Leveraging your network for that next great opportunity

What a sales pitch for a title!

In all seriousness, building up a network of folks who you respect (and in return, respect you) is not only good for you personally but a must-have for your professional career. At YNPN Triangle NC (and across the broader YNPN movement), providing opportunities to network is a core aspect of our work.

It’s not always what you know – it’s who you know.

The question is: after you’ve met incredible people, collected their businesses cards, and found them on LinkedIn: what’s next? How are you nurturing and maintaining those relationships? And when an opportunity presents itself to active your network, how are you communicating with those folks to provide insight or even to drop a good word in for you?

I’m going to be upfront: right now, in our nonprofit sector, we are not doing as good as a job with our networks as we need to. Far too often, the people in our networks look like us. White folks make up the majority of the nonprofit space. One study estimates that whites make up 80% of board members (90% as board chairs) and 89% of executive leadership. There will be many more focused posts on equity in our sector coming up, but I felt it important to raise this point as we think about our personal and professional connections. Since we recognize that who we know matters, if we don’t open up our networks to leaders who don’t look like us or have shared experiences, then it will be more difficult to transition leaders into nonprofits. [see chart below from Community Wealth Partners].

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But, returning to the questions at end for today’s post.

Number one: how are you nurturing your network? It would be a nearly impossible feat to stay on top of all connections, so the first step is to prioritize. I like to think about what skill or knowledge deficits still exist in me. Then, I look to my network to find those individuals who can help fill in those gaps.

For example, my current role requires me to engage in online fundraising, an activity that I had zero experience. So, I hopped on phone calls and had coffee with folks that were doing online fundraising to ask them about their processes, evaluation tools, challenges, and successes. Even after more than two years on the job, I still do this. I know that I can always learn more from my peers or those a few years ahead of me in the professional trajectory. I sign up to receive communications from other nonprofits. If a particular appeal strikes me, I’ll reach out to ask: how did this appeal do in terms of achieving your goal(s)?

14067508_1151662291542857_5219411369995159038_nI am guilty of overlooking the on-going maintenance of my network. Our networks get larger and larger. Our work responsibilities pile on, and it can feel comprising to our to-do lists to make time for a meeting. But, it’s so important. It gives us a dedicated space to interact with another human being (an obvious statement but think about how much your work day is spent not interacting with an actual human being.) It provides us opportunity to learn about ourselves; to learn from someone else; and to also develop a better sense of what’s happening in our sector and/or community. Reconnecting with your network helps to eradicate those silos. Those silos exist between sectors (nonprofit/for-profit/public) and within sectors themselves (organization focus/geographical).

Recently, I had lunch with a colleague who works in providing grants and financing opportunities to help stimulate growth in rural economies, particularly for agriculture. I knew zero about this topic, but after our meal, I can better speak on what the NC Rural Center does if the opportunity arises to share it with others. I can now be a liaison between someone interested in pursuing farming to an actual resource.  Win-win!

13055092_1070433859665701_8618031969423345895_oNurturing your network doesn’t have to be anything formal. I do think it is important to ensure you are meeting face-to-face when possible in order to have a deeper level of engagement. A quick email now and then is fine; but we all know that our conversations will stick with us after those in-person meetings much more so than another item in our Inbox.

Second question: how are you communicating with folks from your network to provide insight or even to drop a good word in for you? Over the last year, I have provided more than a dozen references and/or recommendations for folks from my networks. Some have approached their requests to me in more helpful ways than others. From my experience, here are some suggestions I have for taking this type of initiative:

  • If possible, ask your connections before applying for that position. If you find a job at an organization where you have a connection or know someone who does, reach out as soon as possible to ask your questions. It’s ok if you have already applied to the position. But, doing your homework on the front end may save you time if you learn that you may not be a good for the organization or there’s something concerning about the culture that you don’t want to be a part of.
  • Ask your references if they are comfortable being your reference. It is awkward to receive a phone call from an organization and/or recruiter about a candidate that listed you that you wouldn’t actually recommend. Don’t assume your references want to be your references. It’s important to know if they have any concerns about recommending you. If they do, find out what those concerns are [yes, we are not all perfect. It’s ok.]
  • Provide references with context for specific positions. Once you have shored up your references, give them an overview of the position and its responsibilities. Are there particular experiences or skills you would like them to highlight about you? Were there specific projects you worked on that could be cited as examples? Don’t also assume your references remember every great thing you have done. Spend a few minutes talking through some particulars with them.
  • Even if you are asking someone to put a good word in for you more informally, still follow the steps above. When I send a note on someone’s behalf vouching for their awesomeness, I am putting my reputation on the line. So, I want to make sure that I believe the candidate is a good fit, not only for that organization but for that particular position. It’s also easier when you give me advanced notice. giving advanced notice (i.e. I know that Katie Todd is going to be applying for this position, and here are five reasons why she deserves an interview) versus (I believe Katie Todd applied for those position a week ago and I hope you haven’t already cast her application aside). We want to plant those nuggets into the minds of others.
  • Say thank you. As with anything in life, please take the time to drop a note, make a call, send a text, and share appreciation with the person who provided a reference and/or recommendation for you. Personally, I’m all about the hand-written thank you note. Yes, it’s old school but it’s power cannot – cannot – be underscored. Receiving a handwritten thank you note can be. I’m more likely to want to go for bat for those who did follow-up with me to say thanks than those that didn’t.

