Back at my first fundraising job, I had to attend some events that were explicitly for networking. Yuk. Imagine (or maybe you don’t have to because you’ve done this…) walking through a room moving from group to group, giving your “elevator pitch” and then exchanging business cards, before moving on to the next group. No real conversations, just pitching. I dreaded those events and thankfully haven’t been to one in over a decade.
Networking that way just feels bad. It feels fake and icky and impersonal.
Today’s podcast is all about how to network in a way that feels good. Since those days, I’ve learned how to network in a way that is authentic and that focuses on meaningful connections. My guest today, Paul Nazareth, has built a career on doing just that, and effectively.
Listen to the episode:
Here is a summary of our conversation:
Paul, can you talk a little bit about what good networking looks like?
You know, it's interesting that I'm getting back out there and starting to do some teaching in the nonprofit sector around this and actually have totally rebranded it around connecting and when people think of it as connecting for their organization as a leading professional, but also as an individual and their own skills, then everybody reframes the conversation.
Tell us a little bit more about how we can connect with people in a meaningful way. Maybe not an event specifically like that, but when we're out and about in the world, right? Like it doesn't have to be as staged or structured as that.
Absolutely. This is about service and skill-building. This was a topic that Beth Kanter years ago tackled in her book, The Networked Nonprofit and why it was so important for nonprofits to be connected to networks. Not only in terms of leadership and the mission but also skills. We don't have the capacity in the sector to be able to cover everything off. So everybody needs to know from advocacy, from a program, from a management perspective, who has what skills and when you come at it from a place of how are we helping each other? Again, everybody thinks that networking has to come either from self-interest or generosity and in fact, there's a middle plan and that's reciprocity. I think you won't be thinking of it as connecting where we think of it as circulation as opposed to sales. Then people get a lot more comfortable.
You and I have talked about that reciprocity principle offline because I am such a big believer in that as well. Can you tell us a little bit about what reciprocity is and how it relates to this idea of connecting?
You know, it's very much well told in Adam Grant's book, Give and Take. And this is one of the best books on networking. It helps to level set people's expectations to say, why am I going to this event? Why are we connecting with other organizations? Why do I as a leader even need to have a brand? And so the reciprocity is about how do you help others but how do you also get the things that you need and when you keep it as simple as that.
For me, reciprocity is not necessarily “give and take” from that same conversation. It's this principle that if we're all doing this, it's going to come back, right? I don't have to give something to you with the expectation that you're going to give something back to me. But what if we continually give to each other, things will come back when we need them. Is that fair?
You bet. And in fact, there's even a pleasurable element that exists about doing good for people and brands and organizations that you really care about.
That really connects back to that sense of connecting because it's not about asking for what you need all the time. It's about hearing others. And supporting others and that's what good connection is. Tell me a little bit more about how we can connect with people in these busy spaces.
And use the perfect word to open this part of the discussion: Busy. People always tell me, Paul, I don't have time to network. So organizations tell me that they don't have time to network and then they’re faced with a crisis in which they need skills. People in funding leaders tell me that they don't have time to network and then they have a crisis where they need to advance a cause or advocate and they have no profile and contacts to help them. And then individuals tell me, Paul, I have a job. I have a family, I don't have time to network. And then they find themselves out in the cold when something has happened, there's been a shift. They've been let go and now they're out trying to get jobs in the worst way possible, which is the interview process. And so a lot of this is about proactivity to do what you do the best. And be your best self. Organizations need to be connected to fulfill the mission. Leaders need to have social capital in order to leverage their leadership. And individuals need to be connected, not just in job safety, but actually in skill development.
Let's go into some of the mechanics. When you start to think about where should you be, how often should you be there? What groups should you be in front of? What are some questions we can ask ourselves to say, okay, I'm in the right place, or I'm at the right event, or I'm doing these things well instead of networking for the sake of networking instead of meaningful connection?
Do you know what's interesting? When it comes to networking, a lot of people just meet with people that ask for their time. They're not really strategic about how they're connecting with people, what events they're attending, where they need to be seen. So organizations need to have a plan to say, who should we be working with to advance our mission and how are we going to see them this year. What conferences do we need to be at? What projects do we need to be collaborating on?
Excellent. So then how do we get in front of those people? How do we connect with them?
The number one method to cheat and save time is digital media. Everybody wants to skip social media. Everybody wants to hate on the thing. It's because they're letting it control the dialogue and they're not controlling it. For organizations, blogging and content creation is the way to cheat for leaders. Being in spaces like Twitter and LinkedIn, I am blogging and writing for industry publications like CharityVillage.
What you do on these platforms so that it's not just like liking some posts and you actually get some attention.
It's very much centered around content. So for example, what's really exciting right now is that a lot of different conferences will have a hashtag and you can actually engage in a conference even if you're not there. The young professionals who are at that conference that is actually, again curating and digesting the of the experts by sharing their thoughts from their perspective, where they are right now and then around other content like articles and books and things like that. It is not about the reactive and the gossip and the dialogue, all of that. I ignore that and Twitter is absolutely a negative garbage fire to most people, but for the people that actually understand and come at it from the framework of connecting and knowledge exchange, it is a God-send.
Do these relationships ever come offline? Is that the goal?
Absolutely. What's exciting is people will often meet me at a conference and say, you know, Paul, I actually feel like I don't need to catch up because I know what you've been doing. When we connect with each other we spend as little time as possible on the usual chit chat that we use to catch up. And now we can say, I saw you read that article, you are talking to this author. Then you are talking to two other charities about how they do this. What did you learn from that that I can apply to our organization? And so it actually makes conversations so much more productive because folks are up to speed when they're connected by content.
That's obviously the case if you're following someone, it's very targeted, but there are still going to be situations where we are at a conference or some are out and about and we meet someone and we realize that they should be someone we should get to know and connect with. How do we start that conversation? How do we kick it off in a meaningful way?
I mean it's about that connection. It's about the things that we share. And when we come to it, how can we help each other do our jobs better? You're in programming, I'm in fundraising, you're in data, I'm in management. There are so many complementary ways in which we can seek to understand and then be understood and then exchange value.
But you know, we shouldn't be bumping into our leaders and the people we admire. That’s what we can do on social media and through direct messaging on those platforms. At Conferences we should be saying, I'm going to be at this coffee break in this area. Can we chat for five minutes?
I love how you've completely reframed this topic, and it's really about uplifting those around us and doing good in the world, which is why we are in this sector! Hopefully, all of our listeners are hearing this and like, okay, I can do that. I want to touch on personal branding because I do think that that's part of the networking experience. I mean even the way that you talk about people being known for things. So how does that intertwine with this?
Part of it is that you are trying to be of service to others. You need to distill what your superpowers are. This is about confidence through competence. You need to represent what your strengths are.
I think the idea of authenticity is important when we talk about personal branding.
You know, the challenges in most organizations, nobody but the boss or the leader gets any sort of profile. It isn’t that people are being inauthentic. It's just that they don't have any platform to share who they are. And again, that's exactly it. We have talent that is hidden in basements and under desks where it really needs to be simply accessible to others. So use platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter.
You know, Stephen Covey is famous for the book, seven habits of highly effective people. His son actually wrote a really powerful book for people who work in charity fundraising, a relationship-building called the speed of trust. It's a wonderful audiobook as well. And he talks about how trust is built when you do what you say. And that means being authentic. And actually most people haven't done the work to know “who am I?” And so knowing ourselves a bit better, doing a little bit of that reflection and again, you know, honing of the brand, what do I represent? What are the skills I have, how am I here to help people?
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Resources from this Episode
The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano