5 Lessons the Luxury Watch Industry Taught Me About Social Entrepreneurship

Not too long ago, I met a watch dealer in Antwerp, Belgium named Liam.

Liam told me, “I deal with the luxury market. The prices of the watches I sell range from 8,000 to 800,000 euro. People who spend 800,000 euro on a watch do so because they want something special. Imagine you’ve purchased every material object that wealth can buy. You have the houses, the cars, the boats, the clothes, the gadgets. Your family is taken care of. You travel where you want when you want. You’re bored with the traditional trappings of wealth. You want something special.”

I was intrigued. I saw parallels that translate from the watch industry to my work running a social enterprise.

I wondered, When you have all the money you could possibly need, what can’t you buy?

Through my work at The Global Good Fund, I discovered that growing young leaders for social impact allows more established individuals to find meaning in their lives beyond what money can buy. The executives we work with already have luxury watches–or they choose to wear a $9 stopwatch from the local drug store instead. These successful industry executives have everything they could ever need in terms of material wealth.

What they want is to make a difference, to be part of something greater than themselves. What the executives have very little of is time, which is what we ask for. We also eventually ask for money through fundraising.

Raising money for a social cause can be deeply meaningful work, as it enables people on both the asking and giving ends of the relationship to directly make a difference. People ultimately want to channel their resources (time, money, talent, etc.) to make contributions towards causes that enrich the world and their own lives.

Our goal as social entrepreneurs (and entrepreneurs in general) is to establish relationships with these individuals in ways that give them meaning and enable them to deeply explore their purpose. Our goal is to make human connections through shared values, not just raise money.

High net worth individuals get approached because of their wealth all the time. The natural inclination as an entrepreneur is to cut to the chase and ask for money. However, the more purposeful opportunity is in building a relationship.

So, how do you market ‘meaning’ as a social enterprise? How could social enterprises adjust their strategies for approaching donors, investors, or people looking to give back in ways that connect to the human need for ‘meaning’ vs. money?

Reflecting on my conversation with Liam, I have outlined 5 tips for approaching high net worth individuals in a thoughtful, effective manner:

The way to connect human resources with world-changing social enterprises is through human connection.

My advice is to practice getting personal. Share meals, make phone calls when you don’t need to, write individualized emails and handwritten letters. When it comes to meeting with potential donors, get out of the office to strike an emotional connection where both people can be vulnerable. When I met first met Liam, we decided to take a walk to learn about each other. This strategy was the perfect setting to explore each others’ shared values.

By intentionally engaging in deeper-than-average social interactions, you will build more meaningful relationships than if you approached each high net worth individual as a walking wallet.

2. Focus on building relationships rather than exchanging monetary resources.

The best connections come from building mutually beneficial relationships as well as mutual learning opportunities. Usually when you’re fundraising, you go into a meeting knowing the other person has something to give you. You rarely think about what you can give the other person. It’s important to realize that you are giving the individual purpose–you just need to find a way to communicate this important message.

Note that these personal connections are best made when two people can be vulnerable with each other. As much as you want to invite other people into the conversation, avoid this impulse in the initial stages of relationship building. People connect most effectively one-on-one.

3. Be prepared.

When I say to be prepared, I don’t mean to come into fundraising meetings with Powerpoints, Excel spreadsheets, the works. The focus should be on building emotional, meaningful, personal relationships.

It’s natural to want to go into conversations and sound smart when you are meeting with someone who is successful. However, the real opportunity lies in being humble. This approach allows you to be vulnerable, and in return, you will be able to explore the other person’s vulnerabilities as well.

4. Have a plan of action.

You should have a takeaway at the end of each meeting. In fact, I would recommend asking for something at each meeting. However, it doesn’t need to be money. It could be advice, talent, mentorship, an introduction, etc.

At The Global Good Fund, we approach donors not for their wealth but because of why they got wealthy–to learn from their experience, their work ethic, their smarts, their commitment to growing other people. We approach them because we value what they have to contribute beyond their wealth–and we mean it genuinely. Sure, as a nonprofit organization, donations always help. But the individuals with whom we seek to partner have significant experience to share that’s worth way more than their money, experience we could never afford to buy–experience that’s not for sale. That’s special. That’s meaningful. And everyone benefits.

At the end of each meeting, establish next steps and communicate these steps to the other person. If you don’t know what to ask for, it means it’s too soon to ask for anything. If that’s the case, arrange another date to connect with the individual.

Bottom line, always have a takeaway from your meetings.

5. Don’t expect anything and be grateful for what you get.

There are all kinds of deserving people, no matter how hard you work. Be gracious when fundraising. Understand that both parties bring valuable assets to the table. A strong relationship with a donor is one of learning and providing meaning both ways. Give the relationship the time it needs to grow into a healthy partnership.

In conclusion, it is crucial to build relationships, explore shared values, and determine how your social enterprise aligns with these values for a mutually beneficial relationship. Source.