27: How to Build Relationship-Based Partnerships that Last with Stephynie Malik

How to Build Relationship-Based Partnerships that Last with Stephynie Malik


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“And I just feel like we need to show up a lot more intentionally because logo placement is not a partnership.

That’s not a partnership. That’s a bot sign. That’s what that vendor relationship exactly.”

– Stephynie Malik

Episode #27


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

Stephynie Malik is known as an expert negotiator and skilled crisis management consultant. While leading alliances, she has created countless partnerships with huge brands like American Express, Monster.com, Deloitte, and Nike (to name just a few). We talk a lot about strategic partnerships and why it’s all about truly listening to other people. We share some of our views around donor retention, the differences between empathy and sympathy and how to take care of our own energy as leaders. So if you’re looking for high impact growth, stay tuned!

One of the things we talk about is that being strategic and intentional with our partnerships is so much more important than having a lot of partners. We often believe that all our efforts should be focused on making our cause available to any interested funder or organization. But there comes a point where we must stop and reflect on how these partnerships are contributing to our development beyond the money coming in the door. That’s why it’s such a delightful experience to have a world-renowned business consultant share some genuine insight on what it means to choose the people and organizations you want to be aligned with.

How to Build Relationship-Based Partnerships that Last with Stephynie Malik

We also talk about why listening to people means building an authentic and genuine connection, and why it’s so important to do your research before you walk in the room. We share some of our views around donor retention, the differences between empathy and sympathy and how to take care of our own energy as leaders. 

If you want to build some new relationship-based partnerships in 2022, then this is the episode for you! 


Vanessa Bohns:



How to Build Relationship-Based Partnerships that Last with Stephynie Malik
How to Build Relationship-Based Partnerships that Last with Stephynie Malik

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episode transcript

Mallory: I think there’s so many pieces of your experience that I feel align with my audience. The crisis management piece is obviously huge and all your work, it sounds like you’ve been doing around that especially recently. Like how do you lead through crisis or maybe just talking about in the COVID sense?

I think that’s obviously huge. You posted something on LinkedIn about curiosity, and that is such a foundational principle of my work. So I’d love to spend time there because I loved what you wrote about it. I just think that’s so critical. And then you also have this long background in strategic partnerships. I know it’s not something that I’ve seen you talk about necessarily recently, but are you open to talking about that? 

Stephynie: Interesting. Okay, Mallory, to be honest with you, I actually just got chills. It’s so weird. No one ever asks me about that. And that was literally such an integral part of my life.

We had to partner and be compelling with no budget. So everything we did was guerrilla. And by the way, I was promoted way too young. I got promoted twice, once because my manager left in the middle of the night and the other one because my new manager died.

so now I was a director of a public company with a global team, the person closest to age was 11 years my senior, and had been with the company for seven months. And they’re like “Okay, here’s your P and L, there you go”. And I looked down and it said P and L and I took it as ‘penal’.

And so I went into a meeting with a bunch of executives and I said “Does anybody want to go over the penal?”. Thank god they thought I was like joking because what dumb ass says something like that, they literally were like “Ha ha, new girl’s got jokes’.

There was no internet, there was no LinkedIn, there was no SEO, there was no Google, you couldn’t go find any of these things. Anybody that you went to ask, they were vying for your job. You weren’t trying to be like “Oh, excuse me, new girl needs help”.

It was fun for me because you know what, some jobs I had no budget and everything was just weird for me. It was like “Here’s our marketing budget”. Great. How much ROI are you expecting to get from that? And they’re like “Wait, what? Marketing is not tied to sales”. Sow do you know if you did a good job in marketing? 

How do you know what program works? How do you know what alliance works? How do you know what to improve on? And they’re like “Oh, how cute”. And I’m like “That was a real question”.

Then finally, I said “Look, here’s the deal. I’m not doing it anymore. If you want me to stay and you want me to be effective and you want me to be good, then I need to understand what I’m doing. So I create the right team and I develop the right programs”. And they were like “Okay we don’t want Stephanie to be mad”. So go ahead. And it was the first time in Silicon Graphics I had a $2 million budget. We tied $6 million to revenue in a year. They’re like “Oh, did you want to write a newsletter?” I’m like “What’s a newsletter? What does that even mean?”. I did my job.

So alliances, I’m passionate. Co-development, co technology. I wrote the largest partnership for a monster.com. We did a co-development co-technology deal that’s $44 million. My boss couldn’t get it closed. And I was like “Give me a shot”. And he was like “Oh, you’re so cute”.

And I was like “No,really give me a shot, I feel like you guys are leaving a lot of stuff on the table. People don’t know you. They don’t like you. They don’t trust you. You’re not foundational. They think you’re going to write this and leave”. And now he’s the CEO at Splunk and he’s like “You were completely right”.

It closed a $44 million co technology deal for a workforce optimization tool before nobody even knew what workforce optimization was. So yeah, we can talk about alliances. 

Mallory: Let’s just keep going. Cause I want to hear about this, because I think there’s something about how your brain works that I have always gravitated towards. I’m just like, I don’t know, but I feel like I see things similarly to you in certain ways and how I think about nonprofit partnerships and cross sector partnerships and have been asking so many of the same questions, especially since building my own business.

