Nonprofit Management

Building a Professional Network and Reaching Your Goals. 

You’ve heard it time and time again from friends, colleagues, professors, and everyone else. “What are you doing to network”? “You need to develop a professional network if you are going to succeed in the nonprofit world.” These are common questions and statements that are often heard by nonprofit leaders. Many people may shrug it off and go with the tried and true. If I stay positive and charismatic my dreams will come true. While this is partially true it will take much much longer and only a few gifted individuals can succeed with this strategy. The best methods are those which allow you to become proactive by setting goals, being in the right places, meeting important figures, blogging and building a presence online and in your community. This certainly seems like a huge task but the rewards are unlimited. Many leaders do not know where to start especially if they do not have the funds to hire an expert. I hope to make some of these issues clear in this article.

1. Spend time volunteering in your community.

2. Go to governmental organization and meetings.

3. Gain skills of debating and board style communication.

4. Build a reputation online.

5. Blog blog blog. The higher you rank the more marketable you will be.

6. Find and meet with other organization leaders in your area.

7. Build a social following for your website at sites like Volgio, Facebook, Linkedin.

One of the greatest flaws that people make with social networking is that they tend to network only with like minded individuals. At some point, you should analyze your network for diversity. It is very important to have people of all different world experiences and talents, as well as age, and gender. The more diversified your network becomes the more access you will have to unique opinions and talent. This among other things is very important for success and even well-being because you will develop a stronger sense of cultural understanding and compassion.

Building your professional network takes lots of time and energy, but it will be one of the most valuable resources you can create in your lifetime. Your network will be the place you turn when times are tough, you need a break, or you need support both financially and emotionally. Once you have made progress establishing this network take some time to analyze each person very carefully and understand their strengths and weaknesses. This is a critical step in network development. Understanding how each member of your network works will give you the ability to cater towards their strengths and know who to go to when a specific issue arises or you need advice. Once you are aware of the abilities of your group you will then be able to reflect on yourself and build up your own asset.

How do others perceive me? What are my qualities, strengths, and weaknesses? Understanding these intrinsic characteristics will allow you to develop them just as you would any other skill. The more you are able to develop these characteristics, the more of an asset you will become to any professional network. So in all likelihood this can be the most proactive measure to take in networking. By becoming the authority of a niche, you will gain a reputation along with your internet presence, you will become well known in your community. There will be many professional networks that are interested in networking with you because they are aware that you are an asset. So becoming an asset of utmost importance. There is no reason to attempt to network if you are unaware of your intrinsic strengths.

Please do not take this as discouraging. You may say “I don’t know what my valuable characteristics are.”  Before you begin networking, you may need to begin a phase of discovery. This is what the college years are generally for. A time when you have few responsibilities or obligations and plenty of free time. However, it is never too late to start the discovery phase. If you are working full time, then it is simple. On the weekends try something different. Never repeat the same activity, or go to the same place even for a lunch. Interact with as many people as possible the more interaction you have the more you will develop your communication skills and confidence. In the discovery phase, confidence is king. You must be willing to go out of your comfort zone in order to experience anything. If you have already spent a lot of time in the discovery phase it is time to reflect. Many people do not realize the value of reflecting on their past experiences. It is only through reflection that you can truly learn and then evolve.

This may sound trivial like something you would tell a school grade child, but I am telling you now only reflect on the positive elements of your experiences. If you dwell on the negative, you will become more inhibited and reluctant to have new experiences. Easier said than done you may say? Of course that is true it is hard to overlook embarrassing moments. But remember, time is not fluid it only moves in one direction and that is forward. If you relieve a moment that had a negative impact you are only wasting your time. You will have learned from the experience but do not let it impact your outgoingness.

Now that you have taken some time to reflect, you may have come up with a few examples of times that your were happy, confident, respected, and a joy to those around you. Write them down or you may forget. These are the things you need to revisit. Examples could be: a temporary job, a sporting event, management position, debate, volunteering, working in a hospital, watching a football game. Whatever it may be take some time to analyze your behavior in that situation. Where you more outgoing? Knowledgeable? Did your behavior change? Okay this is one of the most important steps identifying where your intrinsic strengths lie. Reflecting on the discovery phase cannot be overemphasized. This is the holy grail to professional networking, leadership, success and relationship building. This will make you the person that not only you want to be but the person others respect and praise.

Once you have have identified your intrinsic strengths, its time to tweak and develop them. For example, you may have a strong passion for helping those in need. Well, it may seem like helping those in need is what you should do. It is not the only thing. Think of everything beyond and above just the physical act of helping someone. How can I help as many people as possible? Who can I partner with to accomplish more, what is it about my personality that makes me more effective at helping people and how can I improve my character traits to be more responsive. These are just a few of the things you can think of. There is always the degree that will shine, but there are many people with degrees who don’t know how to apply their character and develop a personality around the degree.

For professional networking, one of the most important things to remember is that your own personal value is SOOOO important and I do not mean being an arrogant jerk. I mean valuing yourself, abilities, and personality. Remember that valuing yourself and devaluing can be a very fine line. NEVER devalue another human we are all miracles in creation of which billions of years of evolution have sculpted. No matter how unfortunate an individual may be, we are each the most advanced design to ever exist and deserve respect and compassion as a birthright. By interacting with those less fortunate, we can learn how to respect everyone and not stratify our social networking based on superficial qualities such as race, age, religion, or wealth.

Developing your network. Once you have learned how to identify the skills, talents, and personality types of different people, you can begin to assess your network and find people to fill in the voids. At the same time, you can decrease your interaction with people who do not have a role or if you have too many people that all play the same role you can low your interaction with a few of them in order to make room for new network links. This may sound brash but remember these are your professional networks. The people you play golf with, have a dinner with or other professional events. They are not in your close friends circle so they are fluid and expect to change as you change as a person. Your professional network will be in constant remolding and reshaping. Think of these individuals as each competing for your time and you can only offer so much. This will also surprisingly raise your perceived value because you will seem to be in high demand. This can go a long ways because with your network if you are perceived as high value, you will be introduced differently than if you are just another connection. The introduction alone is 50% of networking. A strong introduction, good referral, and positive attitude will give you more flexibility in choosing people to add to your professional network.

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