As a nonprofit leader – we have to “People” all the time. Like, all the time.
And it’s exhausting.
Smiling on the phone while you talk about your programs and impact? Of course you do!
Mentally flipping through your personal Rolodex of impact stories to fit the affinity of a donor while maintaining eye contact and active listening? Obviously.
Enthusiastically greeting people you see at coffee shops while you’re simultaneously having an enthusiastic conversation with a potential supporter at the same coffee shop? Been there!
Trying to remember the name of the person who randomly stops you on the street to introduce you to someone else while all the time you’re blanking on the name of the person who randomly stopped you and you don’t have a co-worker or spouse who sees the panic in your eyes that you have no idea who this person is and is able to introduce themselves in order to save you from the embarrassment of not knowing a person even though you meet so many people that your brain’s filing system is backlogged with paperwork in an office that is purely digital and should be given a bit of grace for blanking on the name? Yikes. That hits too close to home.
This leads to that one glorious moment of quiet to take a breather to gather yourself and recharge or celebrate silently when a meeting is canceled unexpectedly so you can begin digging yourself out from the avalanche of emails that are piling up.
And since you do this nearly every day – the mere thought of purposely stepping out from your day-to-day routine to do ADDITIONAL “Peopling” makes you want to pop an additional Rolaid for the auto-immune response of heart burn or swallow that Delta 8 gummy to preempt the anxiety that is immediately triggered.
Unfortunately, in order to increase the circle of influence you and your organization have, and to spread the good word on what your nonprofit does to make the community a better place, networking is the starting line.
Sure you could post a lot on social media and send emails galore – but those personal connections and being able to read someone’s reaction to your mission in the same room is not replaceable by the robot’s algorithm interwebs machine.
And so we seek out opportunities to find groups of like-minded individuals in a real-life game of Match.com.
But does networking…work?
Sure does. And if you can avoid thinking about it as a chore and more of an opportunity to narrow down a whole BUNCH of people into a manageable and focused list of humans that just get you and your nonprofit? Well, you’re just rocking data analytics from a potential donor base in real time…and with real people.
Here are the three biggest myths on all things Networking:
1. Networking means I have to join a group that meets every week to pitch my organization in front of other businesses who are pitching their business for my business during a pitch.
I once took a coffee meeting on good faith that the person who set the meeting up was generally interested in the organization I was fundraising for.
We chatted briefly about the basic things folks chat about when connecting for the first time – from family to food and eventually nonprofit work in the community. It seemed to be going really well, until minute 56 of our hour-long coffee date, when he sprung his pitch to join his pyramid scheme.
It was presented in a way that I could make more money on the side in order to give more money back to the organization I was working for – if only I got my friends to join him at a hotel where this speaker was coming in to talk about how we could get our friends and their friends to sign up to get total strangers to buy in to a thing and somehow we all make cold hard cash.
And though they offered Kool-Aid and cookies in addition to a free DVD to learn more about ways to increase my personal revenue, I passed.
Similarly, networking doesn’t have to involve you joining a club or cult to get in the door to have great conversations.
Think about the type of person or people you want to be ambassadors of your mission. What are their personalities, their passions, or their status within the community? Your networking begins with creating that ideal donor or supporter on paper – and then asking your closest allies and cheerleaders who they know that fit the description.
We talk about it all the time on The Official Do Good Better Podcast – that third party endorsement is exponentially more important than first party solicitation. And who better to open doors to folks who match your organization’s personality than those who are already bought in?
Nobody that’s who! You have a great group that surrounds you currently – and the ask you need to make is not monetary, but one of door opening from those who know you best.
Boom! Easy new contacts – and the quickest warm lead you’ll ever get!
2. I’m an introvert and there’s nothing I can do to change that ever, like in a million years ever.
There are some things you will never be good at.
More than likely, those of you reading this will NOT become Olympic athletes.
Why? Well, outside of the good Lord (and that pesky genetic code from your parents) not bestowing you with the gift of speed, agility or a random ex-Soviet Block gymnastic coach as a neighbor looking to get back into winning gold medals, the chances of you being a part of an amazing global elite group of superhumans is close to zero.
But you can take your introverted ways, and turn them into a unique networking skill set that attracts the right kind of people into your circle of professional friends.
One of the best ways to counter your internal paralyzing social anxiety is to start small.
No need to dive into a massive 500 person business social and expect that trial by fire to end well.
Begin with a coffee club, book club, bible study or other settings that host a host of personalities and have an inviting feel to them. Your comfortability will set the stage for larger groups down the line, but dip your toes into meeting multiple new people at a time.
Why not try bringing an extrovert friend with you!? They can do the heavy lifting of engagement, introduce you for a 1-1 conversation, and be your wingman at events that give you the heebie-jeebies.
While your social-seeking-side-piece is butting into clique circles at business gatherings, you are there to sweep up the business cards flying everywhere from your bull-in-a-China-shop partner in crime.
Your combo personalities will do wonders to find matches for your organization without you shouldering the sole responsibility of finding new leads or connections.
Plus, your extrovert friends will appreciate the opportunity to be…well, an extrovert. Trust me. I know this.
3. Spending time networking is selfish because my personal brand of being personable in front of others is taking away the importance of the mission I am supposed to be networking for.
Be a celebrity for your organization.
And no, you don’t have to date Pete Davidson.
But you do have to be the person that others think about when they hear your nonprofit’s name or who folks associate with when they talk about the programs and services your organization provides in the community.
Like it or not, you’re representing the brand of your mission. And that means positioning yourself as the go-to expert in the field. Getting interviews with local radio stations, being the first person the newspaper or TV reporters call when stories break in the community pertaining to what your nonprofit assists with, or being sought after by podcasts and speaking opportunities at conferences is all part of…well, YOU.
Of COURSE your personal brand is important. And in no way is that selfish.
In a world of humans who have the attention span of a gnat, we have to position ourselves to float to the top of people’s minds. Especially in the niche in which your nonprofit exists. People are attracted to people…not necessarily simply a written mission statement.
That strategic plan collecting dust on your CEO’s bookshelf, isn’t on the front lines doing the work or telling the story in a passionate way to leaders. That’s on you.
So embrace the status of the person who represents the “why” and you’ll find opportunities to be ON the stage where individuals will seek YOU out, rather than you seeking them.
Speak as often as you can in front of as many groups as you can. Present to as many individuals as you can. Be consistent with your messaging – the second you are bored talking about the same thing over and over – is JUST about the time where folks are hearing about it.
You, representing your organization to develop inroads with folks is critical to the expansion of your story and mission. Nothing selfish about it…unless you keep that story to yourself.
I really get excitable about this subject.
So excited in fact, that we have curated a part of our Do Gooders Conference Midwest Tour to talk specifically about networking! Each stop along the way will feature an executive director or CEO/President of the local Chamber of Commerce to share their tips, tricks and expertise to help you and your organization become a better social butterfly.
You’ll not only get a blueprint for your end of year fundraising plan…but bonus skills to hone your networking and frankly, “peopling” skills from the best in the business.