“What are you being evaluated on?”. Or like when a nonprofit is going to build a relationship with the marketing department. I’m like “What is the ROI that you need to see? How can we demonstrate that we are a good partner to you because we want to keep doing this year after year, and we really want to understand how to build something that is meaningful to you”.

And sometimes folks know, especially now in the day where you can track things a lot differently than you could back in the day. Marketing has really changed in that way, but there’s still so much to me that feels like this code that I’m like “Does anybody know this? How do you measure brand alignment and the value there? And so I just want to hear more about this partnership and like how did you see all the untapped potential there? 

Stephynie: Let me backtrack a little bit. I spent my twenties and thirties wondering what was wrong with me. We would be in board meetings or venture capital meetings, or we would be in alliance meetings with big companies, big ones, Viant Clarify, PeopleSoft, Oracle, Nike, American Express, Motorola, Telstra, Ford ,Toyota, no companies you haven’t heard of.

All of the executives were MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and then me.I didn’t understand what they were asking. I walked into a room and I went like “Which one do you want?”.

That’s the kind of questions that they would ask. And I was like “You haven’t even asked Mallory how long she has been with the company”. Is this the first job that she’s had in this position? What did she expect that’s exactly the same that she was expecting? or what did she think was going to happen at this job that hasn’t happened? What’s keeping her up at night? What’s her talent strategy? I ask questions that are not about my service, because I want to know where your head is. I want to know what your heart is. I want to understand where you’re aligned.

My CFO’s told me for 20 years, I’m an HR nightmare because I’ll be like “Oh my gosh, I love your hair. What nationality are you?”. And he’s like “no”. And I was like, “Okay, hi, where do your parents live? Where did they come from?”. I just really want a connection with you. And if I don’t, you also know that very quickly, I would hear these people asking questions, but they weren’t asking questions,

“What’s your measurement for success? What hasn’t worked. What have you tried that you love that’s no longer available to you?”. And I would ask these questions and everybody would just sit back. It was so uncomfortable. The silence felt like it was like 13 years. It was like 20 seconds, but they were like “Oh, hey, that’s a really good question”.

One of the things I realized about this is that people didn’t know their own measurement of success. They didn’t know how to be measurable and accountable themselves. So going to partner with somebody was incredibly difficult. The partnership was successful if they gave you their brand, their logo, their brand alignment document. I would get these documents. Thank goodness I was new or naive or whatever you want to call it, cause I’d be like “Oh, awesome. That’s great. What’s this for?”. It’s not talking about the partnership. It’s not talking about the alliance. It’s not talking about how you show up Mallory. How do you show up?

What do you show up with? What do I show up with? If we’re going to bake a cake or we’re going to build a menu, you come with things and I come with things. There was none of that and it was so natural for me to be so curious about that. And the looks I would get would be like “What is she doing?”. And then deal after deal started closing.

Here’s the differentiator. Whenever I would close the deal I would give you a 30 day grace period to get out of it because I wanted you to want to marry me. I wanted to show up for you and let you know, I’m not changing anything “By the way, Mallory, if there’s anything you want to change about this document or maybe if there’s anything that you think we could do better, let’s revisit it in 20 days”, and you would go “Great!”.

Do you know how many documents changed? None. People felt safe. They felt like you were there to build, not sell. You are there to solution. Not gouge, not make money, not walk away. I love the people that say “I’m sorry, that’s not my team. My team is new accounts”, and now you’re passed over to an in-house service team. If you’re mine, you’re mine forever. People don’t say it like that. So that’s why I was always a little different.

Mallory: Okay. I love it because now I’m covered in chills. Once in a while for this podcast, I just have this very weird hit where I’m just like “I know I have to talk to this person”. Even with not a ton of information.

And that is how I felt about you. And now it’s so clear why. Because we have so many similarities, actually. The stories around early promotion and feeling like the person in the room that didn’t know the language that everyone else was using and relying on a lot of curiosity and wonder to figure things out, it sounds like you were like me too, where I was like “Am I just doing this really wrong?”.

I don’t know. But also you said my favorite question in the world, which is What keeps you up at night? And so the thing that has been really different for me is I’ve built a framework for building cross sector partnerships. It’s like having organizations lead with that question, because I’m like, who cares about a logo on a table tent at your event? What value is that creating in the world? How has that really supported your mission? That $2,500 sponsorship of that event. And how is that really supporting the partner? there’s no real value there. And so how can we help each other solve the problems that are keeping both of us up at night? Like we can do so much better than that logo placement.

And I just have always fiercely believed that and I’ve watched the same thing. Being on calls with marketing folks, especially with the nonprofit lens where I think so often they’re like “Okay, you’re just going to ask me for money” and I’m being like “Tell me what are your biggest pain points, what’s keeping you up at night?”. And just the way they relax and lean in… So many of them have said things like “No one’s ever asked me that before”. And I’ve been so shocked by that. 

