Making the Most of your Network

The fact that you’re reading this shows that my network is working.
We are connected through one of the social media sites, either directly or indirectly.  If directly, we likely have a relationship of some sort in the ‘real world’.
Building and cultivating a network isn’t about how many ‘friends’ or ‘connections’ you have, it’s about truly building relationships.  This cannot simply be done with the press of a button.  The word ‘work’ is key when building your network.
Being connected isn’t just about you and building your numbers. It’s about both parties, and sometimes it’s about a 3rd party. Cultivating connections takes time and effort.  It also takes maintenance.  While it is great to have a contact that you can benefit from, it’s just as good to have a contact that someone ELSE can benefit from.
A good network is not static; it is living, breathing, and dynamic.  The thing to remember is not the number of connections, it’s the people behind those numbers.  People change jobs, volunteer for different organizations, relocate, marry, and connect with others.  Keeping up with the moving parts within your network takes dedication.  Utilizing that network to benefit others is a key trait of a successful connector.
Sure, you can build a giant network of numbers, but unless it is effective, it’s just a collection of names.
I prefer to look at my network not as the whole, but as the people it is comprised of.  It is about who I’m connected to, and HOW we’re connected.  Why did we invite each other?  What do we have in common?  Who else in my network can benefit from this?
I use my network for several things.  It is a great resource for volunteers, donors, and potential Board Members for the non-profit organizations that I’m affiliated with.  I use my network to build my business, and to help others grow theirs.  I also use my network to help people find new jobs or connect with new organizations.  I maintain my network by bringing these people together socially.  Sending an email may be an efficient way to communicate during a busy workday, but spending time getting to know people is what makes it all work.  Finally, my network uses me.  This is the best part about having an active network, it’s not just yours, it’s ours.  I’m not just cultivating a network, I’m a member of it.
I am always meeting new people, and open to new connections.  When I do, it’s not about ‘what can this person do for me’, but ‘how can I, my network, and this person benefit from one another’.  Sometimes, maybe most times, the answer isn’t immediately apparent.   The willingness to take time, to learn, to relate, and to help is what makes it all worthwhile.
So don’t hesitate to connect with someone new.  Just be sure to do it for all the right reasons.
You’ll reap the rewards of putting work into your network.

I Support Community Volunteer Engagement – Getting it Right

Doing it Right – Volunteer Engagement
For many non-profits, engaging volunteers is a difficult task.  Sure, there are opportunities to be involved, but true engagement remains elusive.   One organization I know is doing it right.
I am fortunate to be involved with I Support Community.  Through them, I had two incredible experiences last month.  The first came from meeting another volunteer, the other from being moved by a video story they produced.
I spent time with Hope and Promise, which offers equine therapy to our veterans who have had difficulties adjusting back to civilian life or have suffered injury while in service to our country.  Their program brings a group of veterans together for a week of bonding and therapeutic healing.  Hope and Promise feeds, houses and treats these incredible men and women.  All expenses are paid, so no veteran has to worry about the cost of care.  The facility they operate out of is peaceful and serene, and has all the amenities required to connect the veterans to the horses that assist in their recovery.
I met Alaire Merritt, one of their Board Members, though I Support Community. Alaire took me on a tour of the Hope and Promise facilities, introduced me to other members of the organization, and showed me all the ways they are helping our veterans.  After a week of equine therapies, the team members all sign a piece of wood that becomes part of the fence around the farm.   One can’t help but be moved by what they write, and what an incredible impact this organization has on these men and women.   It was truly an honor to be there, and experience what Hope and Promise has to offer.
Another moving experience through I Support Community came while watching the videos they produced for Special Spaces of Chicagoland.  Special Spaces does room makeovers for terminally ill children.  Having been involved in the cancer community for so long, I was touched by what they do for these children and their families.  While the videos were incredibly moving, what happened next I will never forget.
I was invited by Kelly Knox, the Director of Special Spaces, to witness firsthand what they do, and came out to one of their makeovers.  I had the privilege of being part of the team that renovated the room of Marshall, a 10 year old boy with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  Marshall is a huge Chicago Bulls fan.  Kelly and her team of talented and dedicated volunteers transformed Marshall’s room into a total Bulls experience, complete with autographed jerseys, a Bulls bed, locker and custom mural featuring Michael Jordan dunking a ball.  To top it off, it looks like the ball is being dropped into an actual hoop on Marshall’s wall.  The wood floor below has official NBA court decals.  Every detail has been thought of to immerse Marshall in his beloved Bulls.
Through what can only be described as controlled chaos, the team worked tirelessly throughout the day on the transformation.  That afternoon, when Marshall arrived home, we waited in his room to surprise him.   The expression on his face when he came through the door will remain with me forever.
Through sharing video stories and offering networking and volunteer opportunities, I Support Community is engaging the community around these incredible organizations.  This isn’t just a simple call to donate, it is a learning experience for everyone from kids to adults.  Engaging children helps create an ongoing culture of support.  The depth of information creates not only awareness, but an opportunity to engage the community on multiple levels.
I Support Community has a great model for volunteer engagement.  In developing programs and opportunities for others, they have created support for themselves, as well.