How to Effectively Network in the Charity Sector
The world around is changing, and as such, so is the way we network. With platforms like social media connecting us to hundreds (if not thousands) of people instantly, our networks are no longer limited by location—you can connect with anyone, anywhere.
But this new digital space has its disadvantages. When you make quick online connects, it’s not always clear whether you’re actually building meaningful relationships. It’s just about being able to spot the useful connections amongst all the spammy ones.
That’s not to say that online networking is not useful—because it is. And with so many different avenues to interact with our colleagues and build up a network—both on and offline—there’s no limit to the sort of people we can connect with throughout our careers.
Networking in a specialised sector like not-for-profit
Charity networking is about more than just getting a bit of a career boost. It can be a great way to build a stronger sense of purpose and get access to resources for your charity. If you don’t know how to do something or need a bit of fundraising guidance, charity workers will be more than happy to help out! That’s why it helps to build long-term relationships—you never know when you might need someone’s assistance.
A charity network connects you with the industry and helps inspire professional growth. And when it comes to taking that next career step, it doesn’t hurt to know a few people in high places.
Of course, some people are put off by the idea of networking—they might find it a bit of a chore. But it’s such a useful tool for professional development and it needs to be done properly in order to reap the benefits.
Not sure where to start? Here you are five easy ways to build up that charity network.
1. Spend some time volunteering
It goes without saying that volunteering is a huge part of working in the charity sector. In fact, many people actually enter the sector through volunteer work. It’s the quickest way to make professional contacts and get your foot in the door.
Plus, you get to connect with real people. Whether you’re volunteering as a means of gaining work experience, to learn more about the sector or just to meet new people, it’s a great place to start.
Research the causes that mean something to you and find out what charities are looking for volunteers. It can help you discover a sense of purpose and even shape the direction of your charity career. And you get to be that extra pair of hands that many charity organisations so desperately need. So, it’s a win-win situation for you and the organisation.
2. Enrol on a training course
Looking to brush up on a specific skill for your career? Then book a training course. Not only will you be boosting your CV, but you’ll have the chance to meet like-minded people, exchange ideas, learn from industry experts and mutually connect for a greater purpose.
Training courses are great places to meet people from different walks of life who are all eager to develop and gain the same knowledge.
If you’re looking for general training courses, CharityJob’s courses hub has loads of different options. Or for more specialised training, you might you can check out The Institute of Fundraising and the NCVO.
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3. Attend events
If you’re feeling a bit bold and aren’t afraid to mingle with the sea of new faces, then you should consider attending a few charity sector events. There are loads of conferences that take place throughout the year, you just need to find the one in your niche.
It means more opportunities to meet people from different types of charities. You can even target an event that’s of interest to you. Most of these events will have talks from different industry leaders, so don’t be afraid to approach them and ask them questions.
But remember, networking is not meant to be an aggressive way of handing out business cards. It’s a way of building genuine connections and opening yourself up to others. If you’re waiting to activate that drive, networking is a good place to start.
You can choose to attend an event on fundraising, governance, trustees or even volunteering. Eventbrite often posts different charity galas and events, so keep your eye out and see what comes up.
4. Join a membership networking group
Most causes have forums or groups where they get together regularly to discuss issues or to plan the next cause of actions. This can exist anywhere from social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) to online communities (CharityConnect) and face-to-face meetups.
This might be your best bet if you are looking to dive right into finding a solution or want to offer practical advice and experience.
5. Sign up for a fundraising challenge
All sorts of people come together when it comes to events and fundraising challenges. So whether you’re raising money for a charity run, collecting funds on the street or taking part in a nationwide fundraising event, make an effort to connect with other people fighting for the same cause.
There are many activities you can take part in—marathons, triathlons, hikes, community clean-ups. And you get to do it while meeting other people eager to support causes they are passionate about.
So what are you waiting for?
Despite that fact that networking often feels like a bit of ‘dirty word’ it can be a great way to drive your charity career in the right direction. So get out there and start meeting other charity professionals! You might be surprised by what it accomplishes.
Ayoola Bandele is an Executive Assistant in Finance and Operations at Evangelical Alliance, a Christian charity. She's passionate about fundraising and helping others to be the best version of themselves and finding fulfilment in life. She supports causes such as poverty eradication amongst children and widows and promoting the Christian faith. She also runs and regularly updates a blog on Christian faith which supports the spiritual growth of Christians worldwide.