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Networking Before You Need It

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Jessica White, an expert in non-profit fundraising and organizational effectiveness, is a big fan of networking. In today’s guest blog she explains why you need to do it before you think you need it.

I met recently with a very bright woman who is looking for a new communications position. She came highly recommended by a trusted colleague and her resume was outstanding. Due to a recent reorganization at her current employer, she is hoping to find a position that is more suited to her interests and abilities.

As we talked about what she hoped to do, I began to suggest people she should talk with, assuming she would already know these folks. After all, she has been in the nonprofit community in Indianapolis for fifteen years. Yet she knew none of them. She admitted that she is an introvert and her past positions have all been internal communications. She has been very insular in her thinking and really didn’t see the need to network. Now, however, she is getting the picture!


© Flickr user Cyndy Sims Parr

If you know me at all, you know I’m a relationship person. I love meeting new people, learning about their work and their interests, and connecting them with other like-minded people. That has served me well in 35 years of development work and in finding that next position in my younger years. But I’ve learned that relationship networking does not come easily to everyone and many don’t even know what that is.

Relationship networking is simply the art of meeting people and benefiting from those relationships. Effective relationship networking is all about building those relationships and maintaining long-lasting connections with other professionals. It means meeting people outside your field and learning as much as you can about them and what they do.

Relationship networking opens new doors. Often it’s who you know, not necessarily what you know—and more often it is who they know. Networking creates a placeholder for future contact. Not everyone you meet will become a long-term contact, but you don’t know that at first. You have to meet people in order to find out who you need to have met.

Script a one sentence introduction you can use when you first meet someone new. Don’t just describe what you do, but tell others how they can benefit from what you do. Make your message relevant to them. Customize what you say to the person you’re talking to.

Finally: to be a successful relationship networker, you must Be a Giver! Don’t be perceived as a taker always focusing on “what’s in it for me”. Look for opportunities to help other people. Offer to make introductions to other colleagues. Follow up after the meeting with information that could be of value to your new contact. And stay in touch! Drop them a line once in a while.

Jessica WhiteDoes all of this take time? Sure it does. Do you have the time? I’m here to say you have to find the time. The benefits will pay off many times over!

With more than 35 years of experience in all facets of fund raising and non-profit management, Jessica White has provided expertise to all types of non-profit organizations. Among the many professional positions Jessica held, she served as business administrator of Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis and as director of development for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the world’s largest children’s museum, prior to establishing Jessica White Associates. A graduate of The Ardath Burkhart Series of the United Way of Central Indiana, Jessica has been a featured instructor and lecturer on fund raising and non-profit management topics at local, state and national levels.

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