I have never shied away from meeting people. My Strength Finders tells me I have WOO. My friends describe me as outgoing. When it comes to networking, I can work a room. To say I’m an extrovert is an understatement. Not everyone in fundraising is an extrovert, which makes meeting people more of a challenge for some than others. For those introverts that are amazing at their jobs, networking often causes anxiety and fear. Is networking really worth it?
Yes, I can network. I can go to an event, smile, talk about the weather or latest sport scores, and exchange business cards. But does that truly help me toward a goal? What good have I done to leave with a stack of business cards for people who can’t help? With that concept of networking, networking doesn’t work.
Instead of networking, I now think of connecting. Who do I need to connect with to reach my desired outcome? Am I attending an event simply to be seen or am I going in hopes of meeting someone specific who typically attends these events? While sometimes it is worth attending an event to be seen, the better use of attending an event is for a specific purpose.
Take for example, any chamber of commerce event. Often, I attend those because it would put my company name in front of people as I exchange business cards around the room. I attend to be seen in hopes that when I do reach out, the person may remember me. Then there are times that I attend a chamber event because of who I know I will see there. Have you ever had trouble getting someone on the phone or via email? Connect at a chamber event you know they will attend. Chances are, if their company is sponsoring, the contact you are looking for will be in attendance.
But what if I don’t know who I need to be connect? This happens often. Don’t fret. Start with getting involved in your community – professionally and personally. Are you already involved with local organizations – Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), PRSA, your local chamber, Rotary clubs, your college alumni association? These are wonderful resources for getting to know people and truly connecting. Find the people who have the same interest as you. See if any of these groups offer mentoring programs. Being part of a mentoring program allows you to connect with others who in turn can grow your circle of influence.
I’m a member of AFP, and we do have a mentoring program. Fundraisers mentoring each other. We take two (or three) individuals with different types of experience and match them together to share best practices with each other. We connect. My first mentor partner has now turned into one of my friends. She’s my go-to when I need to figure out who to talk to, what action to take, and how to connect with a particular company. We bounce ideas off of each other, and we support each other in our efforts to reach our goals. We connect. Through my career, I’ve found various people who have become those that I turn to when I need to connect and don’t know where to start.
Never underestimate the elevator ride to or from an event. Most events I attend include some sort of elevator ride to get to the event space. As you venture to and from an event, pay attention to who is on the elevator with you. Introduce yourself. You never know how an elevator ride may turn into a useful connection.
One of my favorite “how did you meet” stories is with someone who definitely understands the art of connecting. She and I briefly met at a networking event. A few weeks later, we were on the elevator together going to another event. And that happened two or three more times – seeing each other at events, typically on the elevator. During one of those elevator rides, we started laughing that we clearly needed to stop meeting like this and set something up, so we did. She and I now grab breakfast four or five times per year to discuss how we can help each other connect in the community. By utilizing each other, we have both found additional success in our professional lives.
Attend the events. Have your business cards ready for exchanging. Think about the goal you want to achieve once there. And go achieve it.