Stephynie: It’s almost like a clock. It’s almost click go and then they go and they’re just like pitching for me. It just feels so disingenuous. Honestly, Mallory, I got written up maybe 10 times because I would go in and meet with somebody, I didn’t ask him for the sale. And my boss was there and I said “They don’t need us”. Maybe we’re too small or we’re too big or I really feel like they need a conversation more than like a platform or a software or a SAS solution. And he says “But you could have sold”. Yeah. I could have sold that. I sell in Silicon Valley. And how big is Silicon Valley and how incestual is Silicon valley? I’d rather keep the relationship. I’d rather be top of mind for you to call to go “Hey Steph, do you know anybody in this space…” or “Hey I’m really struggling here? Can we have a conversation?”. It’s not always about the sale. It’s about the solution. 

And to your point about the logo placement, that’s a big, huge pet peeve for me. I feel like it doesn’t happen and correct me if I’m wrong but, for me, whenever I was younger and I was doing these alliances constantly people weren’t so aware. The buyer or the partner wasn’t necessarily super savvy.

So they didn’t realize that maybe you paid for that logo. They’re like “Oh, they partnered, cute”.I know Marc Benioff from Salesforce and I’ll never forget when somebody reached out to me, my previous consulting firm that I started and they said we’d like to partner with you and unlike, and it’s so funny, everybody in my office is “Oh, god. They’re so dumb. Stephanie inhales Salesforce. It’s going to be so fun”. I say “Oh, tell me what you’d like to partner on”. And they’re like “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that one, more time”.

“All of your software”. And I was like “Okay, do you know how big my organization is?”. And they would say something like, yes, like right under 60,000 people and I’d be like “Yeah, no, you actually need to go back to the drawing board and do better research”.

And a lot of the times I was really nice. There are also times that I wasn’t where I was like, you call me and say you want to partner. What’s my business? How do you know you want a partner? Do I have liens? Do I pay my bills? Am I nice to my partners? Do I have a giant turnover? What do you want to partner with? Because what I feel like is you want to sell me a bunch of stuff I don’t need. And I told Mark “Have your people do better”, “I want to partner” is not acceptable. What do they want to partner with me in?

And do you have an affordable thing? I wasn’t 60,000. I was 16. Where’s your information coming from? I just feel like we need to show up a lot more intentionally because logo placement is not a partnership. That’s not a partnership. That’s a bot sign. 

Mallory: It’s a vendor relationship, I totally agree. What’s so interesting actually about what you’re talking about is also the flip side of being really trustworthy. My guess is they also were reaching out to you like that because they trusted you because of your reputation of being a good partner in other ways. And so perhaps they didn’t even do their due diligence because they’re just like “I know we’ll figure it out with her”. At some point, she’s a trustworthy person that we could figure these pieces out with.

So it’s interesting because I wonder while I totally agree with you, I think it also speaks to the word of mouth way you represent yourself. It attracts people who are willing to come into maybe more fluid or like nebulous situations, because they’re like “I just really trust that we’re going to find a match somehow with you.”, And that you’re going to be really honest along the way when there isn’t alignment. And that’s so rare, I think, to find in some of these spaces that people are just like yeah, whatever you do, we want to do it because we’d rather talk to you about that than be out in the ocean, not having a clue if what people are saying is what they’re doing or any of those things.

Stephynie: And so you make a really good point, Mallory, because here’s the thing, that’s actually how I started my coaching business. You’re going to get inhaled if you get an executive on a bad day and you come with “I wanna partner with you”, you’re going to get inhaled.

Let’s figure out how you show up better. Let’s figure out your executive presence. Let’s figure out your pitch to not make it sound pitchy. Let’s figure out your provocative questions. How do you show up? What are you looking for? And I probably could’ve been a little easier, but I would say “Hey, why don’t you come into the office?”, or “Why don’t you grab coffee? Let’s come in for a 20 minute conversation” and they would get there and it’d be like “Don’t ever call me without having the right research”. I’d rather you say, “I don’t know”, or “I don’t have it”. I had somebody try and sell me consulting services and I started asking for metrics and they have really strong metrics. I could have partnered with them, but they didn’t even know what I did. And so it’s like when you show up, instead of calling a hundred cold calls, do 10 and know him really well, because they’re going to, they’re going to remember how you made them feel.

They’re gonna feel safe. They’re gonna feel like they matter. They’re gonna feel secure. They’re gonna feel open. They’re gonna feel like sharing. They’re going to find a way to partner. “By the way, go look up that word and then let me know what you did wrong”. And they did. And it was great, cause partnering is hard. It’s like marriage. Sometimes you want to be in it and sometimes you don’t, but you have to stick through it and really see the other side. 

Mallory: I think you’re talking about this other thing that I have been thinking about constantly recently, which is this misconception in the nonprofit sector that trust takes a long time to build.

And so there’s this idea of this long partnership period or long funder period, right? They’re like “Oh, you need 12 to 18 months to cultivate a major donor or a corporate partner or any of these things”, and that has not been true in my experience. And when I’ve really thought about what it’s taken to close six figure deals in a 15 minute phone call. What I think is actually a lot of what you talked about. How can you build trust in that 15 minutes to make it clear? You really see them. You really understand their business goals. You’re really committed. You’re not going to have some term sheet that can never be adjusted, right?

