Networking – Part 1

By Dana Cooper  MBA, CAE
Executive Director, Orthotics Prosthetics Canada
& AMCES Association Management Consultant

Part One of a Two Part Article

Can I please have a show of hands of those not-for-profit associations that do not have networking as a key element of their member value propositions?   Truth is that Associations were formed out a critical mass of people with common needs and shared interests.  Does that not sound like a description for the perfect networking crowd?

Likely, members demand networking opportunities from their associations because they consistently place a great deal of value on connecting with their peers.  But have we stopped to consider why?  Is it the beverages and food…or is it something deeper that creates the value they seek?

Interestingly, many people believe networking is directly related to job hunting.  When I was in sales, networking was about filling the pipeline with prospects.  In the Association world, networking is about connecting, gathering information, sharing resources and building relations.  Networking provides access to solutions, lays the groundwork for innovation and builds resources that may be a significant benefit both personally and professionally.

Networking is a critical success factor for high performing Associations and a foundational element of the member value proposition.

The CSAE national conference recently ended and can be considered uber-networking central!  Of course, there are many educational opportunities, but I have always held out the networking as the greatest value.  Why?  Because while education provides a great foundation of general, theoretical information…networking provides knowledge in the lessons learned from the real life application of that educational information.  We get that knowledge from interacting with our peers through networking.

This article looks at why networking is so popular with the members.  It provides tips for networking success and provides suggestions as to how an organization can facilitate networking at its events.  What is doesn’t discuss is the etiquette of networking.  While the etiquette is very important for making that all important first impression, the focus here is on the what, why and how of networking.

What is networking?

Networking is about connections that build your resource and support base that can be called upon when required.  Networking is like an online game…you build up points to be able to buy stuff.  You get imaginary points by helping others through sharing resources, connecting people, pointing them in the right direction or some other value added assistance.  Then when you are in need, the door is open to reap some returns.

It is very much relationship building.  Relationships are value exchanges where both parties obtain something of value.  As with any relationship, some effort is required to make and maintain the connections.  The beauty about networking is there is no pressure to take the relationship to the next level.

Networking is also an excuse to leave behind the day to day grind and refocus on the important issues, rather than the urgent.

Why is networking so valued?

During peer networking, there is someone within that room that has something each participant wants or needs.  It’s like a mystery game…they just have to find who has that something.  Your role as an Association is to facilitate those connections.

  • It is energizing and fun.  Enjoyment provides as much value to members as the information they obtain.  Don’t forget that!
  • Fulfills our most basic social need.  We are human animals…we need our pack…our social connections are important and define our personal and professional self.
  • Face-to-face communications is the most personal and the most effective manner for engaging
  • Networking gives you solutions to problems…You get answers to questions…sometimes you get this before you even know you have a problem or a question.
  • Networking gives you comparables…it gives you context on where your organization is in terms of processes and functions in relation to other Associations.
  • Networking gives you allies…’been there done that’ should be the motto for Association networking events.  To paraphrase a famous and frequently misrepresented quote, “Everything you are or will be doing as an Association has already been (or is being) done by another Association.”
  • Build your personal ‘brand’; Career Development Networking is that first impression.  What can people expect from you?   Sources suggest that 70 – 80% of all jobs are found through networking.  Networking is also a valuable source to find viable candidates to hire.
  • Networking is (should be!) a low risk environment.  Your Association’s gatherings are attended by like-minded people with many things in common including being in the same industry and having similar needs and challenges.

What are the possible outcomes of networking?

The outcomes from networking are very much personal and dependent on the individual.  However, it is helpful to understand what the potential outcomes are from networking.  I have broken those down into three categories, each an evolution from the preceding.

Three Categories of Networking Outcomes

  1. Natural
  2. Purposeful
  3. Organic

The minimum result of networking is that you make acquaintances.  This is the natural outcome of networking.  The majority of those acquaintances will stay just that…acquaintances.  Interactions extend no further than future Association events.  The benefit is that acquaintances can walk into the event and see familiar faces that can immediately and comfortably be engaged.

The purposeful outcome is an increase in value obtained from networking, and occurs when interaction takes place following the networking event to obtain more detail on a professional matter that was identified during networking.  One party has experience or resources to provide the other to assist in managing a challenge.

The organic outcomes involves increased social risk, but results from making a strong personal and/or professional connection.  The organic outcomes are broken down further into three possibilities.

  1. Coffee Mates: these are people that you have made a professional connection with due to the similarity in roles or organizations and with whom you want to maintain a connection.  You would have coffee with these connections several times a year for the purposes of discussing ongoing challenges and issues.
  2. Lunch/Drink Mates: these are people you have made both a personal and professional connection with and is characterized by the increased social risk of lengthier get togethers.
  3. Friends: this is when you have made a strong personal connection with the individual and where communication extends beyond the profession.  At this stage there is increased openness and relaxation and there is an expectation of enjoyment when together.

Dana Cooper is the Executive Director of Orthotics Prosthetics Canada and an association management consultant with AMCES.  He is a Certified Association Executive (CAE) and possesses an MBA degree in marketing.  He has presented at numerous national conferences and authored articles on membership service, the member experience, relationship building and service delivery.  Dana is the instructor of CAE200, the membership module for the CAE program.