In the coming week, I challenge you to schedule at least one in-person meeting with someone from your network that you would like to learn from, whether it’s about a potential career shift or acquiring insight into a skill. My final advice for today is this: remember that when you are networking, approach the opportunity not from the frame of what can they provide me but from the space of what can I bring to them. Listen without worrying about what you are going to say next. The number of doors that will fly open when you approach networking in this manner will astound you.

 

 

 

#ResolveToGrow

ynpntrianglencBackground: I have the privilege of serving on the Young Nonprofit Professional Network (YNPN) Triangle NC Board of Directors. You may try saying that three times fast, if you so desire. We’re an affiliate of our national chapter (YNPN), and our mission is:

“To cultivate and support young nonprofit professionals in the Triangle by fostering networking, skill-building, and resource-sharing.”

Fancy, right? Essentially, our purpose is to help bring nonprofit professionals together in various spaces – whether physical, online, etc. – and bridge connections to other people and knowledge. I “joined” in 2012 (we charge $0 for membership currently) and fell into this amazing group of individuals who had the same passion, commitment, and goofiness that somehow nonprofit professionals either are born with or develop over time.

Amazing “When You Work at a Nonprofit” Tumblr

Alright, enough background. We started a campaign for 2015 called #ResolveToGrow. Yes, it’s a sly way of asking folks to make resolutions for the new year, but we would offer some accountability support along the way.

The problem is: it required me to think of how I wanted to #ResolveToGrow this year – what would future Katie be like? Or, should be like, both in my professional and personal identifies.

Initially, I targeted a professional (and arguably super nerdy goal) of how I wanted to grow: to become much more knowledgeable and skilled in the art of Google Analytics. GA is gold, and I had skimmed just the surface of this data dashboard to help inform work at my previous and current job.

Taking this #ResolveToGrow challenge by the horns, I have already completed the Digital Analytics Fundamentals course through Google’s Analytics Academy. Step one of many, for sure. I have even put into practice some of the infrastructure recommendations for tracking our three websites along with testing out some “Goal” conversions and other nebulous Google-terminology meaning “bring people to website and keep them engaged longer.”

Wow, that got in the weeds quickly. In the spirit of always striving forward, I’ve come up with a few other ways I #ResolveToGrow in 2015:

  • Make homemade seitan. It’s been on my vegan cooking bucket list for a few months now. I plan on trying Post Punk Kitchen’s recipe, unless you have a “MUST MAKE” one!
  • Return to the lap pool. I’m not sure sure why I use “return” to imply that I was once there because I never participated in organized swim ever. I learned how to swim, thankfully, as was practically state law in Arizona. And, I spent 90% of my childhood summers in the water. But, to actually move my body up and down in formalized motions is not something I have undertaken outside of a few half-hearted attempts a couple of years ago when I learned that swimming laps is really hard. With enough friends who either are aficionados or taking on the similar challenge, I plan on incorporating this back into my workout routine post-marathon.
  • Plant a garden. So, I literally #ResolveToGrow my own herbs and a few vegetables (peppers, squash, tomatoes) in 2015.

Three might be the best, more reasonable start to this life campaign. We’ll see if others make it to the list (Chicago marathon? Brewing my own kombucha? Getting more involved in local government happenings?)

How do you #ResolveToGrow in 2015 and beyond? If you’re on Twitter, you should tweet at YNPN Triangle NC (@YNPNTriangleNC) with your response. Made sure to include #ResolveToGrow!

13 Memories of 2013

Oh yes: it is that time of the year. The time when lists upon lists emerge from the woodwork, from the top 10 songs of 2013 to the top 10 memes of the year to the top 10 list of top 10 lists.

I’m going to continue that tradition with three lists before the New Year.

The first list is the more thoughtful, reflective review of the past 12 months: the top 13 memories of 2013 (let’s just hope that I don’t see 2099 because that list would be ridiculous.)

In no particular order, the Pursuit of Paulson is proud to announce the finalists of what memories stuck out the most (and what I could recall thanks to my profileration of social media):

13 Memories of 2013

1) Getting engaged
(October 25, 2013 – Biltmore Estates, Asheville – surprise!!)

1393894_10101773345887515_307372616_nThe “Oh hai – look at this ring” photo

PostEngagementThe first photo post-engagement. This is a KEEPER (both the photo and the man!)

2) Graduating with a Master of Public Administration degree (Tar! Heels!)

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3) Transition into plant-based diet, more natural lifestyle

Goodbye dairy, eggs, meat…goodbye antibacterial sprays…goodbye Crest toothpaste. A slow but steady transition since June and will continue into 2014!

