People often discuss the importance of professional networking. College students and young professionals are presented with this advice so often it’s nearly second nature. According to Business Insider, networking is responsible for connecting 85 percent of open positions with the right candidate. In addition, 70 to 80 percent of jobs aren’t even advertised, so having professional relationships with people can give you a leg up in the job search for the positions that no one knows are available. But professional networking goes beyond job searching and personal career development. Networking is a key tool for any savvy business-person and is especially valuable to those in the nonprofit sector. By using the right networking channels, nonprofits can reach new donors, find value in bringing on new board members and create beneficial relationships with other supporting organizations all within their often minimal budgets.
Whether you’re in the nonprofit sector, the business sector or within the government, understanding how to work these relationships is an important skill for accomplishing your objectives, whatever they may be.
Know the People
It’s important to maintain professional relationships with a large network of people in the nonprofit world, and each relationship requires you to invest the same time and care that you would in a personal relationship. In the same way that you wouldn’t ask a stranger for a favor, not taking the time to get to know key influencers, partners and professional colleagues is ineffective. And, when you get to know someone on a deeper level, you create stronger working relationships.
Nonprofits also have the responsibility of understanding their public audiences and maintaining positive, lasting relationships. Here at Camp Corral, we nurture our relationships with both the military families we serve, as well as the everyday consumers who provide much valued support to our organization. Both of these groups form the backbone of our organization and taking the time to understand their wants and needs allows us to provide the best service and communication possible.
Maintaining communication with contacts when it’s only beneficial to you or your organization won’t encourage positive and well-maintained relationships. To foster the connections you seek, you should be meeting your contacts halfway. They don’t want a relationship that only exists to benefit you; they want to feel valued in return, and one way to do that is by reaching out even when you don’t need something or to offer up your expertise in return. Personally, I reach out to have a casual conversation or meet for a quick lunch every now and then to keep the communication channels open.
It’s important to be consistent with your public audiences as well. At Camp Corral, we create consistency by giving our supporters the option to sign up for our email list. Now we can share news and Camp Corral happenings on a regular basis, and it gives us a means of contacting them regularly outside of when we ask for donations.
Bring Something to the Table
No one wants to be in a one-sided relationship. Always giving while receiving nothing in return gets old quickly, and once the relationship dissolves, that person or organization may feel used. While one dissolved connection may not seem to be a big deal, in any ruined relationship, it can affect how they speak of you and your organization and get around to your other contacts too. Determine what you can provide, whether it’s contacts, industry experience and knowledge, or something truly unique to your cause.
Also, it’s time to remember the old adage “communication is key.” When it comes to a nonprofit’s supporters, they need to know that their contributions are making a difference and being used responsibly. You should be communicating the impact they’re making to demonstrate that their time and money is both valued and necessary.
Recognize Their Value
There is no better way to kill a relationship than to forget to recognize when someone has come through for you. Being ungrateful sends the wrong message and may even prevent the chance of future collaborations. Besides, it’s human nature to want to know that the things we do matter. If someone is taking the time to help your organization, they deserve recognition.
This is particularly important for nonprofits who rely on the generosity of others to support their cause through time and donations. Not giving recognition or credit to your network is the fastest way to ensure that your contacts are one-time volunteers or donors instead of ongoing supporters. Make sure to regularly thank those who help your organization achieve success day-in and day-out, so they can continue to feel as valued as they are.
Networking relationships are important to professionals in any field and although they take time and work, the future payoff is well worth it. The connections you make in your professional network allow you to create strong connections with other organizations, peers and your public audiences, which can open the door to new opportunities to grow and expand your organization.