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5 tips for successful event networking

Fundraising and networking by  Sonya Trivedy

Fundraising and networking go hand in hand, but schmoozing for work isn’t easy. Terrence Higgins Trust’s fundraising director Sonya Trivedy sets out five key principles for getting it right


I love people – that’s why I’ve spent the best part of the last two decades fundraising for causes I feel passionately about. But being naturally chatty and inquisitive is only half the battle when it comes to networking at events.  


That’s because no two events are the same, nor two people, so being a brilliant networker isn’t easy or an exact science. My advice is stay cool, calm and collected – and try and follow these tips.


1. Do your research


This is the big one. Know who you want to target, and why. The place to start for your research is your fundraising data – we use Raiser’s Edge – and hopefully your records are completely up-to-date and ready for action. Talk to colleagues, as they may have met the people you’re targeting, and of course the web is always your friend – it's great for finding out more about those on your prospect list.


When you know who you want to target, think about what pushes their buttons and how you can engage them in your cause. But don’t stop there – find out what’s important to them right now. Have they recently moved house? Are they a dog person or mad for cats?


People love talking about themselves, so have lots of questions up your sleeve and start building your relationship from there. Equally, if you have any mutual acquaintances, a key part of networking is matching up people who you think might hit it off.  


2. Be prepared


Part of this preparation is having a list of “stuff” that will get people talking. For example, Charlie Sheen being forced to “come out” as HIV positive by the media was a really interesting one for us to talk to people about, because the story was everywhere. It put our cause at the top of the news agenda.  


But no matter what’s happening in the news, it’s important you know your stuff in terms of what you’re fundraising for, and the priorities of your organisation. In my case, that means being completely up-to-date with things like PrEP – a daily pill which prevents HIV transmission –  and the latest from our cross-organisational campaign to speak out against Local Authority cuts to HIV services.


Similarly, have your elevator pitch ready at all times. You have twenty seconds to engage a potential supporter in your cause – go, go, go!


3. Be confident


It’s easier said than done, but confidence is key to successful networking.


I know it’s daunting, and being confident is hard if networking doesn’t come naturally to you. That’s why my first tips are research and preparation, because they will help to boost your confidence.


In terms of specifics, I would say look out for people on their own or hiding in their phones and start up a conversation. Or maybe bring two individuals together to ensure they both have a good night.


If you’re new to networking as a fundraiser, I would suggest buddying up with someone else more experienced. Having said that, I’m always learning from young, fresh-faced, enthusiastic fundraisers on my team about how to network – both in person and online.


4. Keep the momentum going


Chatting at an event is only the start of things when it comes to networking. Which means you need to make sure you follow up. An “it was great to meet you last night” email or a connection on LinkedIn – or both.


If you’re on LinkedIn, I recommend personalising the greeting to make a more meaningful connection. Similarly, make sure your profile is up-to-date in terms of both your role and the organisation you work for.


Then, in order to help your future self out when preparing for your next event, make sure you log all of the salient points from your conversation on your database.


5. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself


The success of a lot of our events at Terrence Higgins Trust hinges on making sure all our guests have a great time. So I try and carry that ethos through into my own networking, because other people are more likely to have a good time if you are too.


So don’t put too much pressure on yourself to talk to everyone on your list. Similarly, don’t worry if you go “off list” (even if you’ve not researched whether or not that person likes dogs). You might be talking to someone about to debut on the Sunday Times rich list or an entrepreneur on the verge of a breakthrough…


Right, that’s it – now go off and network!


Sonya Trivedy is fundraising director at Terrence Higgins Trust

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