Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why Networking Is Part of a Nonnprofit Leader's Work

With everything that a nonprofit leader has to do, maybe it seems like being sure to get out of the office to network in the community is unlikely or maybe even frivolous.

Being busy in one's schedule isn't the only barrier to networking. Being a writer, it's no great surprise that I'm most comfortable focused, at my desk rather than out meeting new people with the goal of educating the community about the nonprofit I work for. I like people and socializing, but when it comes to networking it can be a bit...well...lower on my list of priorities. As an executive I'm missing out though, if I don't get out of the office regularly, each week. What is more important, my nonprofit and the goals of its mission are not getting the benefit of its community. Leaders who network connect the contact's potentially related interests or work with their own organization's reason for operating (the need it is meeting in the community), mission, successes, or current goals; and this is very important leg work to develop potential volunteers, donors, and community partners (other organizations).

Getting out of the office, often, to connect the nonprofit's work with others may seem tough. The reason that executives who network successfully get out of the office frequently is because there are a variety of people that offer different strengths that can benefit the organization's mission and its goals. You may think, who would I meet with? Or...when would I meet with anyone?

A nonprofit executive could lessen the impact to their weekly schedule if they, say, take maybe three lunches a week and rotate who they meet with such as leaders working for: other nonprofit organizations, businesses, from within government; or current major donors, potential donors, potential board members; or the press and other media; or anyone who brings something to the table that can further the nonprofit's work.

If a nonprofit's leadership isn't getting into the organization's community, regularly and often, to meet new contacts, make in-roads with potential donors or community partners, and to get the (correct) message out about its organization, then the opportunities that networking presents to any organization simply don't occur. It's one thing to present someone with an opportunity to become more involved with their community by working with or supporting your organization and have them respond 'thank you, but no thank you'. It's quite another thing to not even offer potential supporters and allies with the opportunity. Everyone always has the right to say 'no' to a proposal, but not being proactive by making sure that people are aware of your organization and its work is probably a detriment to much of your organization's various operational goals (e.g. acquiring new major donors, raising more from major donors, recruiting excellent new board members, locating potential community partners to collaborate with providing programs and services, etc.). Why create drag on organizational goals?

There are always potential supporters in the community who are new to your organization and its work; and there are also always long time supporters or former supporters to thank and retain or re-engage. Remember, face to face interaction is some of the most direct public relations, marketing, and even damage control there is. For one, face to face interaction allows the contact to place a name and a face with a nonprofit (and it's even enhanced when you hand out your business card). For another, everyone that a leader comes into contact with may have a personal reason or interest in the organization that you work for, but if you don't help them connect their interests or experiences with your organization's work - they may not necessarily connect with your organization on their own. Finally, direct face to face contact allows people to ask you questions, if they have any. How you treat people, how you interact with them (good follow through, for instant), and your ability to engage them without leaving them feeling like they have just been schmoozed or coerced will also leave them with an excellent impression of the organization.

What the networking leader receives, even just in conversation, is important. Especially during a difficult economic climate, it's good to hear which nonprofit is doing what to sustain their fundraising. Camaraderie can be very powerful when organizations are facing the same adversity whether their work is similar or related or not. Also, you may bump into a board member of the foundation that granted to your nonprofit last year - and she or he may mention that the board was just wondering, during their last meeting, what your nonprofit has been up to (this is a potential grant, this year, in other words). The potential is great.

Nonprofit board members, executive directors, and fundraising (or development) directors engage people and further the organization's efforts and successes when they get out of the office and into the community regularly (in a planned and coordinated networking effort). Part of a leader's role is to further the organization's success. Networking is one important way to achieve that goal.

The following posts each have to do with various forms of networking.

Leadership's Role In Seeking Grants

Fundraising, Grant Writing, Mission-Success, Community Building: It's All the Same

Nonprofit Professional Affiliations

This Past Week A Group of Grant Writers Networked Among Themselves...

Talking Is Good

How To Approach Grant Donors That Are Not Accepting Grant Applications and Get Their Attention

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