How to Build Your Multi-Generational Network (from scratch)

YNPN of Detroit did an amazing summary of the session that I led at the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy conference. Check out their blog for other great posts. From YNPN Detroit: I had the chance to hear Trista Harris (co-author of How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar) discuss how to build your multi-generational network at the National Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) Conference. This serves as a nice complement to the session by Rosetta Thurman at the YNPN National Conference that we blogged a couple of weeks ago.  Here’s what Trista had to say…

In approaching networking, Trista referred to a saying from a fortune cookie: “You are the average of your 5 closest friends.” This means that it is very important that you think about how you keep close to you, and how they relate to who you want to be.  Also, Trista noted, it is important to not limit yourself to people like you. She suggested that some cross-generational insight will make the guidance you receive much stronger. In order to achieve that, however, you must grow your network.

Growing your network

Trista suggested that you start with the network you already have. Make sure you let people know when you’re going through a transition.  Also, don’t rebuild your network with every new job. Take that contact information with you – those are relationships that you have built, so don’t leave them behind.

Of course, if you do this a couple of time your list of contacts can become pretty large!  To make this manageable, create lists as you build your network.  Then, when you run across information you think will be helpful to a certain segment of your network, you can quickly shoot it off without too much effort. This also creates much more robust relationships – it demonstrates that you are putting thought into who that person is and not just spamming them periodically. You become someone who adds value to your network, as opposed to someone who is always just looking for help.

The Power of Your Network

It’s great that you have folks willing to serve as references when you apply for a new job. However, managers are much more impressed by those people who offer their positive opinions of you unsolicited.  The best way to have these people in your corner is to build a strong network.  By having a number of folks who can speak on your behalf as a nonprofit professional, you create more opportunities for these unsolicited endorsements.

Also, Trista noted that people with strong networks are less likely to get laid off by their organization. When you have a strong network and you get laid off, people ask about you and want to know what happened.  This can get pretty uncomfortable for managers.

What about when you’re at a conference?  Introduce Yourself!

Trista asked us all to participate in a practice exercise: Person 1: Introduce yourself with a 1-2 sentence bio. Person 2:  Listen. What questions do you have for the person? What excited you about what s/he had to say?

After having the opportunity to practice this and share, the group learned the following:  Bios get exciting when people feel as though they have a personal connection to what has been said. (This might be where you are from, or the work you’re involved in – whatever strikes a chord with them.)  What this means is that with a really short introduction, you can create an avenue for a much more robust conversation.  Within just a sentence or two, you are creating an opportunity to folks to “hook in” to your passion and interests and share their own.

Read the rest here.