It’s All About Relationships: Why Your Network Is Your Strongest Asset
Nonprofit professionals rely on strong relationships to help us grow our organizations, build trust with our communities, and advance our own careers. I am a swim coach and I run a nonprofit in Santa Monica, California, that helps those with special needs become empowered, courageous individuals as they gain confidence in their ability to swim.
I founded my organization, Swim With Heart, 12 years ago and learned early on the importance of having a strong, trusted professional network. Engaging with these extraordinary kids and adults is highly rewarding work that I absolutely love, but running an organization has come with many challenges that I never would have anticipated!
I learned quickly why it’s important to have a good lawyer. My longtime friend and local accident attorney, Michael Goldstein, helped me navigate the legal side of my organization. Throughout the process, I had other questions about running my nonprofit, so he introduced me to a networking group he has been a member of for over 30 years, LeTip of Westside Referrals Network, CA, which is a local chapter of the nationwide professional networking organization, LeTip International.
I attended one of its weekly meetings as a guest and felt an instant connection to the other business owners in the room. Even though I was the only nonprofit professional in attendance, I still felt at-home because this group of people had all faced the same challenges as I had when they first got their professional footing.
Initially, I couldn’t join LeTip because I didn’t have the budget. When Michael learned this, he graciously paid for my membership, which has been invaluable because access to that professional network is one of my strongest assets. I have been a member of LeTip since 2015, and I’ve learned a lot about how to build strong relationships.
Here are three ways joining a networking group has helped me grow my nonprofit and how networking can help you, too.
1. Professional and Personal Support
Any time you’re in a room with nonprofit and business professionals alike, you’re surrounded by people who have gone through the same challenges as you. We wear many hats as nonprofit pros, and it can get lonely, but when you have a professional networking group with which to share your challenges and successes, it is like having a second family.
One of the unique qualities of LeTip is that only one member from each business category or industry is allowed in each chapter, so if I need a general contractor, an auto repair person or an event caterer, I have one trusted source I can go to. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, my networking group helped me understand the Paycheck Protection Program loan process.
On a smaller, yet equally important, scale, one of my swim student’s family got locked out of their home. I was the first person they called because they knew I probably had a connection to a good locksmith. Having a strong professional network has helped me navigate running an organization and allowed me to be a trusted resource for my clients.
2. A Safe Space to Practice Your Ask
At every meeting, all 49 members of my chapter are required to give a 30- to 60-second sales pitch. One member a week must prepare a longer presentation on their business’ offerings to educate others regarding their services, products and unique selling points. Doing this in front of a group of people I trust and respect has helped me build confidence in my public speaking skills. When I’m talking with donors, board members and clients, I can do so effectively, and my ask often results in action, a donation or a stronger relationship.
3. You Never Know When a Referral Will Lead to a Six-Figure Donation
One of the biggest things to remember about networking is that you get what you give. When you are constantly practicing networking and fostering positive relationships, good things are bound to happen. Taking the time to get to know your networking partners on a personal level and learning the ins and outs of their businesses will lead to good business outcomes, but it also leads to something much more powerful — a community! When you’re surrounded by people with passion for and dedication to their causes, the culture is going to organically be all about helping each other.
I am very grateful for the community I have in my networking group. It’s very valuable to me and my organization’s livelihood, and I hope that you’ll find something similar as you reach your professional goals and help share your nonprofit’s mission.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Michael Flaherty, called Mikey by all, is a world-ranked swimmer who was a member of the University of Southern California’s NCAA 1997 championship team. Mikey became a swim instructor and coach and discovered her true passion was working with children and adults with special needs. She founded Swim With Heart in 2010 based on the philosophy that learning to swim cultivates confidence, courage, and independence in and out of the water. To date, the nonprofit has worked with nearly 1,000 swimmers and their families.