You’ve heard this many times before. The key to getting your dream nonprofit job or even to be effective in your current position is network, network and network some more. You’ve heard it so many times because it’s true. Before Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, nonprofit leaders actually made connections face-to-face most of the time. These days, technology has made communication much less time-consuming; however, the old-fashioned ways of networking still hold true.
Here are a few ways to build your network:
Attend nonprofit conferences
Nonprofit conferences are the mecca of networking. You get to learn from some of the top leaders in the field as well as build relationships with others in the sector. Of course, conference attendance can get a little pricey, but having the opportunity to meet hundreds of nonprofit professionals in one place is usually worth it. You will meet your peers as well as experienced nonprofit leaders who could be your next bosses! If paying the registration fee is an issue, many conferences will allow you to attend for free if you volunteer the day of the conference to manage registrations, cover it on social media or take pictures. A list of great nonprofit conferences is available here.
Join professional associations
Professional associations are great places to learn more about your field, flex your leadership muscles and build your professional network. Membership fees can be expensive, but sometimes your employer can pay for them or if you are still in school, you can get a student rate. Some examples of nonprofit associations can be found here.
Go talk to people
A great way to expand your network is to set up informational interviews with people who have jobs you may be interested in or work at organizations you admire. An informational interview means you are seeking advice rather than interviewing for a specific job.
When you are setting up informational interviews, let the interview subjects know who you are and what you would like to learn from them. Have three questions available and give those to the person beforehand. Some examples:
• I’d like to move into your sector and have heard you are well-connected. Can you refer me to 2-3 other people?
• I want to work for an organization like yours someday. What do you look for when you are hiring?
• I am thinking about a specific graduate school program. Do you think this type of program would be useful for your type of work?
The person you are meeting with is not a mind reader so tell him/her exactly what you are looking for and there will be less chance of being disappointed. Be prepared to get everything you need in a half hour and count any extra time as a gift.
Build a frankenmentor
It is almost impossible to find a long-term mentor who can advise you in every aspect of your career. What is more realistic and what I have done for most of my career is find a varied network of support. I have a variety of roles in my position as president of the Minnesota Council on Foundations: recruiter, manager, strategic planner, chief networker, spokesperson and administrator. I have found many amazing women and men with experiences in each of these roles and have relied on them to give me good advice and lots of encouragement as I chart new paths and try new ideas out. For me, there has never been just one great mentor. My mentors are in lots of different fields and have a variety of experiences. Most wouldn’t call themselves my mentor if you asked them but they have always been available when I have needed help.
Your network is your greatest tool when it comes to preparing for the next step in your career. Your network will help you identify positions, give you the courage to apply, and be your best inside and outside advocates to get you that position. Your network can also be a source of support for challenging situations or give advice and support about how to balance it all. Take some time to build your professional network.