Working in the nonprofit industry presents its own set of challenges. Rather than gaining funds by selling a product or service, nonprofits rely on donations. Building better relationships with our donors is the nonprofit version of improving our products—it’s essential in order to sustain your organization’s output. Among the best ways to build those relationships with current donors and to gain new ones is networking. Ah yes, networking: the word we’ve heard on repeat at every conference and seminar we’ve ever been to. It’s one of the most important skills in every industry—especially the nonprofit world. If your nonprofit networking is off to a rocky start, these steps can make the process go a little smoother.
People love talking about themselves. Take advantage of that fact and ask potential donors questions about themselves— what they do, why they do it, what organizations they support. If you practice asking the right questions, you’d be surprised by what you can learn about people. But be sure you aren’t prying; asking questions that are too personal or blunt can turn a potential donor off completely. Read the conversation and base your questions accordingly.
Most working adults use their jobs as a way to define themselves, but where someone works doesn’t tell the full story. Instead of asking them about what they do for a living, ask them why they do it. This should get them to open up about their “why”—the internal motivator that gets them out of bed in the morning. Of course, there’s a lot more to a person than their work life. Be sure to ask what they like to do to decompress when they’re not working.
Some of your biggest donations will come from close friends and people who care about you and your mission, but that doesn’t happen overnight. So when you’re networking, treat them as individuals instead of opportunities for money. Don’t worry: the donations will come as long as you focus on building those relationships.
Atmosphere is king. Finding a place that builds a good atmosphere will help networking feel like a fun activity instead of a forced interaction. Put yourself in a place where you both feel comfortable and the awkward conversations become much easier. If you’re one-on-one, ask them where they’d like to meet. If you’re mingling in a crowd, try not to interrupt a conversation and find an opportunity to chat alone with the donor.
Now, go on and be the networking master you’ve always wanted to be! Who knows, maybe you’ll make some new friends along the way.