For nonprofit consultants, networking is not just about expanding your professional circles - it's about cultivating connections that can elevate your impact. By thoughtfully fostering relationships with influential figures in the nonprofit sector, you position yourself to collaborate on initiatives that drive meaningful change.
Follow these best practices to network strategically as a nonprofit consultant.
Identify Your Target Network
Avoid aimlessly attending general networking events. This wastes time and fails to connect you with the right people. Be intentional about identifying who you most want to meet. Compile a list of your target networks, including:
- Nonprofit Leaders: Executives and directors of organizations you hope to work with. Follow them on social media and get to know their priorities.
- Board Members: Board members often have extensive networks and hiring influence. Identify those aligned with your mission.
- Funders: Foundation officers, philanthropists, and corporate CSR leaders who support causes in your focus area.
- Government Officials: Those involved in policy, grantmaking, and regulations impacting nonprofits.
- Activists: Passionate activists fighting for the issues you care about. They often lead grassroots initiatives.
- Journalists: Reporters and bloggers covering the nonprofit beat. Pitching their stories raises your profile.
- Fellow Consultants: Peers who may collaborate or refer clients. Avoid viewing them as competition.
With your target list defined, you can pursue high-value relationships rather than haphazard contacts.
Leverage Your Existing Network
Start by reaching out to your existing connections, who may be able to facilitate warm introductions.
- Let colleagues and friends know you specialize in nonprofit consulting now. Ask who they know in that ecosystem.
- Comb through your LinkedIn connections and past colleagues for any leads.
- Attend alumni and professional association events to reconnect with contacts.
- Consider organizing a small gathering of your network to share about your niche focus and ideal nonprofits to be introduced to.
Most people are happy to facilitate mutually beneficial introductions. Promptly follow up on any connections offered to maximize their usefulness.
Attend Relevant Events
Identify nonprofit, cause-related, and philanthropic events where your target network congregates. Some options include:
- Nonprofit conferences and conventions
- Fundraising galas or charity luncheons
- Industry association meetings
- Leadership forums or speaker series
- Activist rallies or volunteer days
- Board member appreciation events
- Awards ceremonies recognizing top nonprofits
At these events, graciously ask to be introduced to attendees who seem aligned with your niche. Follow up promptly with new connections to deepen relationships. Offer value first by sharing relevant resources before pitching your services.
Host Your Own Gatherings
Consider hosting intimate meetups or networking coffees to bring together like-minded professionals in your region. For example:
- A social hour for nonprofit communications professionals
- A roundtable on homelessness initiatives
- A group dialogue on environmental justice
- A discussion on inclusion in the arts
Position the event around a topic rather than yourself. Offering meaningful networking experiences makes you a connector in your community.
Get Involved Locally
Seek local opportunities to regularly engage with causes and leaders you care about, such as:
- Joining a nonprofit board
- Volunteering with an organization you admire
- Serving on local government commissions related to your focus
- Joining the young professionals group of the Chamber of Commerce
- Participating in community leadership programs
Immersing yourself locally expands your nonprofit network while also demonstrating your commitment.
Connect at Conferences
If attending larger conferences, maximize their networking potential by:
- Researching speakers and attendees to pinpoint your top targets
- Scheduling one-on-one coffee meetings in advance
- Sitting next to promising new contacts instead of groups you know
- Collecting business cards and following up promptly
- Extending conversations into meals or social events
Conferences offer access to many influential leaders simultaneously if you have a strategy.
When networking, focus on how you can add value rather than just seeking leads. Helpful offerings include:
- Sharing links to resources that may interest new connections
- Making introductions between contacts with mutual interests
- Promoting causes you learn peers are involved with
- Retweeting or reposting content from new connections
- Offering your insights on issues their nonprofit faces
Relationships built on mutual benefit and care for the community thrive. Lead with generosity.
After meeting promising contacts, continue nurturing the relationships by:
- Sending follow-up emails recapping your conversation and the next steps
- Connecting on social media channels like LinkedIn to stay updated
- Sending newly published articles or resources relevant to their work
- Inviting them to events you host that align with their interests
- Checking in periodically to ask how you may support them
Out of sight is out of mind. Follow-up is key to cultivating lasting bonds.
Track Your Connections
Manage your growing network through:
- An Excel spreadsheet or CRM database capturing contact details, conversation notes, and action items
- Tagging key contacts in your email system for easy access
- A social media listening tool like Hootsuite to monitor updates from key connections
- Personalized outreach cadences for different tiers of connections
An organized system prevents promising relationships from falling through the cracks.
Partner With Connectors
Identify well-networked "super-connectors" who can accelerate your networking through introductions. Offer to collaborate on events, co-write articles, or cross-promote. Look for connectors who:
- Hold roles like nonprofit association leaders, event organizers, and journalists
- Have large, engaged social media followings
- Are there prominent speakers and authors in the sector?
- Are respected community leaders
Tap into their sphere of influence by pursuing strategic partnerships.
Always Be connected.
Adopt a mindset of continual relationship-building. Bring energy and focus to every event and encounter. You never know what may unfold. Avoid developing a transactional mindset. Even small connections may bloom into rewarding collaborations down the road. Stay open and plant seeds widely.
By cultivating a diverse network of purpose-driven contacts, you position yourself at the intersection of change-making in your community, leveraging your core project management skills like communication, collaboration, and stakeholder engagement to unlock impactful opportunities.
Follow this nonprofit networking playbook to form connections that further your mission and impact!