There’s something about the word “networking” that just turns people off. It sounds so clinical; so cold. Many people think of it as asking for a favor before they’ve gotten to know a person. But really, when people say “networking,” they’re talking about meeting new people who work in the same industry that they do. In normal parlance, this could be called “making friends.”
Although networking is essential for every career path, as someone working in nonprofits, I’ve relied heavily on my circle of friends. I have not only gotten jobs through my connections; I’ve also been able to get feedback on strategy, insight into donors, and critical introductions to program partners. Likewise, I have shared job opportunities, referred consultants, and offered advice to others. By prioritizing networking, I’ve been able to establish myself as an industry expert.
This doesn’t mean that I spend all my free time at staid “networking events” and happy hours. Instead, I try to take advantage of natural opportunities to connect with people in my field and develop more meaningful relationships. Here are a few fresh networking ideas that I’ve found most successful.
1. Start Internally
If you’re like me, you work with a lot of smart people — but if you’re like me, you’re the only one who performs certain functions at your job. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t network with colleagues. Sure, they may not be able to provide insight and advice about how you can improve in your specific role, but they likely have skills and contacts that you could benefit from.
For example, as a fundraiser, I can learn a lot about relationship management and cultivating partners from my policy and lobbying cohorts. So, I make sure to attend any trainings they have and schedule time to grab coffee or lunch whenever our schedules allow. Along the same lines, I’ve learned the most valuable information about strategic planning and evaluation methods from my program colleagues.
And to make sure things don’t get one-sided, I repay the favor by hosting fundraising trainings and prepping staff for donor meetings.