If you think networking is passing out business cards to build your address book, think again. Meaningful networking is establishing relationships with other professionals. It often starts with a cup of coffee, and if done well, will lead to long-term connections that benefit everyone involved. Lauren Soderland, a development professional who is a graduate of University of Washington’s Fundraising Management Certificate Program and now sits on the program’s Advisory Board, recently offered this advice on networking and informational interviewing to students in the certificate program.
ACTIVELY LISTEN AND BUILD GOODWILL
Your goal in networking should not only be to develop relationships, but to help other people. Really make an effort to listen actively to your new connections for clues about what is important to them. People like talking about themselves, so asking open-ended questions will get people to open up more easily than you expect. Provide as much value as you possibly can to your new contacts, and any effort you put forth will come back to you many times over.
TELL YOUR STORY
Prepare and practice two stories: a brief self-introduction that is clear, interesting and well delivered and a longer story about yourself that tells where you have been, where you are and where you are going.
This point speaks for itself. Be professional but be yourself, letting your personality come through when you talk to people!
CONNECT YOUR NETWORKS
Develop a habit of introducing people within your network who have similar jobs, passions, goals or interests. This is another way that you can bring value to the relationships you are building and interconnect your network in meaningful ways.
YOU ARE THE BRAND, ALL THE TIME
Everywhere you go you have an opportunity to meet someone
or see someone you know, so be prepared to have your professional life
come up at odd times. Take advantage of the opportunities that present
themselves and always be prepared to speak articulately about yourself.
In Seattle as you network you’ll find that everyone knows everyone, especially within certain fields like the nonprofit sector. This is both a positive and, if you aren’t careful, a potential negative. Always treat people you meet as if they will be an important connection in the future.
IDENTIFY YOUR CHAMPIONS
Once you start meeting with your connections, identify people who you really ‘click’ with and keep in touch with them. Really work at growing and nurturing those relationships. Two to three true champions can be as valuable as a huge network.
DON’T HESITATE TO REACH OUT
Everyone, at one time or another, has asked someone they want to get to know to coffee or lunch, and most see networking as a pay-it-forward system. That said, people are busy, and the most connected people are the most often asked to have meetings, so you must be thoughtful of people’s time. Introduce yourself with a short e-mail or phone call, tell them up front how much time you expect from them (“I’d love to meet with you for 15 minutes over coffee”), and then don’t take more of their time than you’ve asked for. You should also be prepared to hear “no” and move on to your next potential connection.
DON’T TAKE ON TOO MUCH
Nurture and grow your network, but also be clear and think about what you want from it. Then build your network accordingly. I suggest that you be proactive and create a list of people you want to know as well as develop a system that works for you to keep track of your network. When you make a plan to build your network, don’t forget about the network you already have. Make sure that you check back in with people you already know. And don’t reach out so far that you can’t maintain the relationships you are establishing.
THANK YOU NOTES, THANK YOU NOTES, THANK YOU NOTES
Handwritten thank you notes stand out and are, in my opinion, the minimum standard for thanking someone who has taken the time out of their day to meet with you. I keep a stash of cards with me at all times and send them out right after meeting with someone. Also, don’t forget to thank people after you have met with someone they’ve introduced you to — it’s a great excuse to check back in with them and thank them.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES
What are the opportunities for making connections in your community? Be creative and think of unique ways that you can connect and grow your network. Find professional organizations, seminars, happy hours, networking sessions, conferences, volunteer opportunities, coworkers, family and friends, and tell your story to and through those people. Cast your net wide and then make stronger connections with people you meet over the course of your endeavors.??
Lauren Soderland is the Discovery Circle Manager at Pacific Science Center. She currently serves on the University of Washington Fundraising Management Advisory Board and the Association of Fundraising Professionals Washington Board and is a volunteer with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Teenfeed.
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