The Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) is just two weeks away and if you plan to attend this annual event, you’ve likely already given some thought to which conference sessions you’ll attend and the speakers that you want to hear.
Have you also started planning your networking opportunities? If you haven’t, you probably are not alone. Networking tends to be seen as an in-the-moment kind of activity. Most people grab a handful of business cards (yes, people still use them) and that’s their planning. But if you take the time to think strategically about networking, it could yield long-term dividends for you and your organization.
Here’s 4 tips to help you best network at #17NTC!
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1) Be Strategic. Make A Plan
The first question to ask yourself before you dive into creating your networking plan is, “What do you hope to achieve by attending NTC?” Consider the following objectives when thinking over your networking goals:
- Are you looking to research the latest CRM options?
- Do you want to learn more effective ways of appealing to donors?
- Are you trying to stay current on the latest technology trends?
- Do you aim to discover ways to better manage social media?
The answers to those questions are where you should begin mapping out your plan. Focus some of your networking time on people who can help you achieve your goal or who have found creative ways to solve a challenge that your organization might be facing.
For example, let’s say that you’ve been trying to come up with a better way to segment your donor list. You may know a few organizations that seem to do a great job with targeted messaging. Part of your plan could be to:
- Seek out staff from those organizations and pick their brains about their tactics.
- Attend conference sessions that focus on segmenting your donor lists or creating donor personas.
- Reach out to speakers ahead of the conference and ask to meet them for coffee during one of the conference breaks.
- Find out if there will be any press coverage of the event.
A conference is not the time to be an introvert so leave your wallflower hat at home. Don’t be shy about connecting with speakers. Nearly all of them currently work or have worked for a nonprofit, so they can empathize with the challenges you face. The reason they are on the agenda is because they have expertise in something that they want to share. If they have the time, they will accept an invitation to meet with someone who expresses interest in their experience.
Once you’ve created your list of key contacts, prioritize them just like you would any other project with people who can be of greatest value as your top connections. Go back to your list of objectives and make sure you have everything covered.
You might be tempted at this point to sit back and marvel at your efficiency and pre-planning, but now you have to determine how you will connect with each one – and that means you might have to cross a few off your list.
If you don’t have contact information, do you have time to do some online research?
Is it realistic to think that you’ll be able to meet with all of them?
Is there someone on the list who you hope to spend more time with?
Now you’re ready to start connecting with the people on your list. The conference offers numerous opportunities to network, so use these as a starting point for your outreach.
2) Take Advantage of NTC’s Online Community
As you probably know, NTC has a great online community forum where you can ask questions and connect with other attendees well ahead of the actual conference. After your conference registration is paid, you will be able to login to the Community Discussions page.
NTC Community Discussions is divided into four sections:
- Community Home
Through this online discussion board you can ask questions about anything pertaining to your organization or the conference and other members are encouraged to reply if they have comments or suggestions.
Introduce yourself and your organization. People who participate in the online community tend to be supportive and want to be helpful so make the most of this opportunity. It’s fun to hash out a challenge with someone you’ve never met, and then actually find yourself face-to-face at the conference!
Organize an informal meet and greet with other community members. Is your organization considering a major new initiative? Solicit advice and feedback about it. You’re bound to run across someone who has had experience and can provide guidance.
Birds Of A Feather
The NTC Birds of a Feather program is another awesome way to connect with fellow attendees who might have similar interests or missions. These are mini mingling events that are held during lunch breaks. Check the site for a current list of groups or feel free to suggest a new group.
3) Organize A Community Event
The NTC community is a diverse group with wide ranging interests, and NTC has made it easy to participate in different member-organized activities. The current list of events includes:
- Morning Hike @ Theodore Roosevelt Island (Wednesday, March 22 & Friday, March 24)
- NTC Beer (Wednesday, March 22)
- Board Game Night at La Madeline and Bedrock Billiards (Thursday, March 23)
- Knit/Crochet Night (Thursday, March 23)
- Sober NPTechies (Thursday, March 23)
- Apps4Change Demo @ Mt. Pleasant Library (Friday, March 24)
- #17NTCJews Tech Shabbat Dinner (Friday, March 24)
- NTC Dine Around DC (Friday, March 24)
- USMNT vs. Honduras Watch Party with the American Outlaws (Friday, March 24)
- Morning Run (Saturday, March 25)
- Bike Ride Through Rock Creek Park (Sunday, March 26)
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, organize your own group around something that interests you. Some ideas include:
- Call the local historical society and ask for a docent to host a walking tour of the city
- Organize a flash fundraising party for a local charity
- Hold a discussion group around a specific topic relevant to the industry
Basically, it doesn’t matter if you are a group host or a participant. What matters most is that you spend quality time getting to know like-minded people.
4) Connect Through Social Media
This may seem like an obvious part of networking, but sometimes when we’re in work mode we forget that social media is a legitimate form of networking. As you meet new people and spend time getting to know what they’re about, connect with them on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, and follow their organizations on Facebook.
For example. there’s something magical about tweeting that you met a staff member from an organization. Make sure to name them (if they’re cool with that) and the organization. One example could be something along the lines of:
Met @sallyjones from @supernonprofit. Great org doing great work! #16NTC
If you have a burning desire to try something new, jump on Periscope and give a rundown of the people you’re meeting and how it benefits your organization.
They’ll be flattered that you mentioned them and will likely return the favor. After the conference, try to connect every month with each of these new friends and engage them on social media. It benefits everyone if organizations work together to spread their messages.
Make It Count
Remember, just like you, everyone else is there to learn something new and meet new people in the process. Too often, networking tends to be a spontaneous activity at conferences. Why not make the most of the opportunity to network by doing just a little pre-planning? It will make your time at the conference more meaningful, more memorable, and more productive.
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Have fun at #17NTC! Oh, and don’t forget those business cards!