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A Call to Researchers: Use Online & F2F Networking to Develop Our Skills & Profession

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By Suzanne Barlow, Director, Prospect Research, Pace University

In my opinion, there are two kinds of networking. The first is where close friends refer you to other friends and colleagues to move you forward in whatever goal you have – be it a date with someone, building a team for volleyball, or a chance to grow your idea, power, or position. This kind of networking is natural because we trust these friends, family and colleagues. Usually this trust is built by frequent interaction – plenty of experience with them – and they with you.

The second kind of networking, face-to-face, is hell – oh, did I just say that?… This kind of professional networking is done once a quarter or less (it is simply more difficult to gather us together) and it might be with people you know only by association in the field of fundraising. However it happens, it often isn’t deep and it can be uncomfortable to put yourself through because 1) names come and go; 2) people you want to know don’t have time to talk, and; 3) it doesn’t feel like you have achieved anything – it feels like a bad round of speed dating.

Here are four things that happen with the first kind of networking that need to be incorporated in the second kind of networking to be more effective and move not only your own career forward but also our field of prospect research and data analytics.

1) Be the first to offer to assist someone – After learning about the other person’s area of expertise, ask (though it seems obvious): “Is there some way I can help you?” This is a good networking event opening. It offers a chance to share substantive knowledge with your colleague, and you in turn will be remembered.

2) Connecting: Offer to make connections and share what and who you know when in a social environment online. Use LinkedIn more than once a week to connect and support your colleagues and friends. Check out Meetup groups to find like-minded individuals, even if not on the topic of fundraising.

You will do much for the field of fundraising if people in your ski Meetup or photo Meetup come to know you and count on your skills. Get to know other’s professions – it will broaden your understanding and range of your own professional skills.

3) When at a networking event (and try to get to one at least once a month to build ease and rapport), use your ‘share’ and ‘love’ mode of being, not the “I’m here to get something mode.” We all get subconscious clues when someone is begging or someone is giving.

4) Practice listening to the sub-context of people’s conversation, online or in person. They may have more in common with you than you think. If you lean towards being somewhat introverted, like many researchers happen to be, then, in advance of meeting people for the first time, prepare some good open-ended questions (not the type that lay tracks to Yes or No answers).

These questions can be social or professional – from “Find any good stories in your readings?” (As researchers, we sometimes read things that are tangential – though unusually interesting) to “Have you used any new research tools… and which do you love? (Like dentists who obsess over the newest digital imaging technology – which reveals the shape and internal structure of teeth,  we, too, always share why our new tools reveal new aspects of the prospects we research). Minds can meet and you may find more appreciation than just a business card when you shake hands to part.

This is a start. We can all make up more points for ourselves on better networking and we can share those thoughts at meetings or online. Share what was a good experience when you have one and look for those blogs or LinkedIn posts when you need them. I did not mention Facebook as a networking tool because I do not blend my Facebook account with my professional accounts. If I did, my children would unfriend me.

From my own experience, networking is something that comes with a professional life. Like brushing teeth when you want to keep them, we all need to overcome our introversion and our ongoing claim of ‘busyness’ and make an effort to meet up with colleagues and meet new people in and out of our field, or we will lose our resources and our best support. Networking grows our skill set, gives us resources and support and is, pretty much, the way we stay employed or find a new position.

Beyond the four suggestions above, a great way to grow your networking expertise and networking enjoyment is to create and deliver presentations on your research technique and skills to local or regional meetings and conferences. Speaking from the heart at a program session can build a community of people who feel they know you, and you in turn learn so much from their questions and comments. Sharing through presentations helps hone your thoughts and methods and is a natural way to network.

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