Shake Up Your Networking – Go for A Cause!

If you don’t know, I am the Artistic Director for a non-profit, small, professional theater company in Chicago called Reckless Ensemble Theatre. We are holding a benefit on May 19th to which you are all invited! The cost is very reasonable at $50 a ticket. While deep in promotion for the event, I realized how business owners can improve networking.

Personally, I find networking becomes tedious. It can be difficult to find groups you really like or have good connections to your target market. There is a ton of time and energy spent attending. On top of that, to make any of the groups really productive, it is best to come regularly enough to be trusted for referrals (more time and money).

So what if we challenged ourselves to choose fundraiser events for non-profits as part of our networking mix? I think this could add the spice we need in our networking.

Here’s why:

  1. It will expose you to a different group of people than you normally see. Most people work somewhere, right? So if you are looking to meet business owners or be connected to owners, these can be a great place to start.
  2. You can pick a cause you believe in. Not only will you feel good about giving back, but a shared interest with those attending will give you a place to start conversations.  You may also increase your “like, know and trust” factor with those you meet.
  3. Keep the program! Sponsors will be listed, board members, etc. You can follow up with those businesses and have an “in” by saying you were at such and such event or you saw they donated to the auction table.
  4. It’s one-time-only. There is no pressure to come every week or month!
  5. Talk to the volunteers or people working the event. Take information about how to donate yourself or become a sponsor the following year. Sponsorship usually comes with event tickets, and you may find the increased exposure is worth the extra cost.

Is there a downside to benefit networking?

  1. Cost. Some galas and benefits can be pricey, but remember the higher the cost, the more affluent or influential the guest list (probably). To start out, look for events which are lower in cost (like mine). Also take into account there is no membership fee like with some groups, nor the multiple month attendance, so it may not be as costly as it first appears. It may save you to buy a whole table and bring friends. Also, most groups will come down on the cost if you guarantee bringing a group or if you volunteer to man the sign in table or stay to clean up.
  2. Conversation. You will need to network differently. Come in with questions to get others talking about how they are connected to the cause and work your way to their business. Don’t launch into your “so what do you do?” networking conversation. You may need to take notes of names and where they work to look them up on Linked In or their company site after the event for following up.

Once you start adding in this type of networking to your business, you can figure out what type of events are best for you. Appetizer parties may work better to get? around the room over formal sit down events. If it is sit down, check out the schedule ahead of time to maximize the networking during the gathering time before dinner.

As with anything for your business, strategic planning is the key. Who do you need to meet and what type of events will they attend? Look at the sponsors beforehand. Do you know someone involved with the organization who will tell you more about the event and who is coming?