners or stained glass teachers? If you find yourself getting these calls, or emails.. perhaps you have a pretty good bit of social capital.

It’s kind of turned into a day and age where everyone expects something for their time, knowledge and energy. I remember the days when folks just helped each other out… because it was the nice thing to do. Today, I find this to be the case less and less.  I however try very hard not to get sucked in to this dilemma. I do the things I can for folks when they ask… and try hard not to immediately think of what I can get for my good deed, or sharing of information.  Often times, it turns out, that at some undisclosed time in the future, my kindness in the past, will afford me a good will gesture from previous benefactor of my good deed… but not always.

It is called, in the nonprofit world, relationship building. You just go out and interact with folks.. help them, share with them, offer support and goodwill when you can. I have a friend who calls for advice all the time on nonprofit fundraising related matters. I would never think of asking them for a favor in return. It happens to be that they have a lot of knowledge on a specific type of nonprofit that I now find myself needing to learn more about. I know if I ask, they will fill me in and so, all-in-all, my time spent building that relationship, has built me some social capital that I can now use if I need some advice.

This past week I recorded my first radio spot with a local radio personality. He actually recorded it for me and it sounded fabulous! For his time and talent I was very willing to pay him, but he said to me.. he was glad to do it, and at some point in the future maybe I could help him out with a commercial, sending someone to one of my workshops etc. I said of course!! His kindness built him a lot of social capital in my world.

Try to do for others as you would have them do for you. Don’t always think what you are going to get for it or out of it.. just go out and be nice and generous. You never know when the social capital you earn today, will need to be cashed in tomorrow, whether for you personally or a nonprofit you support.

Need some ideas on how to build social capital or build some great relationships?
  • Give away tickets or passes to games, events, functions that you may have access to, but don’t need or want.
  • Give advice when asked without the expectation of something in return
  • Return calls and emails of those who ask questions of you in a timely manner. You never know what small question you can answer that will save someone’s day
  • Forward information you know a friend, colleague or community partner can use or might need
  • Share grant research ideas .. even one shared grant opportunity can mean the world to a development staff working on a major project, capital campaign, new to an area etc
  • Reach out to new development staff in your area and offer to share insights, advice, contact info. etc. about local funders

These are just a few ideas as you get ready for next year… go out and build some social capital today.

Respecting a Community Partner’s Must Haves

Avoiding Conflicts of Interest

Building Relationships with Donors