Updated: Jun 16, 2020
The most powerful form of marketing is “word-of-mouth”. Even in the age of LinkedIn and online forums, the most valuable referrals for your business are from the people you know. Which is one major reason why networking groups are so helpful. This is even more true for nonprofits and small businesses.
Benefits of Networking Groups
If you’re wondering why you would want to join a networking group, consider this story of my own business. I decided to go into business for myself in the middle of last year, after over a decade of creating and building my passion. My passion for delivering the best online experiences and connecting businesses to people through digital channels. While this is great in my own head, it’s pretty difficult to sell something that appears to take some effort to explain. This is when I decided to seek out people who have already been in business for a while. I needed to get out of my comfort zone so I could learn to sell my services to the types of people I want to serve. I found this and so much more from a local networking group. If you are interested, you can find similar networking groups for your business as well. Here is what I got out of it.
I tried a few groups at first and saw that all of them allowed me to spread awareness of my business. Not just awareness of me and what I do, but most importantly, why I do it. At every group, two parts of the routine stuck out. First, there is a round-robin 60-second presentation of elevator speeches. Second, members have the opportunity to present more in-depth information about their business. These presentations also shared their “why”. The reason why you do what you do is often more important than what you do. This is where nonprofit organizations can really shine. They thrive on their “why”, and it is easy to engage people with it. I recently had the chance to present my why to my networking group, and the response I got was wonderful.
The benefit of word-of-mouth for businesses is really important. Networking groups exist to bring this concept into an organized structure. This is great if selling is not your strong point. With my group, I have the opportunity to connect with members who are active and involved in the community; in other words, people who can share what you do with lots of other people who may benefit from it. Personally, I have received plenty of referrals from them. Nonprofits on the other hand, offer something different. Referrals from these groups often come in the form of people who want to help. This could be help in the form of donations, volunteering or even partnership. Engaged members of networking groups get satisfaction out of helping each other. Imagine what this could mean for your organization.
Running an organization of any kind is a very tall order. Managing your finances, marketing, operations, and people is not easy. Nonprofits present completely different challenges. You are not the primary benefactor of any profit made; the organization and the people it serves receive those benefits. This changes the game quite a bit and adds a new layer of complexity for nonprofit leaders. Fortunately, the diversity of skills provided by networking groups eases the stress nonprofit leaders might experience. You can build a strong network of supporters for your nonprofit. One-on-one interactions are encouraged outside of official networking events. Chances are, there is somebody who can mentor you on your struggles. I have identified several key advisors for my own business through these networking groups and found a treasure trove of support.
Types of Networking Groups
My favorite networking group is a local chamber of commerce. However, there are multiple ways to make great connections. There are similarities and differences between them all but the benefits are basically the same. Here are a few examples where nonprofits could benefit.
Chambers of Commerce
In a nutshell, the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) defines a chamber of commerce as an organization of volunteering businesses focused on furthering their collective interests, while working towards the benefit of the local community. I don’t know about you, but this screams “nonprofit” to me. Did you know, chambers of commerce are almost exclusively nonprofits? There are some exceptions, of course, but their purpose can greatly benefit a nonprofit. They have fees and a governing structure surrounding them. Yet they are for the benefit of their members, and joining my local Chamber has been worth it for me.
Online Networking Groups
Nonprofit leaders should not dismiss the large variety of networking groups that are available online. LinkedIn, for example, is the largest professional network. There are so many groups on LinkedIn that you can join. Many are local, many are specific to industries, and many are filled with people you want to be marketing to and potential referrals. Nonprofits can also benefit from a system of support within LinkedIn as well.
For a more personal touch, there may be a group on Meetup.com that could benefit your organization. This is a fantastic way to find people with similar interests; both professionally and otherwise. You can meet up with them and network with them in person.
How to Get the Most Out of Networking Groups
Regardless of how you might prefer to network, in order to get the most out of your experience, you need to be engaged. Be willing to meet new people, try new things and have some fun while you connect with likeminded people. Here are three tips for maximizing the benefit of networking groups for your organization.
#1) Be Specific About Your Referral Needs
Remember, these groups give you a chance to practice your 60-second elevator speech on a consistent basis. This is a great time to explain what kind of referral you are looking for. Be bold, be brave and be really clear. Don’t be afraid to be very specific about your referral needs. You’re with people who not only can help you but truly want to. And, they can’t do that if you aren’t clear on what you’re looking for.
#2) See Members As Your Strategic Partners, Not Opportunities for Revenue
To be totally honest, I haven’t received a dime directly from anybody in my networking group. But, I’ll tell you what I have found: business referrals, partnership propositions, guidance, and friendship. All of these are examples of strategic partnerships and they can all facilitate the potential for success for your organization. This is why engagement is so important. Aligning with organizations that have similar values and principles means when somebody thinks of your partnering organization, they will also think of yours. There are many opportunities to be introduced directly with your strategic partners’ network of connections as well.
#3) Recognize Each Other
If you want to be recognized by your community, you must recognize the great things that are happening within your community. Networking groups facilitate great ways to do this. Shout-outs amongst group members are a customary part of a network meeting. Nonprofits and charities provide so much benefit to each other and their surrounding communities and deserve to be recognized. Leaders of nonprofits are naturally inclined to notice the greatness in others. They see it in their volunteers, in their donors and amongst each other. This is why you should publicly acknowledge greatness when you see it through these groups. Recognition and gratitude are reciprocal. When you recognize somebody, most likely they will want to do something kind in return. Remember to be genuine, specific and timely. If somebody says something nice that your business has done for theirs, you could ask them if they would be comfortable doing an online review.
Networking Groups Are Worth It
I definitely encourage you to consider participating in a networking group. The benefits for nonprofits and small businesses are great and there are many opportunities to network. Never underestimate the power of groups.
So, check it out. And, get yourself out there.
Benjamin Weinberg is a freelance digital strategy consultant and expert on website development, search engine optimization and digital marketing. He is also the owner of BACE Digital LLC in Orlando, FL. You can see his freelance profile on Upwork and you can follow his business on Facebook and LinkedIn.