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Starting A Nonprofit? Network, Network, Network

Two people shaking hands.

Over the past few months, I've shared my experiences launching, failing, restarting, and now running my nonprofit The World is Your Oyster (TWIYO). When I think back to the common thread between the success and failures I've experienced, there is one thing that I did through it all that I know allowed me to get to where I am today...


Many people think of networking as a task that requires an entirely different set of skills than just being who you are. But in my experience managing TWIYO, it was being able to approach people genuinely and candidly that allowed me to get the advice, support, and ultimately the connections that I needed to get to launch phase.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up on networking that can help any budding social entrepreneur.

Be specific about what you need

Two years ago I attended a conference called, “The Future of America's Youth.” TWIYO was in its infancy stage at that point, but I wanted to hear what other people had to say about youth development, as TWIYO would be a youth-serving organization. I also figured it would be a cool place to meet like-minded individuals and organizations.

My mentor (who was a panelist) came to my table for a working group session, we exchanged cards, and I kept in touch. When my mentor asked how he could help, I knew how to respond because I knew where I wanted to be: helping young people explore communities beyond their own. Having a clear vision made networking easy as I could hone in on the skills, opportunities, and connections I needed to move my organization (and myself) forward.

Think about what you can give

One of the most contentious phrases in networking is, “What do you do?” I understand why. But if no one knew what I did, and vice versa, how would we figure out how to help each other?

For example, from my time in graduate school up until now, I made the transition from for-profit to nonprofit and that’s something many people have approached me about. I am often answering questions about how people can figure out what their passions and interests are and how they could align that to their job search.

As a result, I’ve hosted workshops and events on this topic…all for free because I could see this was what my network and community needed. In the start-up life of a social entrepreneur though, you have to give as much as (if not more than) you get to solidify your legitimacy, learn the ropes, and do your part to keep the goodness flowing.

Keep in touch

Even if a person cannot help you, the beauty and power of networking is that when it is done right, people tap other people on your behalf to help you get to where you need to be. For example, even when I struggled to launch TWIYO, I still let people know through candid yet regular check-ins.

Keeping in touch can be its own art form but you don't want to harangue people too much. You also can't disappear off the face of the planet either. One general rule of thumb I try to live by is when you meet someone reach out and follow up within 48 hours to remind, reconnect, and re-engage.

Stay true to who you are…but make networking a priority

Everyone you meet may not be “networking-friendly” but if you do at least ONE thing ONCE a month that you wouldn't normally do, you'll see that as your activities expand, so does your network. Try a new scene, attend a different type of conference, go out on a coffee date with an old colleague, or even just hang out with your co-workers. These are just a few ways in which I've been able to build TWIYO's email list, meet new supporters, and make new cause buddies. You will always be you, but you never know the level others can help the best you reach. Remember for all great things that were ever accomplished, they were never done alone.

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About The Author | Anne Desrosiers. In addition to founding and running The World is Your Oyster, Anne is a Nonprofit & Career Management Consultant, professional writer/blogger, and travel agent. On a personal mission to help others do good, live their passion and see the world, Anne is committed to making a difference while sharing her experiences in the process.

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