Sanford Institute of Philanthropy Blog

How to Boost Your Networking Skills and Improve Your Nonprofit

Networking
There is an art to networking that will result in your power and ability to network. Let’s begin with defining the word itself: What exactly is networking? It is the purposeful building and maintaining of relationships for success.

But networking can oftentimes seem frightening or difficult. So how do you overcome this fear and network successfully? By building connections in ways that are both intentional and authentic, inviting others into your life, and sharing stories about your experiences.

No matter who you are speaking to or what event you are attending, however, you want to follow this formula for networking with confidence: Plan, Prepare, Perform. This requires a bit of homework before you register to attend an event, however, so be sure to start as early as possible!

Plan

What is your agenda? What outcomes do you want to achieve? Who will be there and where do they work? How can they help you achieve your goals, and how can you help them achieve theirs?

Prepare

What data do you need to collect before attending a networking event? How will you represent yourself and your purpose for attending this particular event? What’s your storyline? If possible, you’ll want to get access to the attendee list, identify event sponsors, download maps and parking instructions for the venue, particularly if it is a large event. 

Perform

Practice your elevator speech before and during each introduction. Describe yourself in six words as if on an elevator that was going up only one floor. Then try describing yourself in 20 words or less in case the elevator has ten floors to travel. 

Earlier in this article, we mentioned how important it is to network with intent and authenticity. Being authentic begins with your own personal brand. Image is always important and includes what you wear, what you know, the confidence that you exude, and more. Ultimately, you want to be yourself. If you show any sign of being disengaged or disingenuous, your audience is likely to sense this. 

Being intentional begins with a firm handshake and a smile. Alternatively, a statement expressed digitally requires the feel of your smile, friendly demeanor, and intent to build the relationship. This is also where your research can kick in, elevating your ability to engage in lively conversation on a host of topics.  

Here are a few best practices to ensure you put your best networking foot forward.

The Basics:  

  • Travel light when attending events, especially ladies. Wear a wristlet or crossbody purse. Leave the computer-sized bag, totes, and large purses at home.
  • Wear your nametag on the right side of your lapel because when shaking hands there is a direct line of sight to your nametag.
  • Bring business cards...lots of them! Keep yours separate from those you collect.  Perhaps use one jacket pocket for each. Leave the fancy business card holders at home. You have 15-seconds to connect in a crowd, so why waste valuable time fumbling with cards in your hands instead of a quick hand-off?
  • Put your phone on silent, and put it away. Be present and live in the moment without distractions.
  • If appetizers are served, treat them as that. This is not a meal. If you’re up for it, skip them altogether. Remember your intentions for being at this event.
  • Avoid monopolizing the conversation. When it comes to storytelling, be bright, be brief, and be gone.
  • Avoid being a cling-on with those you know or want to know. Take charge of working the room, and meet as many attendees as you can.

Want to hear more from our nonprofit industry experts? Register for our upcoming panel to learn more about preparing for the new year in style!

Register Today



Discover more about the author,