Most people are familiar with the concept of the 6 degrees of separation. It’s the idea that everyone in the world is connected to each other by no more than six relationship jumps. I know Joe, who knows Gail, who knows Mary, who knows Jim, who knows Bill, who knows President Obama. There have been several studies that have attempted to prove this theory, most famously Stanley Milgram’s Small World Experiment from the 1960s. None have been conclusive, but there is some evidence to support it.
Even if it’s true, it doesn’t necessarily help me connect with President Obama or influence him to do my bidding. I probably don’t know the whole chain, and many observers of social networks believe that my ability to influence others peters out after about two relationship jumps.
Nevertheless, we are all caught up in this massive web of social relationships. There can be no doubt that our relationship network influences our thinking and our behavior, and we influence it. Prospect researchers and development officers want to know about these relationships within their constituency because people tend to trust those who are trusted by someone else we already trust. If we have a major gift prospect with whom we don’t have a strong relationship, but there is someone whom that prospect trusts who is also close to our organization (a volunteer or a board member), then that creates an opportunity for an introduction that puts us several steps down the path of a strong, mutually satisfying relationship with the prospect.
Several powerful tools exist to help draw a relationship map that might reveal these trust networks that link us to our prospects. Many researchers have used www.muckety.com, which maps relationships between the movers and shakers in our society and the companies and nonprofits with which they are associated. It has the distinct advantage of being free! Another that charges a fee is www.marketvisual.com. Perhaps because they charge, they can have a larger database that is not as restricted to top business leaders and celebrities as Muckety.
Last week I stumbled across a new source that has a completely different model – www.corporationwiki.com . This tool appears to be in the early stages of development, and its “wiki” nature appears to be limited to the developers at this time. However, it is free and it provides a nice relationship map of top officers of companies. It is searchable by company name, person name, or even city (find companies located in a city). It is only sparsely populated now, but if it eventually lives up to its label as a wiki, it could become another model for building relationship maps from the ground up based on the knowledge of the people. It’s an interesting resource to keep an eye on.