Building Networks

Make, keep and nurture contacts

Stacy starts networking simply, then gets organized.

While in college, Stacy started to collect business cards and e-mail addresses scribbled on paper and kept them in her organizer. More recently, she has typed in all of the cards into her e-mail contact list, so it's easier than ever to fire off an e-mail to someone she's met with a question or just to say hi.

The value of a strong social and professional network is impossible to overestimate, especially in the nonprofit sector. The relationships you build during your term of service can lead you toward opportunities you never knew existed.

Nurturing new contacts, making your professional and social needs known, connecting colleagues with the people who can help them succeed—all of these may lead to a successful career transition for you.

AmeriCorps Alums is an organization that creates opportunities for past and present members to connect and stay involved. Their Web site includes a list of Alumni Affinity Groups, listed by state, which can help you connect with others of a similar service mindset. You don't need to live in the same place where you served to join up with your new community's circle of service!

These are some people and groups you may naturally come into contact with this year:

  • Peers and coworkers
  • Supervisors
  • Program staff
  • Organizational partners
  • Professional associations
  • Local AmeriCorps Alums group
  • Civic leaders and clubs
  • Media contacts
  • Local affiliates of networks that exist elsewhere if you plan to move, like your undergraduate alumni group, and your religious group
  • Family, friends, family members of your friends, friends of your family

Successful networking depends a lot on your attitude, your etiquette and your mindset. Take a look at some do's and don'ts for successful networking.

  • Serve as a resource for others: let others know about projects, job openings, etc.
  • Ask people questions about themselves. By listening you can see how your work might intersect.
  • Call or e-mail the contacts you have been referred to; they may be waiting to hear from you.
  • Cultivate relationships with people who have and need connections;
  • Let people know what you need (a job, donated space for an event, partners)
  • Look out for what others need. It's great to help people, and if you help them first, even better.
  • Ask people for help with open-ended questions, like "How can we work together?"
  • Collect and distribute business cards; make notes on the ones you collect to remember the context or seed of partnership.
  • Follow up with meetings and phone calls by sending thank-you notes
  • Respect the relationship; if you know someone who is "famous" only send serious inquiries, or people you know very well, to contact them.

  • Don't ask for a lead from somebody then never follow up.
  • Don't abuse the connection. When you use someone else's leads, you are not only representing yourself, but also their trust in you.
  • Don't drop names! People only want to hear about your connections when it is useful to them or the team.
  • Don't be selfish and one-sided. Share your connections when possible.
  • Don't over-contact your lead. If you don't hear back within a week after a positive phone call or meeting, follow up with a polite e-mail
  • Don't over-promise. Always take a wait-and-see attitude when trying to help someone else.

You can store contact information including phone numbers and addresses with a free e-mail service such as Yahoo or Google mail. Google mail will even enter and save a new contact each time you send an e-mail to a new address!


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