Networking. We’ve all heard the term, had workshops and classes on it, gone to seminars, digested it— but why? Why has this notion demanded so much attention and effort and become a “must have” skill for our professional wheelhouses? It’s simple: networking is necessary to progress at any level in business and is especially paramount for nonprofit leaders.
Networking helps build a professional reputation backed by a cadre of supporters and believers. It is this network that can corroborate your credentials and solidify your standing with other interested parties. These are the people who cannot only help you find jobs or partnerships, but can potentially recommend you to employers and connect you with donors. With nonprofits fighting for resources, it only makes sense that we would want to meet as many people who can connect us to donors, funders and experts in the field.
With that said, every one of our contacts is a potential client, a potential resource and if treated well, a potential partner or donor. I’ve heard innumerable stories of people transitioning casual contacts to loyal clients or invaluable assets to their personal brand. People like to be connectors, they like to be of importance and they love to see their facilitation yield fruition. However, no matter how altruistic we want to believe we are, people also like reciprocity and that means making a contact might generate something advantageous in the future.
So how do we make these ever important contacts? Luckily, the Valley has no shortage for opportunities to network. There seems to be an event or fundraiser every week and these gatherings are full of people you want to know. Additionally, there are formal networking events sponsored by numerous organizations (ask around) where you have a chance to meet like-minded individuals with the premise of trying to connect.
It should be noted that a good networker will use those times to make meaningful conversation with people who could potentially render a connection or service. An effective networker should also position him/herself as a potential resource for anyone he/she is speaking to, again— it’s about mutually beneficial partnerships. Now, there is extensive literature on effective networking techniques that are tested and true (I implore you to Google “effective networking”; it’s exhausting). Providentially, there are plenty of programs that provide structured networking for those who want to make contacts and connections at a higher level.
Valley Leadership, Scottsdale Leadership and Generation Next all have huge networking components connecting up-and-comers to experts in the field. I am a member of the Generation Next current cohort IV and during our interactions and conversations with these speakers, we were not limited to the confines of the meetings. In fact, we were encouraged to reach out, ask questions and built a rapport with some of the most respected members of the nonprofit sector. I cannot tell you how valuable it has been to ask questions and get advice from experts who have been through and seen it all. These partnerships and professional relationships have been built because of Generation Next.
There is also networking within these particular groups. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of the most intelligent, hard-working and capable people in the Valley. Arizona is quite lucky to have all of these amazing people at the helm while combating issues in healthcare, education, homelessness, and mental health, to name a few. Participants become so close, they are able to shoot an email asking for advice or send a text to ask a question, and networking in this sense becomes undeniably valuable. I am so grateful to have had the chance to bounce ideas off of a group at happy hour, invite people to an informative breakfast or connect group members to someone in my network for resources and potential partnerships.
Realistically, not everyone can attend these events or enroll in a leadership program. Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to network and connect. A good way to get your name out there is to treat anyone you meet, and I mean anyone, as a potential contact. Every time you have a conversation you should leave knowing what you can do for them and what they can do for you. Additionally, social networking has made traditional networking even easier. Facebook and LinkedIn can supplement your efforts and really validate your persona. They make it easier to dialogue and exchange contact information which, when streamlined, can expedite those conversations.
If there is one thing to remember, it's that networking is a very valuable skill to possess. You never know when you will meet a potential volunteer, board member or donor so you always want to make sure you are making contacts and vetting those contacts to ensure that networking is working for you.
Sentari Minor is a Program Specialist for the Rodel Foundation of Arizona. He is part of the most recent cohort of the ASU Lodestar Center's Generation Next program. Additionally, he sits on the boards of the Welcome to America Project, KEEN Phoenix, Phoenix Collegiate Academy and is a partner of Social Venture Partners. He is also a project leader for Hands On Greater Phoenix and does youth programming through the American Red Cross.