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, 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 four 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. And even in difficult times, the sector always needs volunteers, so they’ll be grateful that you want to help out.
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. Attend a conference or event
If you’re feeling a bit bold and aren’t afraid to mingle with industry leaders, then you should consider attending a few events. Right now, there aren’t many in-person conferences because of social distancing guidelines, but most of the big industry events have gone digital—you just need to find the ones that are 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 message them and ask them questions.
But remember, networking is not meant to be an aggressive way of handing out business cards or spamming someone’s inbox. 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.
There are plenty of online events to choose from, and the fact you don’t have to travel to get there means you can connect with people from all over the country (or all over the world!). 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.
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3. 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. And an added bonus? Most of these networking groups put on useful webinars that can help you upskill and take that next step in your career.
4. Consider taking on a virtual mentor
Looking to learn from someone with heaps of charity experience? Then why not reach out to someone who has your dream career path and ask them to be your mentor?
Mentoring is a great way to gain a bit of clarity on what it’s like to work in a charity and what sort of skills you need to advance in your career. So pick a few organisations that you admire and find out who works for them. Then, simply connect via LinkedIn and ask them if they’d be willing to jump on the occasional video chat to discuss their role and how they got there. It may seem scary to reach out to a total stranger, but most people who work in the sector love their jobs and would be more than happy to tell you why,
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.
This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated to ensure relevance and to reflect the current job seeker experience and recent developments with COVID-19.
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.