4) Surprise birthday party

That sneaky Aaron! We went to Saxapahaw when my friend Laura came to town to see The Old Ceremony at the Haw River Ballroom and grab a bite beforehand at The Eddy Pub:

485434_10101903551010412_1164865437_nWe happened to run into our friends, Ben and Dawnya, at the bar and they offered us a sneak peak of the digs for the soon-to-open Haw River Ales. As we were looking around the space and Dawnya explained the vision to me, a random dog trotted into the room. Following said dog were friends of ours. I was quite perplexed – why did our friends just come out of the shadows? Then, it hit me:

425211_10101903912281422_491576194_nRealism captured – “No way! NO WAY!!”

Great friends. Great partner. Great beer. So, so blessed!

5) O.A.R. concert in Raleigh

By far, the best O.A.R. show I had experienced (now, granted my number pales in comparison to Aaron’s.) Similar to 2012, we were up front on the rail. But, the energy this year was beyond comprehension. The guys simply melted all of our faces off, even on a Sunday night.

6) Cards Against Humanity

This ridiculous, sometimes inflammatory (sometimes? well, most of the time) game appeared at many social events this past year, making me realize that we are all terrible, terrible people. And then we laugh.

7) Chicago-Michigan road trip

Our annual adventure featured so many new sights, tastes, and sounds and some familiar ones as well: from checking off more breweries (Perrin Brewing, Right Brain, Short’s Brewing, Harmony Brewing, Three Floyd’s) to famous beer bars (Hop Cat, The Mitten Bar), to nature galore (Pictured Rocks State Park, Meijer Gardens) to a Taste of Chicago to meeting new people to learning Hand & Foot (great card game!) to visiting Mount Pleasant (Fire Up Chips!) – it was all amazing.

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8) Wicked Weed

How did a brewery make this list? BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME. Seriously, Wicked Weed just celebrated its one-year anniversary, and its entrance into North Carolina’s beer scene has been nothing less than explosive. Besides have over two dozen of their OWN beers on draft at the brewery, Wicked Weed is not afraid to take on adventurous styles, open fermentation processes, and challenging our palates. While not every beer is incredible (as would seem nearly impossible), Wicked Weed overwhelmingly produces delicious craft brew.

9) YMCA

From the physically-demanding classes (Bootcamp2, Cardio Intervals, Cycle) to those demanding in a different way (Yoga, PiYo), the Durham YMCA branches have helped me reach a new level of fitness this year. But, it’s been more than just 6am classes. There is such a strong sense of community, kinship and support from other members. I have had the immense pleasure of developing so many new relationships with such inspirational people.

10) Half-Marathon PR

So, that was pretty exciting. 1:44:12 in the 2013 Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon. Big kudos to the 1:45 pacers that I kept up with for the vast majority of the run. They were even kind enough to allow a Tar Heel to run amongst the Wolfpack (and the race was the day after UNC defeated NC State in football…which wasn’t saying much this year, kids.)

11) Young Nonprofit Professional Network (YNPN)

I joined the YNPN – Triangle Chapter Board of Directors for 2013. YNPN is “a movement activating emerging leaders to advance a diverse and powerful social sector.” Essentially, there are chapters across the country designed to bring together nonprofit professionals for collaboration, skill development, networking, and more. I had attended socials during 2012 and quickly realized what an amazing resource this is for those in the nonprofit sector. In May, I represented North Carolina at the national YNPN conference in Phoenix (guess why I went…?) The conference was one of the best I have ever attended. I left with a vast amount of knowledge, a reinvigorated sense of self, and a host of business cards from all the do-gooders I had the pleasure to meet. If you are in the nonprofit sector, I would highly encourage connecting to one of the chapters closest to you! (And, if you are in the Triangle, you better join us!!)

12) Attending a practice round at the Master’s

Augusta. The pinnacle of golf perfection. Hint: it lived up to its reputation. The immaculate grounds made you feel like you were in a different world (especially since outside of those gates was a not-so-glamorous look at low-socioeconomic America). The $2 pimento cheese sandwich was pretty baller. But, the best part was how relaxed the atmosphere was during the Par 3 competition. I had the opportunity to see those golfers I had watched on TV for years just a few feet away.

901578_10101383735669515_2090858712_oI love this photo because it looks like we were pasted in via PhotoShop. I promise we were not.

13) Beach living: visiting the Outer Banks

Somehow, despite living in NC for more than 5 years, I had not been to the OuterBanks. So, in honor of my birthday and graduation, Aaron kindly whisked me away for a long weekend at OBX. We toured the Wright Brothers Memorial, did some dune jumping at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, drove up to Duck and Corolla, visited the Outer Banks Brewing Station and Weeping Radish, connected with our friends to celebrate, and did some serious relaxation in our Tommy Bahama chairs.

1053323_10200658843126008_1416035097_oCelebrations at the Outer Banks Brewing Station467763_10101463083031765_888127377_o

Wee!

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