As resources shift and the giving landscape continues to change, it will be vital for nonprofits to utilize formal and informal networking opportunities to advance their mission. Whether that be by joining an association or membership group as an organization or individual, attending conferences or meetings, or joining boards and committees for other organizations.The National Council of Nonprofits wrote about the capacity-building power with networking. In their words, “In our experience, nonprofits that are part of a network leverage resources and knowledge to build capacity more effectively than those that ‘go it alone.’”
The Benefits of Networking
Networking can benefit nonprofits beyond the generally known benefits. Partnerships, collaborations, and resource sharing are all outstanding benefits from nonprofits networking with one another. Allowing that interaction between nonprofits and professionals could invite innovation and attract funding sources. Forbes listed Networking Platforms as 2020 nonprofit trend, stating, “The development of platforms that make it increasingly easy for nonprofits to connect and interact will build communities of providers and beneficiaries. These platforms will be crucial for innovation, as they can be opened to permit the inputs of a variety of experts and users to create more effective services and mobilize funders and investors to support them.”
Earlier this year, The Berkley Group posted an article on the different benefits to nonprofits through networking. The article points out how important it is for nonprofit leaders to have organizations and connections they can rely on when their organization experiences a shortfall or is ready to grow. Cross collaborations and shared marketing campaigns can also help “spread the work” between multiple nonprofits to gain more reach. The Berkley group ended the article with, ”It is more than meeting people for a business benefit, it is strategically developing relationships to promote mutual benefit and progress. Networking is a way nonprofits can amplify their impact and bolster engagement.”
There are formal and informal networking platforms and more seem to be created every day. Nonprofit leaders can take advantage of a few existing platforms today, including association memberships, nonprofit meetings and conferences, and by connecting leader to leader.
Associations and their Events
There is an association or membership organization for almost anyone and everyone. Just a few of the well-known nonprofit specific associations active today include Center for Nonprofit Advancement, The Nonprofit Alliance, Association of Fundraising Professionals, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, National Council of Nonprofits, Society of Nonprofits, American Society of Association Executives, etc. These organizations are still nonprofits. The Nonprofit Hub explains the differences simply. They are a specific type of charitable tax status, limited in what they can and can’t do. Most associations are registered as a 501(c)(4) or a 501(c)(6), so they still exist within the charitable codes, however they can do lobbying and there are limitations with donations being tax deductible.
There are several benefits to joining an association for a nonprofit leader or their organization. Leaders and other nonprofit professionals can connect, brainstorm, and learn with other professionals in their field. They can also group source problem solving and learn from the successes or failures of other leaders with similar issues. Nonprofit associations also provide resources leaders can use to support their team and the overall mission of their organization. And in many cases, associations can lobby or advocate for issues that may be important for a 501(c)3 and the communities they serve.
If a nonprofit or its leader cannot afford to pay for an association membership, they can always build in an annual conference or meeting into their budget instead. A conference or meeting would still allow the benefits for on site and in-person connections. Speakers, break out sessions, and other educational programs at the conferences or meetings can also be a major benefit for a nonprofit. Potential partners and future sponsors, or well trusted vendors can all usually be found at the right conference or meeting.
Directly Engaging Nonprofit Professionals
One other solid way for nonprofit leaders to network is to actively engage with other organizations. As long as there aren’t any present conflicts of interest, a nonprofit executive should look into joining boards or committees of other nonprofits. This is an excellent route for a nonprofit executive to gain social capital and to make meaningful connections and engage other professionals with their organization’s mission. If a nonprofit executive has the time and capacity, a board position with a different nonprofit would be a fantastic way to engage with other passionate nonprofit leaders. If an executive doesn’t have that kind of bandwidth, then a committee or volunteer role would still be beneficial without the board time and monetary requirements.
There are a couple of less involved routes nonprofit executives can take for networking benefits. One is to offer their staff more professional development opportunities so they can make those connections and take advantage of educational programming. And, as a follow-up, create communication channels to give those employees a chance to report back to the full team. Another route is engaging through social media and creating channels where multiple nonprofits can engage on an agreed upon channel to connect through.
Not all Nonprofits Network the Same
If a nonprofit executive has little time, but a decent amount of monetary resources then an association membership would be extremely beneficial with plans to attend that association’s annual event. If an organization can’t quite swing a membership yet, attending a conference or annual meeting would be a pretty good medium. If an organization is smaller and can’t stretch their budget for extras, then leadership can strategically join the boards or committees of other nonprofits to reap the benefits of networking with other nonprofit leaders. If a nonprofit has little monetary resources but would still like to benefit from connecting with other leaders or professionals, creating informal channels through social media or other platforms is a great way too.
Nonprofit leaders should either take the time or money necessary to connect with other nonprofit leaders. The benefits are numerous and there is fantastic potential to grow your organization as a result of those benefits. This level of strategic connecting should also extend to board members; all leaders of a nonprofit should be connecting and networking to further the organization’s strategic vision and their mission work.