Do you network?: A 7-step guide for (anti)social sexual assault programs

HandshakeNetworking is a little intimidating. It sounds like something that smooth players at for-profit companies do to make a sale. Could it really be something that radical, feminist community organizations have to do too? Yes! It is so important to build those relationships in your community. If nothing else, it will help to model for your community members what it means to provide an empathetic, trauma-informed response to people who disclose sexual violence.

To help you in your journey, I am going to share the networking tips that I learned at the breakfast I mentioned in my last post. Special thanks to Travis A. Berger from Vide Consulting who provided the presentation and information on this topic.

1.  Overcome your excuses. Berger discussed that many people put off networking because they think they don’t have time, they consider themselves introverts, or they don’t want to come off as slimy. Making networking a priority in your day will result in big returns to your program. Introverts actually make the best networkers because they are so good at listening closely in one-on-one interactions. As for the fear of being a slimy salesperson—the work you do is important and your mission is worth selling!

2.  Build genuine relationships. Holy cow! We are so good at this! If building genuine relationships that fully celebrate the person you are talking to is an integral part of networking, then sexual assault program advocates, staff, and preventionists should write books on networking. Go do what you do best friends!

3.  Use multimedia approaches. Our communities communicate along many different mediums and platforms. Identify the spaces where conversation happens and connections are made in your communities and add your voice to the mix. This can include local clubs and organizations, sponsoring ads for other nonprofits at their events, or using social media to engage with audiences on digital platforms.

4.  Make time in your schedule to reach out. One of the suggestions that Berger shared was to build 15-20 minutes into the start of your day to browse social media or the local paper and send a little note of encouragement or thanks to someone that you think is doing a good job. Wouldn’t getting a note like that make you feel great at the start of your day? People remember personal touches and genuine thanks. I probably needed that extra couple minutes to sip the rest of my coffee anyway. Why not make someone’s day while I'm at it.

5.  Frame your work positively. You all know the face fall when you tell someone what kind of work you do. They get sad or awkward because rape is scary. Consider different ways that you can answer the question, “What do you do?” that actually tells people what you do, and not a recitation of your title and name of your organization.

6.  Listen empathetically. Did you read number 2? We. Are. So. Good. At. This. !. The presenter joked about how people in social service fields are taught to listen empathetically (“So what I’m hearing you say is…”) and how real people see through that. The good news is that most advocates I know find ways to really genuinely show people that they are listening and that what they are saying is important. Who wants to make tons of money for your organization by writing a book for the for-profit networkers on being better listeners? Seriously. We have the skill. I think someone could do this.

7.  When all else fails—F.O.R.D. Many people are afraid of networking because they don’t know what to say to someone they just met. Berger suggested asking series of questions that can get conversations off the ground. Ask about Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Dreams. 

And that, my friends, is what I learned at a nonprofit networking breakfast last week. Combined with the great new connections to members of other local nonprofits it was a really worthwhile 2 hours of my day. Look for things like this in your area and feel free to post them on our calendar so that you have a link to share with others.


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