Networking has become the new buzzword in the nonprofit sector. Ask anyone and they will tell you that they are serious about networking. Donors also demand it to avoid duplication and maximise the sharing of scarce resources. All sorts of forums have mushroomed lately to promote networking and build partnerships.
But when you ask people to tell you what they understand by networking, then the most common response is ‘it is about connecting with people’. When I ask people to tell me what they regard as the fundamental elements of networking, then they look confused. As far as they are concerned, networking is networking. It is about connecting with others to ensure your access to all kind of resources in a time of financial crisis. Everybody is doing it! Well, the fact is that you can network by default or by design. People not trained in professional networking do it mostly by default. The result is a hit and miss approach, ending up in frustration as they try to connect with all and sundry.
Common myths about networking:
- Networking is about connecting with others and who you know. Wrong! It is about who knows you and wants to know you. Thus is why it is so important that you need to know what you have to offer uniquely within your networks. What makes you stand out? Thus you avoid becoming a ‘net-beggar’ (also a name dropper) instead of a true networker;
- Networking is about accessing resources and knowing what you want.Wrong! It is firstly about knowing what you can share and with who you want to share it. Everything else is secondary;
- You network with an organisation. Wrong! You network with an individual who is the face of an organisation. The organisation is abstract, the individual is real. That is why you need to know as much about that individual who will then allow you access to that organisation.
When you network by design, there are six elements of effective networking to remember:
- Have a network strategy: Why do you need to network, with who, what do you have to offer that is unique (the wow factor), what is your plan?
- Everybody in the organisation must be trained in professional networking: Since we are all networkers every day, all staff, board and volunteers must be trained in networking;
- Have a dedicated network coordinator: This is a person who is responsible to drive and implement your network strategy. All members must report to this person the results of your networking activities;
- Allocate resources: any strategy requires resources to be implemented in terms of time, money and human resources. Networking must reflect as a line item in your budgets;
- Review your strategy constantly: No plan is perfect and must be tested against reality. You must therefore constantly review the results of your networking strategy and make strategic choices about the allocation of resources to implement your strategy;
- Not an afterthought in meetings: When you take networking seriously, then you have it as a standard item on your meeting agenda and not bring it up as an afterthought. Reports must be submitted about new connections, new opportunities, resources shared and accessed, etc.