Say the word “networking” and many people think of attending awkward events, anxiously clutching business cards, likely looking for the nearest exit. With a reputation for being disingenuous, one-way, and simply uncomfortable, it’s understandable that many people prefer not to network at all.
However, what if we shifted that view? What if we thought of networking as a way to meet people with whom we share mutual interests and aspirations? That it wasn’t about racking up tons of names and business cards, but rather about cultivating a strong and supportive community? And instead of being one-way or one-time, it’s about creating long-term relationships to nurture and grow?
Too often we leave out the “mutual” “supportive” and “long-term” components of networking.
For me, it’s just wanting to meet new people wherever I am and be helpful to others whenever possible. Below are a few ways you can build your network and nurture your network.
Building your network: Pain-free ways to meet people
The trick: Go to an event where the subject matter is something you’re truly interested in and there are activities to bond over. Not a fan of group events? It never hurts to connect with people one-on-one.
- Go on an informational interview: Is there someone whose career you admire? Reach out to them to see if they are willing chat about their career journey and offer advice. Keep in touch by sharing your progress and resources related to their interests (see below).
- Ask for an introduction: Let friends and family know you’re looking to meet interesting people in your field.
- Attend a workshop: Workshops often allow you have conversations with other participants, inadvertently introducing you to new people. Don’t let the opportunity slip!
- Attend a conference: Although conferences might be full of people, it’s not always easy to introduce yourself: You get busy with the various speakers or just stick with your team. So, if you can, figure out who will be at the conference ahead of time and try schedule a time to meet.
- Join a club: One word: Meetup. Don’t see a Meetup near you that you like? Create one.
- Join the board of a nonprofit: This is obviously a bit more complicated than other suggestions, but board membership is a fantastic way to meet new people. You often don’t just meet fellow board members; you can also connect with their network as board members are often responsible for bringing new supporters to an organization.
- Join relevant associations: I’ve meet a ton of great people through the New York City chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. Here are a few associations to explore on Idealist.
- Volunteer: Volunteering allows you to help others, meet people who share your passion, and learn more about your community. Here’s how to make the most of a volunteer opportunity.
- Connect with a coworker: Sometimes we ignore the people right next to us. If there is a coworker you’d like to get to know more, meet up after work (or for lunch) and stay in touch if either or you leave the organization.
- Reach out to your alumni group: Alumni doesn’t just apply to colleges, either. Have you completed or participated in any fun programs? Connect with your cohort.
- Harness social media: We could write an entire article about this (and we have!) but think about how you can turn online relationships into face-to-face (or Skype!) meetings.
Nurture: How to help the people in your network
- Make introductions: It’s an easy and meaningful way to help others grow their networks.
- Host a party: You can have a small get together in your home or a restaurant. I hosted one some time ago and it was great to connect people who might not have met each other otherwise.
- Send a thank you note: Whether by email or snail-mail, a short note thanking someone for helping you out lets them know you appreciate their support…and who doesn’t like to be appreciated?
- Share a resource: Keep an eye out for interesting articles that speak to what people in your network are passionate about or problems they are having trouble solving.
- Share a skill: We’re all good at something — what are you good at and would enjoy being the go-to person for in your network?
- Make a recommendation on LinkedIn: You can craft a great recommendation in just a few minutes.
- Share praise! I have a friend I brag about to everyone I meet; she’s sharp, generous, and a joy to be around. Once someone asked me, “Do you tell her how much you adore her?” Good point! Let the people in your life know you admire who they are and what they do.
- Stay in touch online: One of the easiest ways to keep your network lively is to be in constant contact and social media makes this easy. You can do many of the aforementioned actions online (like sharing praise, a recommendation, or a resource). Try to hop offline occasionally, too, if possible.
- Ask them what they need: Seriously! Just ask.