Like I’ve done so many similar things, but I never really consciously necessarily realized it. I was on a call recently where I was coaching like a group of 15 and I just said to them “How many of you trust me right now?”, and they all raised their hands.

And I was like, so why do we believe that it takes so long inside the sector to build trust? It’s because we are showing up unauthentically with our needs front and center. We are not taking the time to get to know people or build aligned partnerships to achieve shared goals. Of course that’s going to take you 18 months if you’re not connecting, but you can connect and do all those things in 50 minutes.

Stephynie: I couldn’t agree more. And I think it’s important to tell your listeners as well. I think one of the things that I would say too is to not be emotionally tied to the goal. I can’t tell you how many times I say no. It doesn’t happen as much anymore, because people have gotten to really know me online and they’re like “Oh, if I asked that question, I’d better be prepared for the answer”. But I’m like, you’re creepy. You look away. You’re not looking in my eyes. You’re not hearing all the things that I’m not saying”.

Go up to my website and click Work With Me Now. And I’ll see what I can do, but I’m not going to just sit here and pour into you. Because I don’t feel like you even believe in what you’re doing and I’m not going to partner with anybody who doesn’t believe from their soul, in what they’re doing.

I’m not going to do it. I actually told somebody, I said “what are you doing?”, and she said, “what do you mean?”, I said “you hate this job”, and she literally turned bright red and she burst into tears and she said, I had to do the university online, my merit award didn’t go through. And she said “so unless I go back to class in person”, which she’s “both my parents are at risk, I have to pay for it myself”. And I said, stop everything. And I said, let’s just spend 20 minutes. She was sobbing. And in 48 hours, she had a new job that she liked and she believed in.

Sometimes you have to tap out and you have to say “I know it’s not landing with you. I’m looking at you. I’m over my skis. I’m not feeling this right now”. Reach out, ask somebody, be genuine in everything that you do, even if you don’t love what you’re doing or you feel nervous about it. Talk about that. People want to connect and they want genuine connection. Most people want it lifelong, unless they are sketchy. 

Mallory: Totally. My background is in the nonprofit sector, I became an accidental fundraiser, like so many leaders in the sector. You just get promoted, come with big fundraising responsibilities. It’s a wildly uncomfortable thing to do, like in your mid twenties and asking for millions of dollars. Especially with the way our society, wires, beliefs about money and self-worth and value in philanthropy. I’ve never felt like I had permission to say “Gosh, I’m uncomfortable, I’m so nervous to sit down with you right now”. No, I would have definitely been fired.

Stephynie: For sure. You’re really good at building rapport. You’re real. You’re great. You’re natural. There’s going to get to a point where you’re like on for five minutes and you’re like, “Yeah, no, thank you so much, I really appreciate it. I just don’t”. 

Mallory: Yeah. Okay. So tell me how you hold those boundaries, because getting off that discovery call even that fast, it’s funny with funders, I’ve done it. I have said five minutes into a meeting “Wow. It is so cool to hear about what you’re doing. That isn’t what this organization is focused on right now, but I would love to make an introduction to you to another organization”. That has felt interesting, probably because of the power dynamic of the money in that situation. But like with a business call or something, either way, whether they’re interested in a service for me and I’m like “It’s definitely not a fit”, or the other way, it’s like a date. God, I never walked out of a date in five minutes, even though I knew! I  still sat there! Tell me your secrets. 

Stephynie: It’s really funny that you say that because I just screamed at one of my business partners like last week. We just had this conversation, I’ll tell you about that in a second. There’s two things. There’s ‘You’re not a good fit but you’re a good person’ and there’s ‘You’re not a good fit and you’re not a good person’. Okay. And you can draw those narratives in your head, if they’re a good person, if they’re not. And so I think it’s different. So for me, I say no 80% of the time. I kill myself for my clients. So the way that my business works. 

I have three lines of business. I have business consulting. Is it the right audience? How do you know it’s the right audience? Is it the right service? How do you know what’s the right service? What’s your next emerging market? So what’s your next technology or what your next service or what’s your next product? How do you know that that’s in demand? What’s your talent strategy? What’s your revenue goals like pure business consulting? I’ve done 4 million to 400. I feel like if you serve everyone, you serve no one. I really feel like that. The people that have moved up and moved up that I’ve worked with, they are now running billion dollar corporations. So I have that experience. 


The second thing is high impact performance coaching and those people, those are my people. I am literally in the most uncomfortable situations with you. I’m right here. I’m with you for your clients. I’m with you for your friends, I’m with you for your mate, I’m with you for your company and your peers and your executives.

I’m going pivot, tweak, pivot, tweak, pivot, tweak. I take three of those a year. Three, that’s it. It’s a global position. So I am flying to Singapore, Australia or Ireland with you. I’m like your shadow. And at the end of that time, you are 40 to 60% higher in revenue, higher in growth or higher in talent retention, guaranteed.

And most of the time it’s been 75%. Okay. And then there’s crisis and crisis is money laundering, bid rigging, skimming, college admission, scandal, anything financial white collar, any infidelity, any of those high impact. So think of the people that are the most highly visible that automatically get on TV or paparazzi, we’ve had 39 clients and only one has ever gotten to the media ever.

