November 13, 2011
Network or Perish
Observant readers will notice a recurring theme over the past couple of months. The word ‘networking’ keeps popping up in various contexts, mostly when I am talking about professionalism. Go have a look here if you need reminding.
So let me give another plug for the virtue of networking as a tool of trade for a manager of volunteers.
It’s Network or Perish, like the book says. Snappy title, evoking a parallel with the academic obligation to ‘publish or perish’. Of course Network or Perish is written for all those Sales and Marketing managers, the lobbyists and PR people. (Read a review here.) Which sounds like networking fulfils the adage “it’s who you know, not what you know”.
Which is not quite how I see networking creating advantage for managers of volunteers.
Networking in MV-speak is what happens at local workshops and seminars, at Volunteer Centre lunchtime sessions, at the functions that recognise and celebrate volunteering and IMVDay. Networking is what happens when you find allies within large institutions and organisations who know and understand volunteering and the importance of good management. Networking is what happens through social media connections and subscribing to all those newsletters that stream to your in-box.
What you get from these occasions is opportunity to:
- exchange information, opinions and ideas
- learn from others
- discuss issues, so that “a trouble shared becomes a trouble halved”
- appreciate the presence of a collegial community, even a sense of solidarity with others for the role of manager of volunteers.
You can go further, by linking on-line with a global network of volunteer organisations, peak bodies, resource directories, research, training programmes, bloggers and newsgroups. There is a virtual spider-web out there to take you as far as you want to go.
The pay-off for being a good networker is:
- personal and professional development
- potential to enhance volunteer contributions to your organisation
- learning new tricks to raise the level of competence (yours, and the volunteers)
There is another trick or two about networking to learn from this definition:
Effective business networking is the linking together of individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another.
Ignore the reference to business. It’s the relationship that matters, being genuine and authentic. And even if you don’t like the reference to ‘advertisements’ think about this in terms of being in the same boat, belonging to a really important professional occupation.
Because great volunteer programmes do not fall out of the sky, and we need to hang in together to ensure the best possible management practice.
Here is a personal testimony supporting informal networking:
For me an invaluable experience is in seeking the opportunity to meet for a chat over a cup of coffee with volunteer managers/coordinators who work in similar organizations. It’s a great way of finding out about what you are doing right, or doing wrong and how you can do things better. But, best of all there is always laughter or grumbles when there has been recognition of circumstances or behaviours that you realize you all share – and then discussion how these issues are best managed!
Or go find on-line discussion groups to see how they can offer instant information, or illuminate an issue and teach you heaps you had never thought about.
Why should networking be important for managers of volunteers?
- Because you are an entrepreneur, a mover-and-shaker (or a pusher-and-shover), in a social enterprise.
- Because you are in the business of community development.
- Which means that in between everything else you are promoting your organisation’s mission as well as attracting volunteers and running a great volunteer programme.
- Because you are a communicator par excellence.
- Because you know your community, and how to tap into community resources.
And if you are thinking “That’s not me” or “I can’t do this!”, take heart from some good advice offered to the introverts among us.
We are not likely to ‘perish’ from a lack of networking skills, but we sure have lots to gain.