Going From Nobody to Somebody: Who Do You Need to Know

People get involved with nonprofits for plenty of reasons.  A major reason is giving back to the community.  You show your support by writing checks and attending events.  It is easy to feel lost in a sea of 200 people attending a gala or general meeting.  How do you get on track to becoming a major player?

1. Start by keeping a low profile

Regardless of the organization, as a newcomer, you do not know the politics.  You are not the first financial advisor or insurance agent who has gotten involved.  Some who display a Type A personality, will attempt to run the place or tell others how they can do a better job.  The Old Guard might not be perfect organizers, but they are world class at freezing out people they do not like.  Because others have preceded you and behaved badly, you want to spend the first couple of months observing and learning about relationships.

2. Meet the membership director

This is usually a paid member of staff.  They know everyone.  One of their job responsibilities is maintaining a high level of membership renewals.  It is in their interest for people to feel like they fit in and are welcome.  They encourage people to attend events.  Say hello to them every time you attend.  They will likely start introducing you to people.

3. Meet people on your own

If 200 people show up regularly, it should be easy to find six new people to meet every time you show up.  Say hello to people you met previously.  Although it is random, you will gradually get to know a lot of members.  Meanwhile, others will be watching you.  The word will get out you are “another advisor.” They will be watching to see if you behave badly, confirming their suspicions.  Be friendly and open.  You are not pushing business.  This can label you as successful.

4. Meet the officers

There are usually four.  You know the titles: President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer.  They attend everything.  They are looking for new talent because they have often been in their job for years and cannot step down unless they replace themselves.  It’s way too early for that, but you are positioning yourself as a serious person, not a lightweight.  You want to be a familiar face, a loyal supporter.

5. Meet the Old Guard

There will be senior members who have been involved forever.  These people are different from the officers.  They might have served as officers previously, but are now general members or board members.  They are influencers of the “old school.”  You might have remembered the old ad: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”   These are people whose opinions carry weight.  If they approve of you, people take notice.

6. Meet new members

When you first joined, someone may (or may not) have made you feel welcome.  Once you have attended a few monthly meetings, approach unfamiliar faces.  If you think they are new, ask.  If the answer is yes, welcome them.  You are doing part of the membership director’s job.  Word should get back and you will be appreciated.

7. Ask questions from the audience

There may be a formal portion of the program.  It might include the Treasuer’s Report.  Study the agenda beforehand.  Think up and ask a well thought out question.  If it involves money or finance, give your credential along with your name.  This connects “What you do” with “who you are.”  People will notice.

8. Meet the person who handles PR

If they don’t have one, try to spot the newspaper photographer present and get to know them by sight.  Always dress well.  They need to get in, talk a few photos and get out.  Sometimes the PR person walks them around, other times they are on their own.  For some reason, people do not pay much attention to them.  They let them get on with their job.  Imagine covering three events a night and feeling invisible.  Treating them as a real person can pay dividends, like getting into photos.

9. Meet the fundraising person

This should be easy.  They will probably meet you.  In many nonprofit circles, it is assumed people who work in financial services are rich or will be wealthy soon.  Here is another person who knows everyone.  They can make introductions if you ask nicely.

Following this process meeting after meeting is easy and quite pleasant.  You will gradually get to know everyone you need to know.  They will see you as an interested member, a likeable person who starts conversations easily and a potential donor at a higher level.  You have now become somebody.  You have not been pushy getting there!

Related: How Reading Your Local Newspaper Leads to Business