Massively, huge millions and millions and millions of dollars, or, four babies and a wife with four different women, but that’s a whole other story. And the biggest thing is discernment, Mallory, it’s discernment. So if I know right now, I will very politely say “Hey Mallory, you’re coming to me with this problem but we haven’t addressed the pain. Your back hurts, but you’re not willing to not sit for so long. So I have somebody who’s going to meet you exactly where you are who’s most likely local to you. I think that they can work out a lot of the kinks before you move to the next level”. And so that’s a ‘you’re a good person, you just are not a right fit’. 

If you are an arrogant jerk or you believe that you’re something that you’re not, I will literally say “Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I have realized, I don’t have any desire to waste any more of your time”. And I would never take you as a client. So let’s unpack that for a second. “Do you think I’m probably the wrong one? Do you get feedback that you’re a great person? Does your wife, or does your husband think you’re amazing? Are your kids calling just to check in?”. And they’re like “Okay. I understand, Thank you”. 

And sometimes it’s bad. Like I’ve gotten bad posts on LinkedIn. I got one last week: “I’ve clicked the work with me button for Stephanie four times and she never calls me”. There’s selfies that are shirtless. There’s “I have so much money, can you meet me on my yacht in Monaco?”, and I’m like “You know what, my husband and I were just talking about taking that trip. Yes, we will totally meet you there. Here’s the itinerary”. So you can’t take yourself too seriously. You have to just be really strong in who you are, your values or morals, and you’re going to draw those people in, but you do not waste one second talking to clowns. Don’t do it. Don’t be referring clowns to other people because that’s how we get a bad ecosystem. So just say, no.

Mallory: Yeah. Okay. So I think that’s so great because probably half the listeners are actually consultants in the nonprofit or social impact space. I think that is actually great framing and something you said before around ‘good people, wrong fit’ and which are the upstream or downstream solutions around your business or nonprofit.

I think that’s so important. And I’ve been trying to figure that out for my business. Who isn’t ready yet for me? And where should they go first? Who needs more handholding than my business provides? And what is the ecosystem? I think for nonprofits that’s a really missed opportunity to network and not necessarily collaborate programmatically, but be a bit of that referral service.

I think there’s so much scarcity mindset in the nonprofit sector that they just want to take partnership and money at all costs sometimes. And we have this donor retention rate number that’s constantly at play in the sector and it’s anywhere from like 45 to 55%, depending on the source and year or whatever.

There are a few things I’ve been challenging around that. Thinking one is, that number drives everyone crazy, but part of me is “Maybe that number is fine”. Like maybe it’s actually fine to think that 50% of the people who give are the right partners for you, aligned partners. And 50% are going to give because their friend invited them to, or because they went to this event this one time, or because they’re connected to it one time through somebody else, and that felt good and was meaningful, but they aren’t your people. So don’t waste your time trying to continue to align yourself with them when they’re not aligned. 

They did that nice thing and they supported that one time, maybe that’s fine. And perhaps if we were more intentional throughout our entire fundraising process around identifying and aligning with the right partners, that number would change. But hounding donors is actually not the solution to that.

Stephynie: So I love every single aspect of that. Okay. So I’m going to do two things. Have you ever heard of MindMup? So MindMup is a Google thing. It’s called MindMup. Think of it as a word bubble, think of it as a data dump. 

When I was doing my business, I wanted to invite only the people that I knew, like “I know Mallory, if I send you a text message and I’m like “Mallory, I know it’s 11 o’clock at night, but I really need you to talk to this person”, I’m not going to have to coach you on talking to that person. I know you’re going to ask the right person the right questions, and you’re going to report back to me. “That was a great bit, thank you so much!”. Or you’re going to be like “Hey Steph, they were really good. They’re in an area in my business I haven’t built out. I referred them to this person”. Either way, I’m going to get that feedback. So what I do is I put my core pillars in the middle of this circle. So just think about what your core is.

Maybe your core is great business alignment, and you’ve built that out to whatever that is. Okay. So 80% on the same page. And then you go through “I really want to focus on women. I really want to focus on single moms” or “I really want to focus on universities”, whatever that core is in the middle, whatever your pillars are, mine are empathy, minor connection. I have 10 of them: minor grace, minor, super solid ETQ skills, self-awareness, self-actualization, really deep seated skills… And then you have to be honest and have deep integrity. 

I don’t care what your story is. I don’t care how bad it is. There’s nothing you can say to me. I don’t care, but you have to be the one telling me your story. I don’t want to read it in a newspaper or hear it from a husband or a wife or a victim or whatever it is. So once I know what I’m doing, I’m like “Who would connect with that?”, so I don’t have to waste too much of my time.

I know Mallory is going to get it. I know Shonda would get it. I know Erica would get it. Mike, won’t get it. He’ll take forever to explain “I can’t do that right now”. And I start doing the people, not the service. Then I ask what service they provide. Even if it’s just warmth, even if it’s grace, even if it’s connection, whatever it is. I’m like “Oh gosh, Mallory shows up like this. Mallory is punctual. Mallory knows everybody in this area…”, and I start mapping it out from there. Okay. And then I have a really good alignment of resources. So I call you and I’m like “Hey Mallory, I need a first line of defense. I’m traveling way, way too much. Could you take how many new clients could you possibly take?”, and you’re like “Oh, you know what? I’m open right now. I could do six”. And then you’re like “Steph, make sure they’re not too low level. So maybe there are a million dollars of revenue above, but make sure that they’re not 25 or over, because I feel like I would be not okay”, whatever.

