What smart networkers can learn from Kickstarter

By Gary Belsky
The Brief
Turns out, the massively successful money-raising site has a lot to teach us about building relationship capital.
Kickstarter, the mother of all crowd funders, recently celebrated a remarkable milestone: In half a decade, the site has secured more than $1 billion for 57,000 different creative projects, from new board games to Oscar-nominated movies to the restoration of Abraham Lincoln’s couch. While that impressive achievement has been much chronicled, little (okay, no) attention has been paid to the lessons networkers can draw from its success. That oversight ends now. Here are six Kickstarter-inspired insights that can help you play the relationship capital game:

1) People want to help. Kickstarter is premised on the idea that a surprisingly large number of us want to help others, even strangers, achieve a worthwhile goal. Some cheerleaders will even put their money where their hearts are, with no expectation of participation should the project take off. It’s a profound realization, one that should make anyone a little more optimistic about the human condition. It should also make even the most cautious or timid among us more willing to ask for help in building their own professional network or making use of someone else’s. Humans are generally altruistic. Deep down, we like to lend a hand.

2) Some people really want to help. More than five million people have backed a Kickstarter project. And while the typical member gives cash to one or maybe a handful of projects at most, thousands have bankrolled dozens or even hundreds. As with most human activities, Kickstarter has its superusers. Networking works much the same way. The people we all know who seem to connect everyone to everyone do so because a) they enjoy helping, b) they stand to gain something from it, or c) a combination of the above. So don’t hesitate to go to people who are already everyone else’s go-to. They can always say no—but they likely won’t.

3) Be interesting. Explore Kickstarter and you’ll quickly notice that not every project gets funded, and some raise far more than expected. You’ll also notice that this isn’t a function of merit so much as a reflection of how well creators make their case. Kickstarter, of course, knows this, encouraging fund-seekers to be imaginative in their video presentations and storytelling. That’s a useful note to all askers of favors: Be sure to drum up excitement, because we’re more likely to help those who amuse, inspire or challenge us. Don’t just ask, ask well.

4) Be specific. Kickstarter also encourages fundraisers to be explicit about how they plan to spend the money they raise. Makes sense, and yet it’s shocking how many people fail to let folks in their network know how they might be useful. It’s never a bad idea to explain to someone how they could help you, now or in the future. Precious few of us are mind readers. Voice your needs, though, and they will be top of someone else’s mind too for a while.

5) Keep stakeholders in the loop. Kickstarter pushes (and helps) project owners to communicate with backers throughout the duration of a project. Not surprisingly, such check-ins often spark relationships, feedback loops and other virtuous outcomes unforeseen by either of the parties. Similarly, a big frustration for many “connectors” is the lack of follow-up from people to whom they’ve given assistance. Keep contacts in the loop after borrowing their social capital; they’ll appreciate the courtesy. They’ll also be more likely to lend another hand in the future.

6) Everybody loves freebies! Kickstarter projects offer backers a selection of “rewards” tied to the size of their donation. Most funders will tell you that material rewards are secondary to the thrill of helping others launch a good idea, but even an altruist enjoys a little swag now and then. Relationship capital is, in the end, a trading game. No favor should ever be solicited without a thought to what might be “gifted” in return. The answer may not always be obvious—or necessary. But it never hurts to offer.
Gary Belsky is co-author of  Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes And How To Correct Them: Lessons From The Life-Changing Science of Behavioral Economics. He writes regularly for RelSci.

RelSci is a technology solutions company that helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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