6 Tips for Prioritizing Networking in Your Nonprofit

Philip Manzano • Nov 03, 2016

Keeping networking as a priority in the day-to-day running of your nonprofit can help move you and your organization forward. The post 6 Tips for Prioritizing Networking in Your Nonprofit appeared first on Keela.

6 Tips for Prioritizing Networking in Your Nonprofit

Is your nonprofit actively networking? Do you give in priority in your hectic schedule? If not, we think you should. And here’s why.

Harvard Business School professor Jane Wei-Skillern has put forth that a nonprofit can increase their social impact simply by surround themselves with like-minded groups and even competitors. The power of a strong network to move your nonprofit it the right direction is undeniable. 

Documented benefits of having a network include :

  1. Mutual learning
  2. Enhanced legitimacy
  3. Economic power
  4. Enhanced ability to manage uncertainty.

What else can you get out of networking ?

  1. Employment
  2. Volunteers
  3. Board members
  4. Partners
  5. New donors

Networking serves organizations as well as personal interests. The larger you can grow your professional network the more support you may have in the future.

Now let’s be honest, not everyone is going to be excited about networking. There are two types of people. People who thrive in networking situations and those who find themselves lurking in the corner trying to escape the small talk. Despite how uncomfortable a room full of strangers makes you, the opportunity lost by not connecting meaningfully with those around you can be so much more harmful in the future.

We know it can be tricky to navigate the world of networking, so we’ve compiled a few tips to help your nonprofit hit the ground running.

1. JOIN AN ESTABLISHED NONPROFIT NETWORK

The impact a group of nonprofits working together and sharing resources can make on a community is tremendous. Nonprofit networks are established all across Canada and the US that bring nonprofits together as members to share information and work together towards a joint cause.

Example networks in Ontario, Canada:

Being part of a group like this automatically gives you access to experienced professionals you can learn from. Whether you want to collaborate on a joint research initiative, you’re looking for a consultant, or you simply want to hear about lessons learned from a project, a nonprofit network is undeniably a good place to start. It’s also a great hub for posting and finding volunteer opportunities, jobs and events with nonprofits in your area. These networks facilitate collaboration, draw on each other’s strengths for advocacy purposes and offer learning opportunities you couldn’t access on your own. 

Beyond the doors of opportunity that being part of an established nonprofit network brings, it also improves the reputation of your nonprofit. This can be especially helpful if you’re new, small or in a stage of growth. Get the attention of donors by being part of a reputable association that holds itself to higher standards and actively mainstreams those standards across its members by giving the resources they need for success.

2. ATTEND AND HOST EVENTS

Britt Bravo, nonprofit consultant , recommends “to host or attend regular meetups about your cause, issue, or field (e.g.  NetSquared Philly Meetup ), or about your role in the organization (e.g.  Bay Area Cause Communications Community Meetup ), or for nonprofits in your area (e.g.  YNPN Phoenix events ).” Being part of a Meetup community on a subject that is meaningful to you is a great way to connect with like-minded people. 

Better yet, if you have the time and the resources, host the event yourself! If you choose the subject you will attract exactly the type of people you want to meet while establishing your place in the community and meeting lots of interesting new people.

When attending or hosting events it’s important that you know how to approach a stranger — a much scarier task in practice than in writing. Be friendly, kind and show genuine interest in the person you are talking to. 

Have you ever attended a conference and sat at a table of professionals who simply slide their business cards around with no words exchanged? We’ve been there. It’s weird and impersonal. If you’re not interested enough in a person professionally to greet them then the business card you are taking may very likely end up in the trash. You won’t build a relationship you can follow up on meaningfully by simply sliding someone your business card. 

How can you build a positive first impression while diving deeping into how you and someone at a networking event can help support each other’s careers?

Here are a few tips from Hubspot :

  • Know your purpose. Ask yourself who you want to meet and why. Know what you want to promote while you’re at the event (a new project or partnership). Stay focused on your goal and have meaningful conversations.
  • Read up on nonprofit news before the event so you know some interesting, hot topics that others would love to chime in on.
  • When approaching someone who you respect, don’t simply compliment them. Engage them and ask a meaningful question they will want to explore with you.
  • When you feel a conversation dying, ask them to elaborate on their last point. There may be something in there to go off on (or maybe it’s time to gracefully move on to the next conversation by saying thank you and that you’d love to hear how their *endeavor* turns out).

3. USE SOCIAL MEDIA

There are lots of opportunity for you to meet new nonprofit professionals and engage in meaningful discussions even on social media. 

Here’s a schedule of some of the live chats that happen regularly on Twitter. 



These chats bring together a community of like-minded professionals to discussion the latest topics in their field. Take the time to engage in these discussions, learn something new and share your own experiences. You never know who you may meet!

4. CONFIDENTLY ENGAGE STRANGERS (proceed with caution!)

Sometimes the expertise your nonprofit needs can’t come from another nonprofit. Maybe you need to connect with a teacher, engineer or plumber. There are endless possibilities. How do you actively connect with people of different professional backgrounds?

Your professional network can be extended simply by saying hello to the person commuting next to you on the subway. It could be the person in line next to you at the grocery store. You never know what kind of connect you will make and when.

Starting up a conversation with a stranger can be daunting for some of us. Especially if you’re looking at this stranger as somehow who can help move your organization forward. Confidence is key. Approach them and start a casual conversation you would in any other scenario. Ask what they do, where they live or something specific about an event you are attending.

Just this summer, my partner and I were sitting out on gorge simply reading our books and enjoying the last days of summer. A man swam up to us and started a conversation by asking what book my partner was reading. Their conversation lengthened, and eventually they came to find that they work in similar fields and had many professional connections. It ended with my partner being invited to visit the lab where the man was working to see his work and progress.  Now, not every person you swim up to is going to be such a great fit into your professional network, but you really don’t know until you try.

5. KEEP TRACK AND FOLLOW-UP 

If you meet five interesting people at an event that you think could lead to potential partnerships for your organization, write it down! If your organization has a contact relationship management (CRM) system then log it accordingly. Share the notes with the relevant people in your organization and decide how the best way to engage them in the future.

Send them a little note in the days following your meeting. Don’t know what to email them about? Try following up with one of these topics :

  • It was nice to meet you,
  • Thank you for _____ (e.g. referral),
  • Send any information that they may have requested,
  • Set up meeting time in the future.

It’s up to you to ensure that you do not lose that contact you worked so hard to make. Following up in the days after meeting can make a huge difference in the way they remember your conversation and prioritize any request you may have made.

As you start to look at networking has an important part of your nonprofit career, always remember that it isn’t just about getting something from someone else. Networking is a two-way street of give and take. Help people out whenever you can using the skillsets that you have. Take advantage of any opportunity you can to grow you network and confidently approach new people. All easier said than done, but we believe in you!

If you have any tips that have helped grow your nonprofit’s network we’d love to hear them in the comments below. We love hearing from you! 

Guest Blogging with Keela!

Interested in contributing to our blog? We love including voices from the sector. Feel free to get in touch with us at  blog@networksforchange.org  with your topic.

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