And then I ask you “Can you think of two people that you would pass them off to?”, and you’re like “Yeah, absolutely, Deborah and John”. And then all of a sudden, I just add those things. it takes a day, maybe two, when you see your network and pretty messy colors. And you’re like “Oh my gosh, I like it”. And it clicks for you and it makes so much sense. You feel so much stronger to show up and advise based on who you know. So that’s number one. 

Number two, I survey the heck out of every buddy. I won’t even take your money. I’m not even gonna take your money. I want to know what’s important to you. I want to know if you like your kids. Do you not like your kids? You know how many people actually answered that question and they’re fine with it? They’re like “Oh, they were really great till they hit 21”, I’m like “Oh my gosh, me too!”, crazy.

So you develop that connection with them. I survey them. What would make you stay? What would make you go? What would light you up so much that you would want to give more? And I do these little tiny things along the way. For example, somebody goes “Oh, what, if you did a scholarship for Afghanistan women?”. I will send them a donation that we’ve made to Afghanistan schools. And I will say “Would you like to do a quote for me?”. I bring them into my circle, so when they decide not to donate, they’re leaving the relationship, they’re leaving the care that they’ve gotten. If you just show up and ask them for money, they just feel like a source, like they’re just a bank. They don’t feel connected to the cause. So why do it? What’s the point? 

You want them to feel so connected to you and what you’re doing. And then you want to say “Hey John, how do I do better? What would have made this easier? What would make you say yes faster? What are the things that I didn’t cover that you felt like that would be natural for me to cover?”.

When I do these things, I have to spend so much time talking about it because they want to share what would make that experience better for them. 

Mallory: And there are some nuances in your questions. I think that also provokes that level of interest, right? What lights you up versus why you give to us. There’s these small changes to the way that you’re saying things that are inviting people to think bigger. I think that is building that connection. Just like with “what’s keeping you up at night”, it’s I can tell you, you want to know like your end and really from a point of connection. I love that you said empathy first because that is also just a theme I’ve been thinking about so much related to how we work in the nonprofit sector because of empathy. 

So often it gets confused for sympathy or right. We’re like “Oh, we’re the most empathetic in the nonprofit sector”, and you like to care so much, but it’s not true. I actually think, in many ways, we are the least empathetic because we get such tunnel vision around the scarcity mindset and the survival mode in the sector that makes it so hard for us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

And we even have a lot of conflicting energy to do it with our funders, because we’re like “Why do I need to imagine what their life is like?”. Like “They have the money, we don’t have the money”. It sets up this impenetrable kind of ability to sit in the other person’s shoes and be like “Look, everyone has things that are keeping them up at night and things that light them up. And if you’re ever going to figure out who you’re really aligned with, you have to go there”. It’s not going to be on some one-pager of your organization. That’s not gonna give you any look into who someone is.

Stephynie: I would just fire them.I would just be like “You don’t belong in this organization because you’re reading from a script”, I want you to care. I don’t want call-somebody-who’s going-to-donate tests. I ask the craziest questions. What was the last time you laughed? Like belly laugh, laugh out loud and then they’ll say “When I was in Portugal, I was blah, blah, blah, at this place.” And then you’re like “Oh my gosh, Portugal, I’ve been there”. And they’re like “Oh, I’m from there”. And then you start building a natural connection, but you have to ask them a question you really care about.

Today’s somebody asked me a question on my team. She’s super young. We were interviewing a podcast guest who is so wildly inappropriate. I could not believe she was so inappropriate, but I couldn’t stop laughing. I was like “This is like a real thing. She’s really seeing this. This is crazy”.

And so she said something very inappropriate and there wasn’t a pause. I couldn’t stop laughing. When we got off the phone, our executive producer, she was looking at me and I was crying. I was laughing so hard. And she was like, I’ve never seen you have somebody who says those things. I kept trying to say the words that she was saying. I couldn’t say it like I was laughing so hard. Think about when was the last time you truly laughed, like out loud, Mallory. 

“Have you lost anybody in the pandemic?”. And then they’re like “Yes, but no”. And then they’ll tell you a story. People want to share. Nobody asks them these questions. They’re all pent up inside of them. You want them to give them money? How many other people are asking them for money? How many other people have done better research than you’ve done?

How many other people are vying for that slot? And if that person’s a good person, are they agonizing? What if the donation doesn’t go to what they say? What if the organization gets closed down for things like money laundering? What if they’re organized? And think about all of the things that their name is tied to and how hard they’ve worked to make this money.

They have a lot going on in their tax benefits. They have all of their business, people in their financial people, telling them who to invest in and who to fund and all of these they’re as overwhelmed as you are in getting it there- In giving it so to be empathetic and really understand where they’re coming from, ask super thought provoking, genuine questions.

