The benefits of networking will be better understanding of your market and a higher profile for the charity, says Valerie Morton
How do I get the directors at my charity to see the benefits of networking?
A: I put their attitude down to the bad press given to the term 'networking'. We have all been at events where strangers seem intent on placing their business cards in as many palms as possible (I still cannot believe someone did this to me at a wedding), seem interested only in what they might get out of the contact (never a good business strategy) or bore you to death with details about their company, which no sane person could find interesting.
So let's break the issue down. First, it might be helpful to remind ourselves of the benefits of interacting with external groups. Then I'll expand on the reasons why your directors might have their current attitude and, finally, look at solutions.
Gaining an external focus might involve a multitude of activities such as attending conferences, participating in training, visiting competitors' services or sites, entering awards and attending the awards event, going out to talk to customers, clients or service users on their own ground, or attending networking groups.
The benefits will be inspiration, a better understanding of your market, discovery of new research and trends, spotting of opportunities, business leads and a higher profile for the charity. In other words, helping everyone involved to do their jobs better.
If there is such a strong case, why the resistance? Apart from the general issue about networking, it could be that the individuals are not the type who enjoy meeting people and starting conversations. They might be able to do it but not have had the support to help them make the most of it; or perhaps they cannot draw on success stories to prove it works. The most common reason I have come across over the years, however, is guilt - the feeling that being out at conferences and events is some form of jolly and a distraction from the day job, rather than a key contributor to success. This feeling can be exacerbated by the attitude of those left behind in the office, who perhaps share it.
Communicate the benefits
The solution? Set objectives for any outward-facing activity and include it in your performance management process to give it credibility as a management tool. Organise some training to give everyone the confidence to do it well. Have space at your management and team meetings for people to give feedback about places they have visited, people they have met and what the benefits have been.
Finally, find some way of communicating that message about benefits to your staff as a whole, so that "out of the office" is not a euphemism for skiving but is rebranded as "being somewhere really important".
Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant