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The Steps to Fantastic Networking

by Susan J. Ellis of Energize, Inc.

Tired of hearing the word “networking”? Wonder if it’s just another way of describing making friends in a professional context? That is one way to look at it. But networking is much more intentional. You need to prepare, execute, and follow up, consciously and enthusiastically. In order to prove the adage “it’s all in whom you know,” you have to actually know people before you need to tap into their resources! So here are the basic steps.

First identify what you have that you can share and others might value. Yes, this is first. That’s because if you set out to “network” simply as a way to fill your own needs, it won’t work. Networking implies both an exchange (or barter) of resources between individuals and also a collective pool of resources with potential for everyone in the network to share. So begin with an inventory of what you, your organization, and possibly the volunteers you coordinate could offer to others. Assess your:

  • Skills and expertise
  • Material resources
  • Project ideas
  • Space and equipment
  • Access to contacts and information
  • Personal support
  • Extra hands

With these things tucked in your mind, you can then consider what you would like to get from others. You can actually use the bulleted list above to think through what members of your network might offer you. You won’t always be looking for something specific, but when you are, it helps to have intentional goals.

Whether you are networking at an event, during a conference, or at a regular meeting of a professional association, start with a networking attitude. Be prepared to give before you get. Show up at meetings even when you have no pressing needs of your own to meet.

Be open to unexpected opportunities knocking. Never assume someone can’t be helpful to you. In fact, for every two people you find who do similar things as you, purposely seek out one person who does something quite different. That’s how you discover unexpected ideas and leads.

When you have a conversation with strong possibilities for tangible exchange, make definite plans to follow up with the person. Carry business cards and your appointment book. Schedule a call or lunch right there before you both turn away. Promise to send something specific by e-mail. And then follow through.

Over time, keep in touch by sharing quick tips and references – demonstrate that you remember what each person is interested in or needs. Answer e-mails and phone messages promptly. It should come as no surprise to volunteer program managers that it’s also important to thank others for their help to you.

Be generous with your time, ideas, and support to others. What goes around comes around.


About the Author: Susan J. Ellis is President of Energize, Inc., a training, consulting, and publishing firm that specializes in volunteerism. She founded the Philadelphia-based company in 1977 and since that time has assisted clients throughout North America (48 states and 5 provinces), Europe (8 countries), Asia (3 countries), Latin America and Australia to create or strengthen their volunteer corps. The year 2002 marked Energize's 25th anniversary.

Susan is the author or co-author of eleven books, including From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Program Success and The Volunteer Recruitment Book - several of which have been translated into Japanese, Taiwanese, French and Italian. All her books can be found in the online bookstore. From 1981 to 1987 she was Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Volunteer Administration. She has written more than 90 articles on volunteer management for dozens of publications and writes the national bi-monthly column, "On Volunteers," for The NonProfit Times.

Please visit Energize web site, a cornucopia of over 1000 pages of information especially for leaders of volunteers. Call for a FREE catalog of Energize materials: (800)395-9800 [in Philadelphia (215) 438-8342], or fax (215) 428-0434. Or write to Energize at: 5450 Wissahickon Ave, Box C-13, Philadelphia, PA 19144.

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