Somebody asked me today, they’re like “Hey, how many kids do you have?”, I’m like “14”. And they’re like “What?”, I’m like “4, but today it feels like 14”, and then they were like “Oh my gosh, I thought you really had 14 kids”. I was like “Yeah”, I looked good though. It went in a completely different direction, then asking for money or talking about wealth was not hard or difficult. It was how I showed up. 

Mallory: We know, even from science, I had Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett on another episode, we talked about the way we calibrate our energy with each other. You interviewed Dr. Ethan Cross too. And so I love that science-backed research, the whole ‘energy attracts energy’. This is about going there with them and then recognizing that you do have a certain amount of control over the energy and the tone in the conversation. So where you go depends on your energy and your comfort level and all of those things 

Stephynie: I have gotten on a call before and I’ve noticed somebody very preoccupied.

I’ve noticed that and I stopped the call and I’m like “You know what? I have no desire to be another added stress on your to-do list. I can just tell by your presence, I’ve watched you enough in your content and I’ve watched you enough speaking to people. I know you’re distracted. I can’t imagine what is going on for you? Would you mind if we rescheduled so you could take some time and actually just reflect on what’s going on for you to take care of?”. First of all, they’re freaked out because they’re like “How did you know? Oh my God, do you think I showed up on all the calls like this today?”. And then it, and then it turns into a coaching session, I’m like “You know what? Probably not”, I’m a body language expert and I really focus on all the things that are not being said. So probably everybody’s so involved in their own life, then they’re not really paying close attention to you.

And I don’t want to start our relationship off like that. I want you to know that you’re heard and I want to build and gain trust. And that wouldn’t be very kind of me if I started a relationship knowing that your brain is somewhere. And it’s literally cell phone friends for the rest of your life.

They’re like “Hey, I was thinking about it, can you speak here? Is there any way we can collaborate on this? I was thinking about you for that”. And it’s such an honor to make people feel so calm and settled and still just by paying attention. That was all I did, nothing cost money. I showed up compassionate and empathetic for what they were going through. That’s the relationship. That’s the trust. 

Mallory: Okay. So there are two things I’m curious about. One is how you set yourself up for success to hold a container like that? What are some of the tools that you use to be able to fully arrive to all of these scenarios without any of your own stuff? Cause if you’re like I don’t know when I can reschedule this because I’m so busy and blah, blah, blah, blah.

Then you’re probably less able to really hold the space to make it fully about them, which you do clearly. So how do you protect your own energy?

Stephynie: I kinda suck at that. I told you, I’m not going to BS. So my main priority in life is being a mom. It’s in my contract. If I have to fly for you immediately expect that you’re paying for two others, ’cause my kids come with me. I didn’t have my children to have a nanny. I had my children to have children. I’m first generation here. My mom was born in Portugal. My dad was born in the Middle East. So kids in my family are very important to me. With that being said, I think not having time is BS. I think then you don’t manage your time effectively. I don’t watch TV. I don’t scroll. I just found out what viral meant. It’s just not important to me. Disruptive questions are important. So how do I protect my energy?

I generally won’t schedule anything first thing in the morning that is not already a client. I won’t schedule a podcast. I won’t schedule a Forbes panel. I won’t schedule a TV thing, anything like that because my son will always walk in the door and he will be like “Hey Mallory, how’s it going?”. No matter what consequence I offer him, that is what he’s going to do.

So I will generally try and say, Hey Mallory, just say, our next conversation, I’m probably going to be in the car. I’m going to be at a soccer practice, but I want you to know I’ll be completely focused on you. So there’s dead time built in my schedule for something else that I’m going to slot you into, if it’s convenient for you. That’s number one.

Number two, probably the answer you were trying for. I have a 26 year old who’s just incredibly beautiful. She’s nothing like me. She’s creative, she’s sweet. She stops and looks at butterflies and flowers. And she notices everything. She’s like the best photographer. She’s the director of creative.So she does all of our social. She does all of our pictures. She does all of our videos. She’s great.

 Okay. I don’t do any of that. I’m like spreadsheet map pro strategy. She has been in the car with me when I have gotten the most crazy client. So the FBI has called, or the CIA has called, or a client has called and said, they’ve sold $150 million or, they’re being tagged for embezzlement… And my daughter goes “Can’t you just be a normal mother? This is crazy!”. And I’m like “Honey, it’s only crazy if it’s my life and my choice. It’s not my life and my choice”. What happens to the doctors after they run in and save somebody from a shooting or from a car accident or for a motorcycle accident? You can’t get emotionally involved with everything, you’re there to contain.

You’re there to calm. You’re there to show your expertise. It’s not my choice. It’s not my decision. So I just go “How can I show up the best for Mallory needs?”. What do you need? You need a sounding board, fast acting, and immediate resources.

You need to see results immediately. You need an action plan and you need people to contain the situation fast and quietly. So it doesn’t feel like it’s my thing to contain. You’re hiring me for a job to consult with you on your business or a crisis. I’m not going to flip out on it. I can help you or I can’t help you, but I will find somebody who can, so those are the two things where it’s not my choice. It’s not my life. My life is over here. 

