7 Tips for Building Your Professional Network

7 Tips for Building Your Professional Network

It takes a village, right? This saying is as true for careers in development as it is for child rearing. A strong network of professional colleagues is a huge asset to your work and can add new dimensions to your job. For example, checking in with colleagues can:

  • Give you perspective on your particular challenges and opportunities;
  • Give you a broader understanding of fundraising in your community;
  • Provide a neutral, external audience with whom you can discuss internal struggles;
  • Set you up for success when you’re ready for your next career move;
  • Give you new, fresh ideas for approaching and implementing your work; 
  • Help you avoid pitfalls that others have already experienced.

There are lots of ways to build your professional network. Your greatest challenge is probably finding the time. Try some of these ideas and remember that networking is as much about the present as it is about laying the groundwork for FUTURE opportunities.

1. Get Educated

Attend professional development events, classes or conferences. Make friends with a fellow classmate and stay in touch after the class to talk more about what you both learned. A learning environment creates strong bonds between people. Think of the friends you made in school! You may think that development professionals are “in competition” with each other, but we can learn from each other, too. I’ve certainly consulted my fundraising friends regarding a donor we had in common and other work challenges.

2. Coffee, Coffee, Coffee

Coffee meetings are flexible, inexpensive, and (relatively) easy to schedule. When you want to get to know someone better, learn more about their work, or ask for advice, the coffee meeting is a great choice. If you schedule your coffee meeting as the first event of your day, it helps ensure you won’t push it off or reschedule when things get crazy at the office. I’ve also been experimenting with walking meetings—a great way to be productive while getting some fresh air and exercise.

3. Invite, Invite, Invite

Don’t wait for opportunities to land in your lap. Be the instigator. Seek out those folks in your field whom you want to know better and… invite them to go for coffee or a walk! Or offer to come to their office, have a phone call or meet for lunch – whatever is most convenient for them. People love to give advice so frame your conversation that way. For super busy folks, limit your time together upfront (“Could I stop by your office for 30 minutes?”) so it’s easier for them to say yes.

4. Broaden Your Scope

Think about the different facets of your life – networking isn't restricted to work settings. Let your work and home lives spill over into each other. It’s natural to talk about our jobs when we’re at parties, barbecues, or your kid’s soccer game. Who knows – that other soccer mom could be your next big prospect or she could connect you with the hiring manager at your next employer. 

5. Use Social Media

You likely already do this, and you know that LinkedIn is the tool of choice for professional online networking. Check out this Inc. article for advice on LinkedIn dos and don’ts.

6. Volunteer

Just as with taking classes, people who volunteer together form strong bonds. Join a board or sign up for a service project or the PTA at your child’s school. Making joint decisions and working side by side with others on a common project is a great way to form relationships that go deeper than surface level. 

7. Sign Up

Become a member of your local AFP chapter or other professional association. This is perhaps the easiest way to find some of the opportunities mentioned above, and to connect directly with fellow fundraisers. Take advantage of educational and networking events, volunteer and mentoring opportunities, etc. Yes, you or your organization will have to make a small investment, but the payoff could be huge. AFP offers different types of memberships for different roles and career stages.

What other networking opportunities do you take advantage of in your community?

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