Your Professional Network: More Than Just “Facebook Friends”

By: Nita Douglas
Executive Co-Chair, YNPN Cincy

When I was in college and just beginning to look for a job, it really used to bother me to hear people say, “It isn’t what you know but who you know.”  After all, I was graduating from a highly regarded private liberal arts college with three strong nonprofit internships under my belt and I felt like it should matter most what I knew.  People should be blown over by my resume!!  Finding a job and finding an internship proved to be two very different things.  Interns are free, and with an impressive resume and some proactive searching, I found internships to be fairly easy to come by, even at large organizations.  Finding a job ended up being much harder.  I finally landed my first job, only to have my grandfather ask what I was doing to find my next job!!  Seriously our conversation went from asking what the job entailed to what I was doing to find my next career move when I had just received my first grown-up paycheck only days before.  It took me awhile but I think I finally get it.

My network took root in 2007 when I joined the Association of Fundraising Professionals.  As many people will tell you, it is pretty impressive how friendly fundraisers are.  My network began to grow once I finished Development 101 (now Fundamentals of Fundraising) through AFP.  I joined the PR & Communications committee of AFP and all of the sudden, not only could I tell people what I do but I could prove what I was capable of to a handful of professionals from organizations around the city.  Little did I know how impactful that would be.  My network really took depth with YNPN.  Now, my network not only consists of individuals in the fundraising field but individuals from every aspect of the nonprofit sector. 

 You see, I’ve come to realize, it doesn’t just matter who you know OR what you know.  What matters the most is who is in your network that knows where your strengths lie, what your job entails and how you are excelling at what you do.  Who in your network knows what you want your next job to look like?  Who in your network knows you both professionally and personally and therefore knows not only what you are capable of accomplishing while sitting at a desk but how you will work within a team?  It is when your network knows who you are and where you excel that you begin to receive e-mails and phone calls asking for advice or guidance to solve problems…sometimes from professionals who have YEARS on you in the field.  From proving what you know, you become higher on the list of individuals your network recommends for open positions.  Those positions aren’t always jobs, they may be boards, event planning committees or coveted leadership programs.  You begin to become someone in your field.

 I encourage you to nurture your network.  View your network as your root system.  It will feed you, allow you to grow and help you get past the obstacles that might get in your way.  Never dismiss the opportunity to be part of a group outside of your workplace where you can let your strengths shine through.  The deeper your root system, the taller you can grow.

 Stay tuned to find out how growing your network can make you more valuable to your current employer.

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