Networking and Philanthropy: Frosting on the Cake

Do you want to meet interesting people? And expand your circle of acquaintances? And leverage your hoard for personal and professional success? Then philanthropic networking is for you.

Not all Networking is created equal

Networking can be intimidating. And it can feel forced. Which is why being invited to hang out with people who share your values is a great way to network without networking. It is a fantastic opportunity to get to know people without a faked pretense. It is the polar opposite of work-based networking, where you are thrown together with a bunch of people in your industry and asked to make small talk. You don’t have to make small talk at a philanthropic event; these people already care deeply about something that you care about too! This is particularly important if you are an introvert who detests conversations about the weather or the latest football game. Forget that stuff – let’s talk about saving elephants!

I once had a friend tell me that the best job he ever had was delivering flowers; there was a smile in every interaction.

And that’s how philanthropic networking is. Unlike work events, which are “forced fun” in many cases, the only people who show up to philanthropic events are people who want to be there. They are rarely drunk. They know they are effecting change, and they want to talk about it with like-minded people. Some of them practice stealth wealth, and are very private about the extent of their philanthropy. These networking events allow them to speak with others who have the same commitment to giving without the fear of appearing smug. It’s great!

That said, I have only recently started to attend these events. Why? Because before I became a major donor I wasn’t invited.

This is not to say that I should have been invited, it’s just to say that the most interesting networking opportunities are reserved for those who are most invested in that particular charity.

My Major Donor Group

In my case, the major donor group I am a part of is comprised largely of business professionals who care deeply about human services. And man, they are fun! These are people who are interested in the world, who have created their own successful businesses, who are highly engaged in their communities, and who work (or worked) in a vast range of industries. When asked, they are more than happy to give career advice and to offer their services. It’s not faked; it’s genuine respect and shared enthusiasm.

Interestingly, I am among the youngest members of my major donor group. Part of the reason that I love going to events with them is that most of my peers are not interested in talking about philanthropy with me. That’s also why I started this blog; the vast majority of my peers do not believe that they can both give and grow their hoards. They have a vague notion that they will volunteer when they are retired. Please. There is so much more we can do right now!

Do I care that I am one of the youngest members? Heck no! It makes me proud! These are people that I admire, who are doing great things, and that I would probably not encounter elsewhere in my life. So far at these events I have only encountered one individual who I know from my professional circle. And that is great. Because new people means new ideas, and new opportunities for personal and professional growth. Win!

What is a major donor group

I choose to give to a large, well-funded and well established organization. For that organization, there are quite a few donor groups with different levels of entry. There is a women’s group, an emerging leaders group, and a major donor group. Those of us in the latter category give more than $10,000 per year in donations.

Whoa, Dragon! That’s expensive networking!

Except it isn’t. Because the networking is a side benefit. I would give this amount (and so would the others) regardless of the networking opportunities. It’s the frosting, not the cake. Also, because this organization qualifies for the CCCC, I am able to convert every dollar that I give into nine dollars every year (I could potentially be getting a 1:11 ratio!) The math isn’t exact here (check out the other post if you’d like to see how it works) but that effectively means that I only have to give $1,100 per year in order to be a part of the group. That is not a high bar!

If I were content to be part of the emerging leaders group, the threshold is a mere $1,000 (without including tax benefits). That’s obviously an option, but I have loftier giving goals than that.

Smaller organizations have different criteria and many do not have official donor groups. That is fine. You don’t have to be part of one. The networking frosting is available no matter how much you give. But you are far more likely to experience benefits if you are INVESTED in your nonprofit of choice, which is the main point of the major donor groups.

Concentrating your giving

In my experience, most people do not have giving plan. They distribute their dollars ten at a time to whomever comes asking. This is not the way to leverage your philanthropy.

By concentrating on a few charities (I suggest three or less) you can become involved in their mission. You can understand their impact. You can get to know the people who work there (if they are local). You can get your family involved. And you can give more to each one. In fact, it’s highly possible that as you see the impact your money has, you will actually end up giving more overall. But that isn’t the main point (although it’s a good goal!)

Naturally, you will also get invited to participate in more networking opportunities.

Not all Philanthropic Networking is equal either

One activity that I do not consider philanthropic networking is buying a table at a charitable event. It’s possible that I will get crucified for saying this, but I don’t see fundraising or spreading awareness as the same type of networking as donor group get togethers. Events where you can buy a table and invite your friends, colleagues, etc. are all well and good but they are generally highly scripted and the goal is to raise money, not get to know each other. I don’t ever go to these events thinking I’m going to meet someone interesting even though it occasionally happens.

Volunteer Networking

Ok, ok, so you want to get involved but you don’t have a lot of money to give. No problem! It’s different, but networking at volunteer events can also be really fun and rewarding. Planting trees together or sorting through school supplies can give you the opportunity to meet a lot of new people. However, maximizing the impact of this type of networking still requires concentration… in this case of time, rather than money. You are far more likely to establish relationships if you volunteer regularly for a few organizations. We’ve all gone to volunteer events where you chat with someone for a few hours and then never speak to them again. While that’s great in and of itself, it isn’t going to bring sustained benefits to your life. If you see the same people every Thursday, on the other hand, you are much more likely to create meaningful connections.

Is it morally weird to leverage my philanthropy in this way?

No. Or at least, not if you understand the intent of this article. If you show up at an event with your business cards in a holster and are trying to drum up business for your lawn care service, then yes; that might be a bit distasteful. But if you are attending because you want to meet like-minded people and have real conversations, then I deem it morally clear! Humans are about connection. Leveraging your philanthropy in this way is just another way of establishing it. Let’s get to it!


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