Networking can be a daunting prospect for even the most extroverted amongst us. It can be a real challenge to enter a room of strangers (whether that be face to face or virtually) and strike up a conversation, never mind actually coming away from it feeling like it was a worthwhile experience! But if you can overcome any reservations or fears, networking can be a really valua
ble way of making connections, both in your sector and with others. I often hear people who work for charities feel somewhat on the backfoot when it comes to networking, because there can be an underlying concern that its all about asking without offering anything in return – that is not the case at all. Every individual and every charity has something they can offer; it’s just about discovering what that is, and with that will come the confidence to take the plunge and start networking!
Start with your sector
In 2019 I was part of a group who founded and launched the Shropshire Charity Networking Group. We wanted to create a forum for people working in the sector to be able to meet together, to share challenges and successes and to explore the potential for collaboration. It was also really important to me, having started my charity career in London where there were so many events I could attend, for people to be able to come together and feel part of something – especially as there are so many small charities and lone workers in the county. This support network can be really important, and it is great for professional development. It is also a fantastic steppingstone into networking! By attending events with people in the same industry you can build up the experience and confidence to go along to events with people from lots of different sectors.
Casting your net further afield
Networking isn’t simply about marketing and sales – it is about building relationships. Very often these take time and can lead to lots of exciting opportunities. It is unlikely you will enter a room and come away with a new donor, or charity partner, but you might meet some lovely new people who will learn about you and your organisation for the first time, or in more detail than before.
From the day I started fundraising professionally, networking was an essential part of my role. While working as a Corporate Partnerships Manager I launched my own Business Breakfasts, which I hosted for local companies – they got to meet each other and find out more about the charity I worked for too. This was a great timesaver and helped me avoid any dreaded cold calling!
So, if fundraising is part of your role (and I am a big believer it should play a part of everyone’s role in the sector) then networking is definitely for you! Raising the profile of your charity is essential to raising funds or engaging people and businesses with volunteering and skills sharing (it is not all about money!). Think about the ways you and your organisation can work with in a partnership with corporates, whether it’s a traditional charity of year relationship, a sponsorship opportunity, or a more bespoke approach. By working with a charity, companies can help build brand awareness, help drive employee engagement and increase customer retention and loyalty – for large and small businesses alike. There is so much you can offer (as well as demonstrating your sparkling personality!).
It is also important to remember not every networking event or group is the same – if you don’t gel with one format, don’t be put off trying another. There will definitely be a group out there that is right for you.