You can always come up with an excuse for not getting involved in community and professional organizations:
I swore off clubs after high school.
I’m shy, and not into the whole group-thing.
I’m too busy.
But if you focus on the fact that getting involved could boost your career and satisfy your urge to contribute to the greater good, you’ll be motivated to replace the excuses with effort.
Business, professional and civic organizations offer opportunities to network and build relationships, and because people typically like to do business with people they know, this can lead to new clients, bigger sales or even new job opportunities.
Plus, many organizations offer formal programs, informal idea-sharing, mentoring and leadership opportunities. Serving on boards and committees will give you valuable experience, and many organizations sponsor service projects through which you can have a hand at building a better community.
Organizations fall into these broad categories:
Business: Most communities have a Chamber of Commerce that promotes networking among its members. Some Chambers also sponsor activities for specific groups, such as young professionals, downtown businesses or large employers. Your community might have other business-oriented organizations, perhaps targeting women in business or small-business owners.
Professional: Whether you’re in health care, real estate, public relations, law, or any other industry, there is usually a professional association with opportunities to network and keep up on the latest trends and best practices.
Civic: Think Rotary, Kiwanis, Jaycees, Zonta. These are examples of civic clubs that attract a broad cross section of members who share a desire to meet other people and serve the community with service projects. Most reach beyond the local level, which enables you to expand your network even farther at regional, national or international conventions.
So how can you take the first step in joining?
Research the organizations in your community. Start by asking others in your office for their recommendations. Also find out: What’s the organization’s mission? When does it meet? What are the demographics of its membership? What are the expectations of membership? What are the costs to join? Before joining, attend at least one to decide if it’s right for you.
Once you join, be more than a name on a roster. Volunteer for a committee, a service project or an upcoming event. The more involved you become, the more people you will get to know on a meaningful level. Working alongside others is the best way to get to know them.
Besides joining organizations, consider volunteering for a community cause you believe in, such as mentoring children, building homes for those in need or assisting at an animal shelter. You will be doing something you feel good about, while meeting other volunteers of like mind.
Networking is a learned art, so if it doesn’t come naturally to you, you’re not alone. Here are some tips to make it go a bit easier:
- Wear a nametag that includes the name of your business, and keep business cards accessible.
- Don’t wait for people to introduce themselves to you. Approach others with a smile and a handshake.
- Plan ahead of time conversation starters in case you need an extra nudge to break the ice. For example, read the local newspaper for the latest community and business news, noting in particular any news involving other members.
- To help remember a new name, repeat it, and then after the meeting, write it down, along with something you learned about the person.
- Nurture relationships you’ve started. Send handwritten notes to follow-up on conversations or to offer congratulations for achievements.
Finally, be patient. Don’t expect networking to immediately produce a major career boost. Look at it as a way to build friendships — a worthy goal in itself.