Sanford Institute of Philanthropy Blog

How to Identify and Connect With Your Nonprofit Network

Networking
So now you’re an expert networker - with practice, of course! But how do you decide who to network with? Simply put: Identify whose life you would like to be part of, both internally and externally to your organization.

Engaging with others begins with your core professional network, like those you have recently or currently engaged with through your organization. Any memberships you maintain, like those with the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, Certified Fundraising Executives International, and AFP, are part of your network as well. Even your alma mater alumni group, LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends, and other social media networks are all part of your current network.

Everyone you meet is a potential donor.  They could be someone you struck up a conversation with at the grocery store or at a networking event. Networking happens in many different places!  The most effective and productive leaders put relationships before tasks, so focus on cultivating those relationships to secure donors, sponsors, and professional friendships.

Create a fabric of contacts who will provide support, feedback, insights, resources, and information to help you reach your fundraising goals.  To strengthen your network, evaluate relationships based on frequency, interaction, trust, and reciprocity where the give and take is mutual. 

Mindset

How can you see the opportunity of networking and connecting with new people when you know that not all conversations will be great? Embrace a growth mindset, and you’ll be surprised by what can happen.

Awkwardness

It is a part of how relationships start. It is a necessary step to start the conversation and figure out how you connect. Find comfort in your discomfort, as it will always be there when doing new things and building new relationships. 

First Impressions

Announce yourself, introduce yourself, speak up, and speak strongly. Getting started is always the hardest part, so always arm yourself with a couple of great questions or success stories as told by other donors you’ve worked with.

Follow up, follow up, follow up

Find out how you are connected and how you can help them. This gives you a reason for another connect after your initial meeting. If you felt rejected by anyone, find comfort in knowing that it was not something you said or did. Give the benefit of the doubt, and think of their positive intent. Maybe the cause you’re pitching is not aligned with their priorities. Maybe they aren’t ready to donate right now. This is perfectly fine. Perhaps they know someone and would feel comfortable facilitating an introduction, but you never know if you don’t make that ask. Don’t be shy! 

There are a couple of things you can do to prepare for the follow-up once you’re back in the office:

Take Notes

Write the date, event name, and brief emotional intelligence descriptors on the back of each card (i.e. cancer survivor, loves animals, providing elder care, etc.). What causes did they talk about?

Be Organized

Alphabetize and categorize each contact. Who will you contact first? Who did you meet that would be a better fit for another nonprofit's mission? Paying it forward is a feel-good moment that is often reciprocated, so don’t be afraid to share potential donors with other organizations, especially if the donor isn’t a fit for your nonprofit.


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