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My boss just asked me ‘network to what purpose?’ – By guest blogger, Margaret Gardner

By Guest Blogger, Margaret Gardner, Marketing and Communications Director, Practical Action

My answer ‘I’m not sure but something will turn up’ probably wasn’t great.  However in truth that’s my experience.  I am Marketing and Communications Director at Practical Action the technology for international poverty reduction charity. Over the years I’ve tried lots of approaches to networking including

  • Pre-planned – research, research, research – then plan your event – who you want to meet, your opening lines, imagine the conversations you will have with them and the ideal outcome.
  • I’ll give you mine if you give me yours – business card swop. For a while a few years ago it got quite competitive!
  • Serendipity – plus being at the right event. There are people here that I know could be great for me and my organisation but I have no objective, I’ll be open to what happens.
  • The sad person – only used occasionally in very busy circumstances but can be surprisingly fruitful. Go and talk with the person who seems most ill at ease, my experience is that while they may not know the game so well they are often open to productive conversations and can be really interesting.

In truth most networking is a combination of all of these. However over time I have come to value research and serendipity most.

As Marketing and Communications Director of a mid-sized charity (turnover £32m) I can sometimes feel hunted at events and have been conscious at some more corporate events of starting to hunt. This realisation was what informed the answer I gave my boss – if you go to events with too well formed an agenda then you lose trust. Are you familiar with the trust equation?  I find it valuable, what it says to me is that for a great, long lasting network you need to build affinity – credibility, reliability and intimacy first – other things can follow.

trust equation

Some years ago I sat next to a woman at an event, we chatted, talked clothes, families and work . We’ve remained friends and she has become a great probono supplier to Practical Action. I’ve also met up with people who became donors (one of whom was an ill at ease sad person!), who have come to work with us and, not sure I want to say this, but I’ve been occasionally hunted by suppliers who had lots to offer – and we’ve ended up working with them. Networking is good – just don’t be too calculated.

If you’d like to learn a few more networking tips, then why not join I Am Networking’s next ‘Learn to Network’ event on Wednesday 12 June.  Further information can be found at https://learn-how-to-network.eventbrite.co.uk/ or join us for our monthly charity networking evening on the last Wednesday of each month – https://monthlycharitynetworking.eventbrite.co.uk/.

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