I was recently asked by my mentee, where should she be networking?
I’m a joiner. I enjoy getting involved with organizations to meet new people and, yes, to network. My advice is to be strategic in which organizations you become actively involved. Most of us have limited time, so focus your activities.
- Join one organization that is specifically tied to your industry. For me this organization is the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Other examples in the nonprofit sector would include Grant Professionals Network, Young Nonprofit Professionals, or Charitable Gift etc. Not only will you gain valuable educational experiences but exposure to like-minded individuals. Leadership roles in these kind of organizations means that you are serious about your career. Others in this group maybe on the lower level tier in their organizations today, but will be the executive leaders tomorrow.
- Join one organization that has the potential for a wide range of connections in your community. Good examples of this would be the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, or Kiwanis or League of Women Voters. Many organization such as these offer discounts to members on everything from office supplies to continuing education. Chamber’s often have leads groups which can put you in direct contact with other professionals in the area for networking purposes.
- Join an organization whose mission focuses on a cause you are passionate about. For me that cause has historically revolved around my children’s extracurricular activities, but for you, it might be your church group or the local LGBT activists.
Use the “date before you mate” concept, meaning you should visit an organization several times before making a commitment to join. Make sure the group values are in alignment with your own. When you do join, volunteer for some task. This can be anything from serving on a committee to picking up bagels. Taking on a leadership role doesn’t necessarily mean you need to volunteer to be on the executive board straight off. Lead with purpose.
I have found you get what you put into a networking situation. Follow up with those business cards, invite them to join your LinkedIn network, and invite them to coffee. Build a relationship. It takes a lot of time to network, but it pays off in big ways when the community knows and likes you! People like to do business with people they like and trust.
Networking is more than just showing up at an event. Networking is an exchange of information or services to develop mutually beneficial relationships. Your aim should be on building relationships, not just gathering business cards. Get to know people. Networking should be based on the question “How can I help?” and not with “What can I get?”.
In conclusion, be strategic in where you spend your precious time and built relationship in your network.