Three Fundamentals That Make Networking Both Bearable and Genuinely Useful

To find out more about the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme March – July 2015 click here.


A) Decide what you want


If you are serious about raising as much money as possible then it’s essential you get real about the importance of networking. Another reason is that sensible networking is fundamental to great career progression.


The most common reason most fundraisers do not make use of the many networking chances available to them is they see networking as pushy and grubby. I agree that you meet many people in group settings who are pushy and self-serving, but this second-hand car-salesman behaviour is the exact opposite of good networking. So let go of negative associations you have to the concept of networking and acknowledge that who you know (or make sure you meet) is every bit as important to your success as what you know.


You are way more likely to meet someone you are consciously looking to meet. To make use of this fact, take the trouble to think in advance of the event; and write down in a notebook your networking goals. These goals should usually be a mix of specific names as well as types of people (eg ‘anyone who has set up a major gifts strategy at a medium-sized charity’). The most important goal of all is to talk (even if briefly in the coffee queue) to at least (eg) 10 strangers, in order to set up a mutually beneficial coffee meeting with at least one person.


Understanding this last point transformed my confidence and therefore my results, because I stopped thinking I was failing if had not secured a £10,000 gift in the first half hour. My goal for the evening became achievable as I realized that people do not do deals, give gifts or even give much quality advice in the bustle of a conference or a donor drinks reception. The real value only happens at a more relaxed pace in an informal meeting later on.


So your job when networking is simply to have enough polite, sensible conversations to meet someone for whom a follow up coffee meeting would be in both of your interests. The first rule of fundraising is that giving to a cause that someone cares about is absolutely in their interests as well as your charity’s, so of course there are people out there who would like to meet you to find out more. But you won’t find them if you only talk to three people.


B) Focus on give not get


Now that you enter an event knowing what you want, put that to the back of your mind and focus on what you can give, not what you can get. In a group of people, when your focus shifts to give not get, you become more confident and much more attractive to others in the room. By letting go of your attachment to a specific result and acting generously (even if simply in how you genuinely listen), you paradoxically become more likely to achieve your goals as well.


A really good question to ask someone at a conference is ‘who ideally would you like to meet here today?’ To ask this at all is to be more generous than most people they have spoken to that day. And once you know the answer, you may instantly be able to introduce them to someone and lose nothing. The law of reciprocation means that the other person will very often ask you who you would like to meet. Once they know, there are twice as many people in the room on the lookout for your dream contact too.


If you don’t know anyone, who should you talk to? Anyone on their own, or anyone in a group of three. Twos or fours may also be fine, as long as you look before you charge in, and go for groups where body language is clearly open and welcoming (it usually is at public events as no one else wants to get too stuck either).


C) And how do you get away?


Instead of lamely pretending you need another drink, the ideal is to sincerely thank them then offer to introduce them to someone else (make use of name labels). Do explain why you need to move on (your goals will ensure this is honestly so). And the best tactic I have found is to say something like ‘you know you said you’d really like to meet ‘XX sort of person…well if I meet them would you like me to come back and introduce you?’ If they were truthful in telling you who their dream contact would be, they will be only too happy for you to leave them now as you will be serving their interests. As long as you genuinely mean this, it will be easier for you to move on without feeling bad.


Six Keys to Confident Networking


1. Know what you want – You want a cup of coffee with someone in a position to help you, not a huge deal today.

2. Focus on helping others – act like a host. Listen, be interested in others.

3. Who to approach – go to ones, threes and groups of two or four that are ‘open’.

4. Just go – Use the three second rule – ie when you see someone you’d like to talk to, before you can get nervous, go and say hello.

5. The generous question – ask others, ‘what sort of person would it help you to meet?’

6. To move on – introduce them to someone else / say you’re on the look-out for their dream contact / ultimately, sincerely thank them and accept that it’s ok to move on.


To find out more about the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme March – July 2015 click here.


Rob Woods is an author and trainer who helps fundraisers transform their results through improved strategies, skills and confidence. His clients include CRUK, Oxford University, Tate, and UNICEF UK.