I will not discredit the importance of networking. I have been told and taught, countless times, the importance of putting yourself in situations to meet other important people. In the world of business and MBA programs, we are groomed to carry business cards, name tags, have suits pressed, and have an elevator speech prepared and ready. All of these are valid and arguably important things to have up your sleeve. But lately, I’ve started to feel a little ridiculous when I walk into networking meetings:
Lately, when I have attended networking events I feel insincere. In a time where social media audiences want transparency and honesty, walking into a networking event just screams “please take my business card” or “please hire me.” Am I alone in that sentiment? I sat down with a colleague for coffee last night and he recommended I changed trajectories.
Networking by Volunteering on a Committee Board
In a previous post, I emphasized the importance of volunteering. To summarize the article: volunteering benefits the community and makes me feel good about myself. When you volunteer you are always needed, you are surrounded by passionate people, and you are empowered. My colleague stressed that by having an MBA, I might be more valuable to that committee team. More of my skills will be utilized on a board of committee that I might not be using in my regular 9-5 job. I’ve previously volunteered with film festivals throughout Western New York, but my colleague emphasized finding a cause in Buffalo to devote my time to.
As a small business owner, it is important to be seen by others. But being seen doesn’t mean shoving business cards into hands and only showing up in networking events. Volunteering on a committee board allows others to see you in a new and less-business-like light. If you are passionate while you’re volunteering, people take notice. When you’re smiling and advocating for a cause, people remember it. They might not remember your elevator pitch but they might remember your advocacy.
An article from Forbes sums up the balance perfectly, “The board work provides just the right amount of mental stimulation to make me feel involved and relevant; it lets me make friends and broaden my network.”
How to Choose Your Volunteering Board
When you choose your volunteering board, remember that the networking comes second. Pick a project you are passionate about. My background is in cinema & screen studies, so I often lean towards the arts when I want to volunteer my time. Beyond working with film festivals I have also volunteered time to local TEDx Talks in Rochester. I hope I can volunteer with TEDxBuffalo next year. Are you an animal lover? Look into the local SPCA chapter or maybe volunteer with a zoo.
When you commit to volunteering on a board, remember this commitment comes for a least a year. This is not the same volunteering as cleaning out the animal cages 4 hours a week. Be prepared for meetings and approach them with professionalism. But maybe you will be able to utilize your project management skills or assist in fundraising. There are rich opportunities out there!
Let’s avoid the handshakes for now. I want others to see a different side of me beyond the business suit. This is only the very beginning of my journey and I have not committed to a board position yet. I’ll continue writing on this topic when more news develops.
Here are a few resources for finding volunteer board opportunities: