Networking Your Way to Sponsorship Connections
by Karen Perry-Weinstat
Business networking events are happening all around you: morning, noon and night. From industry-protected, lead-generating groups to professional associations for particular fields, to chambers of commerce and executive leadership groups … business people are looking to make connections.
As a representative of a nonprofit, you can offer business people opportunities to serve on boards and committees, building their own resume in the area of community service. Once they connect and become engaged in your mission, their companies — and those of their clients and colleagues — make ideal targets for sponsorships, journal ads and honoree positions for your events.
Here are a few tips for building successful relationships via business networking:
- Don’t be a wallflower: Don’t hang back. Remember, you have something valuable to offer these people – involvement in your cause; a market of constituents to connect with; leadership opportunities and more…
- Ask questions: What do people do, both for business and fun? People love to talk about themselves and will often tell you things you can incorporate when it’s your turn to talk about your own position.
- Gauge his or her reaction: Sometimes when you mention your work, a person will respond with a spark of interest. If you see this reaction, dig in and talk more. Ask what brings them to have an interest in this work. Other times, eyes glaze over or dart to where the person can move on to. Politely end that conversation and move on – there are plenty of other fish in the sea!
- Relationship Building Happens outside the meeting: Networking encounters are kind of like speed dates … you get a sense of whether or not there’s a connection, but not much more. Real relationship building begins afterward, when you follow up – perhaps with an email expressing that you enjoyed meeting that person and inviting them to meet for breakfast, lunch or coffee for an “opportunity call.” Spend an hour or two getting to know that person. Find out what their interests are and how you can start to pull them into a relationship with your organization.
- It’s not about instant gratification: Networking isn’t about getting something directly out of the people you meet. It’s about who they know and will tap on your behalf. For each quality relationship you build, you will open the doors to many more connections. With all of those connections and a larger pool of quality committee and board members and honorees, sponsorship commitments will be that much easier to close.
Business publications are the perfect source of calendar listings for a wide variety of networking groups and opportunities. Do your research and check the organization’s websites, many even have member lists and you can get an idea of the types and sizes of businesses represented. Go to each group at least twice and decide where you feel you can make the most ground for your own style, interests and personality.