The 2018 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) is right around the corner. Are you pumped? We sure are!
If you plan to attend this annual event that focuses on everything “nonprofit” and “technology” related, then you’ve probably given some thought to the activities you plan to do. After all, there are so many amazing conference sessions to attend, speakers to hear, and exhibits to check out.
Besides all the obvious to-dos, there are some other things to consider as you plan out your #18NTC schedule, including networking. If you haven’t thought much about networking other than setting a reminder to pack your business cards, you’re not alone. After all, networking tends to be an” in-the-moment” kind of activity. But if you take the time to think strategically about the process of networking, it can yield long-term dividends for you and your organization.
Here are four tips to help you network like a pro at #18NTC.
1) Be Strategic. Make A Plan
Before you start creating your networking plan, ask yourself: “What do I hope to achieve by attending NTC?”
And then answer truthfully. Naturally, you’ll go about networking differently if your biggest focus is learning about the latest technologies as opposed to making sure you’re going about your social media in the right way.
When thinking over your networking goals, consider the following:
- Are you looking to research the latest CRM options?
- Do you want to fine-tune your calls to action?
- Are you trying to stay current on the latest technology trends?
- Are you eager to discover better ways to manage social media?
The answers to these questions are where you should begin mapping out your plan. From there, focus your networking time on people who can help you achieve your goal or who have found creative ways to solve a challenge that you or your organization might be facing.
Let’s say that you’ve been trying to come up with a better way to segment your donor list. Chances are, there’s someone at #18NTC with some great takeaways on this topic. Therefore, part of your plan can be to:
- Seek out staff from key organizations and pick their brains about their experiences
- Attend conference sessions that focus on donor lists, segmentation, and creating donor personas
- Reach out to speakers ahead of the conference (as in, right now) and ask to meet for coffee during one of the conference breaks
A Side Note for Introverts
Okay, let’s take a step back for a second and tackle the obvious. Shyness. Yes, you may (or may not) be timid. Yes, conferences are definitely a struggle for introverts.
However, a conference like NTC is a safe place for all of us, whether you’re a seasoned professional or a newbie. Try as hard as you can to leave your wallflower hat at home. So go ahead and connect with speakers and other attendees– keeping in mind that they are either currently working or have once worked right where you are! They can empathize with you.
Once you’ve created your list of key contacts, prioritize them just like you would any other project. Place those who have the greatest value as your top connections. Then, go back to your list of objectives and make sure you have everything covered.
At this point, you’re proud of yourself, right? But you’re not done yet. Now, it’s time to fine-tune your networking list. Gather the following info pre-#18NTC:
- Contact information for your anticipated networking partners
- A plan for when and how you’ll engage them
- A backup person/contact who can also help with the topic, question, or concern
Armed with this info, you’re beyond ready to start networking.
2) Take Advantage of NTC’s Online Community
If you didn’t know already, NTC has a great online community forum where you can ask questions and connect with other attendees well ahead of the actual conference.
After you pay the conference registration fee, you can log in to the Community Discussions page.
NTC Community Discussions is divided into four sections:
- Community Home
On this exclusive online discussion board, you can ask questions about anything pertaining to your organization and the conference. Members like you are always encouraged to reply if you have comments or suggestions.
Get started on the right foot by introducing yourself and your organization. You’ll soon find that those who participate in the online community are supportive and friendly. In fact, 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!
Be bold and organize an informal meet and greet with other community members. Is your organization considering a major new initiative? Solicit advice and feedback about it. Through this forum, 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 mini-mingling events are held during lunch breaks.
Check this schedule for a list of groups, or feel free to suggest a new group.
3) Organize A Community Event
Even if you haven’t been to a previous conference, you’ll soon find that the NTC community is diverse with wide-ranging interests. Thankfully, NTC makes it easy to participate in different member-organized activities.
To learn about all the pre-planned community events, refer to this dynamic document.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, organize your own group around something that interests you.
Some ideas include:
- Schedule a walking tour of NOLA
- Organize a flash fundraising party for a local charity
- Hold a discussion group around an industry-specific topic
Truth be told, it doesn’t matter if you’re a group host or a participant. What matters most is that you spend quality time getting to know like-minded, passionate people.
4) Connect Through Social Media
Sometimes, when you’re in work mode, it’s easy to forget that social media is a legitimate form of networking. As you meet new people, don’t forget to immediately connect with them on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, and follow their organizations on Facebook.
If you meet a friendly professional from a nonprofit you admire, there’s nothing wrong with tweeting about your meet-up. Make sure to name them (if they’re cool with that) and the organization.
Here’s a great example from #17NTC:
— Janice Chan (@curiositybone) January 5, 2018
In almost every case, the person you tag will be flattered that you mentioned them and will likely return the favor later on.
After the conference, try to connect every month with each of these new friends and engage with them on social media.
Make It Count
Remember, everyone else at #18NTC is here to learn something new and meet new people in the process. While networking tends to be a spontaneous activity at conferences, it’s not a bad idea to put some thought into it.
A bit of planning now will help make your time at the conference more meaningful, memorable, and productive.
Have fun at #18NTC!