OPINION: Summer is networking time

LISA HARKER, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

July is drawing to a close and so ends a month of summer parties.

Only December betters this time of year for work-related entertainment.

For a few weeks, I have a diary that almost rivals that of Carole Stone, the self-proclaimed queen of networking. Each night has the prospect of a reception, dinner or drinks party organised by some charity or other.

Organising events has become a core activity in many of the bigger charities, a method of raising income, disseminating ideas, boosting profile and gaining influence. The kinds of events favoured by the corporate sector (riverboat cruises, days out, private dinners) and those in the political world (drinks on the Commons terrace, House of Lords dinners, Downing Street receptions) are increasingly being adopted by the third sector, in pursuit of policy change, funding and profile.

It all sounds like a lot of fun and games but this can be a serious business.

The conversations that take place over drinks or dinner can wind their way into policy makers' consciousness. The networking can lead to new working relationships and partnerships. At the very least, your guests may gain new contacts and insights.

All of which makes these kinds of events hard to miss. Charities can be assured of a good turnout. But it would be a mistake to assume that your bulging summer-party guest list reflects a high level of awareness of your work. You may have offered your guests a fantastic opportunity to network, but has it done your cause any good?

Looking back at the events that have filled my diary this month, it's hard to recollect more than one or two where I learned something new about the work of the host charity. On the other hand, my address book is bulging with new contacts.

As another season of summer parties fades away, it's worth contemplating what has been gained. For the partygoer, it's all been lots of fun, with plenty of opportunities to meet new faces, swap stories and gather ideas.

But do the hosts feel quite so satisfied? We'll have to hold our breath until December.

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