Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend time with my friend Nicholé. We originally met when I assisted a colleague with a strategic planning effort for the organization Nicholé runs and, since then, have continued to connect on both personal and professional levels. As we caught up at a local coffee shop, it struck me that throughout our conversation we both referenced connections that could, ultimately, help each of us gain knowledge or achieve specific goals. Though not intended, our 90-minute coffee meeting became a way for Nicholé and I to expand our networks to, hopefully, make our lives easier.
The term “networking” often gets a bad rap. It’s that thing people do when they are trying to sell you something, find a job, or get to someone you are connected to on LinkedIn. We often think of networking as transactional but, if done properly, networking is a relational act. To build a true network, one must cultivate relationships and recognize and share opportunities that will benefit those involved.
Networks come in all shapes and sizes. One of my friends participates in a group chat with other moms of 9-year-olds. A few people I know are members of a BNI group and, coincidentally, also play on a kickball team together. When I was an executive director (which I found to be a solitary job), a couple of colleagues and I invited nonprofit leaders in our area to a monthly happy hour. Seven years later, we still get together to share resources, war stories, and wine.
Networks are not only individual but can be at the organizational level. Coalitions, associations, and cooperatives are all forms of a network. A Harvard Business School article from 2005 entitled Nonprofit Networking: The New Way to Grow argued that nonprofits can increase their social impact through networks rather than growth. Today, collaborations between nonprofits (as well as the public and private sectors) are becoming more common, leveraging expertise and promoting systemic change.
Whether intentional or organic, your network can bring great value to your personal or professional pursuits. Approached with genuine interest and an attitude of mutual reward, the act of “networking” can lead to positive, productive, and potentially life-long connections.
How strong is your network?