Mallory: I love it. And I think it’s just a really incredible example of something I try to practice that I think struggle with sometimes. Opening myself up to the care and empathy on one side, but then holding that distance from the emotional investment or engagement or drama, right?

It’s this constant balance of I obviously deeply care about you. That’s why I’ve taken you on. And I care about what you’re doing and yeah. I’m not getting caught up in your drama because that’s not my drama. Like I’m here to provide space outside of the drama and clarity outside of the drama. 

Stephynie: One of the other things I would do is I would just ask a lot of questions. Would it help you if I jumped in there with you? I just started asking very obvious questions and they start answering the questions and they’re horrified. I’m like, I’m not trying to be upset. I’m trying to understand. I’m trying to gain knowledge. I’m very clear about three things. 

Number one, I’m not going to show up more than you’re showing up. I’m not going to show up heavier, faster or harder working than you. So I’m going to meet your energy level.

Number twom, if I’m going to exponentially grow, I’m going to do it, okay? If I’m going to gain accurate knowledge, to be able to help somebody else, I’m going to do it. Or if I’m going to make a ton of money and it’s legal and ethical, and ultimately I’ll gain that experience to help other people, or I’ll be able to donate astronomical amount of money to something that I really believe in like sex trafficking or the schools in other countries or the insane mental health issues that we have here, I’m going to do it. 

So I tell my clients, I’m going to show up. So which one is it? Am I going to learn from you? Am I going to gain tons of knowledge to actually help somebody else? Or are you going to pay me a crap ton of money? Which one is it? And they’re like “Oh, B, that’s what it’s going to be”. And I’m like “Okay, great”. So there’s no surprises. We’re not guessing. It’s an easy, honest, integrity filled relationship.

Mallory: I love it. And okay. This will be my final question. I promise. But I’m just curious about, as you manage all of these like authentic relationships and your business grows and the network grows and all of these pieces grow, how do they have those things around ‘everyone can only hold a certain amount of first circle relationships, second circle relationships, and third’. So how do you balance that? 

Stephynie: Again, I suck. I feel like my team called you and they’re like “Hey, ask these last few questions. This is what she’s really bad at”. 

I have five friends.I have three dear friends that are sisters. They are my blood, they are my family. Those are 20 and 25 year relationships. I’m not a big go out person. I’m introverted by nature. Most people annoy me because they talk about stuff that doesn’t matter. It’s not going to help their life. It’s complaining or it’s critiquing or it’s gossip. And I don’t like that. And so I just really felt like I didn’t have a ton of close connections. My other two best friends are guys that I’ve known since I was 15 years old and 17 years old.

I was a single mom at 21 years old. I got married at 21. I had my daughter at 22. I was divorced at 23. I paid him alimony for years, which was insane. And we grew up. My daughter…She’s my person. I’d rather be with her than anyone else in the world. Sorry, honey. But she’s just my person. We have the best time together. We don’t have a weird relationship. We’re best friends. I’m still a mom at the end of the day.

No matter what, I don’t care about being friends with my kids. God put me here to be their mother, not their friend. So it’s not like that or there’s any competition. She’s beautiful, sweet, funny, lovely. And she’s my person. My husband is my person too. He’s fun and he’s amazing. My little one… I have four, but my little one, he’s special.

He’s like the glue to everything. Your face hurts after you’re done hanging out with him. He’s going to be president or he’s going to be Stephanie’s last client as crisis expert. That’s where we are with him. So the other things are easy. 

I’m not good with coffee conversations. I feel weird. My daughter says I’m such a weirdo. I don’t know. So managing business relationships is easy for me. I probably don’t do as good of a job with my second level connections. I probably could do better, but that’s just how I manage my life. 

Mallory: I also am someone who’s like a social introvert or whatever they call it. I don’t know the rules either. I don’t know how to talk about the bachelor or I don’t even have normal television. I would rather be alone and quiet. I said to my husband last weekend “Do I need a hobby or something?”. I either want to be doing this or be with you guys, and I’m kinda good. 

Stephynie: Yeah. Wait until your daughter tells you “Mom, get a life”. Like my kids are so passive aggressive weird though, because they begged me to go to their prom. My oldest is 26. The two oldest are 25 and 26. I went to both of their proms and they were like “You’re working right?”, or they’ll go “Hey, can I have a party?”, and I’m like “Yeah, honey, that sounds great. Let me see where dad and I can go”. They’re like “No! you guys stay”. They love us so much because when we had them, people just didn’t even know that we were as young as we were, it’s been interesting.

Mallory: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. I could talk to you forever, but I want to be respectful of your time and energy. So just, we wrap up with just telling folks where they can find you. 

Stephynie: So Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, everything is Stephynie Malik (@stephyniemalik). My website is stephyniemalik.com and I put together a special offer for you guys for free consultation.

So if there’s anybody who wants to have a conversation regarding their business or consulting or coaching, stephyniemalik.com/contact, and in the subject line, you would just say “Mallory”. 

Mallory: Thank you. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. And thank you for joining me today. This was so fun. I’m grateful for the conversation. 

Stephynie: You’re so welcome. And please reach out if you need anything at all and, and let me know how I can help. 

How to Build Relationship-Based Partnerships that Last with Stephynie Malik

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