7 Tips for Strategic Networking with Community Partners

A strong network of community partners is a powerful asset to any social change organization. However, it is not easy building these networks, especially if you are new to the challenge. Network science theories and lessons from the field have a great deal to teach us about building strategic coalitions of community partnerships. Here are seven essential trips for strategic networking with community partners.

1. Reconsider if using a “more is better” strategy.

Most people focus on building more partnerships and connections as their primary goal. They figure that more partners lead to more resources and assistance. However, it also requires increasingly significant commitments of time and energy to maintain a growing list of community partners. If you have primarily been operating with a ‘more is better’ strategy, consider taking a more intentional approach using the following few tips below. 

2. Budget your relationships to reach your goals.

You can only maintain a limited number of partnerships before you begin to see a decline in overall trust and value. It is helpful to many of our clients to think about networking like budgeting. Instead of being limited by money, you are likely primarily limited by time – there are only so many hours in a day to communicate and collaborate with partners. Consider your overall goal and the ways your network can help advance your progress. Build the least number of relationships required to reach those goals to avoid overextending yourself. 

3. Build holes in your networks.

Structural holes – intentional gaps between partners – can help you build more extensive and more diverse networks. While dense networks mean everyone knows everyone else, that saps resources and is very inefficient, especially in large networks of partners. By building sub-groups and connecting them via liaisons, you reduce the number of ties you maintain but maintain indirect access through brokers. Ensuring you selected trusted and engaged brokers is key to success with this strategy.

4. Give each partner a specific role to play.

We often feel compelled to invite all our community partners to meetings and events because we want to ensure they feel welcome and in the loop. However, this can sometimes overburden our partners, who also have limited hours in the day. Only invite them to meetings or events when they need to play that specific role. This rule can help keep them engaged in your partnership without exceeding their limits.

5. Consider all the kinds of value a partner can provide.

Community partnerships provide many different kinds of value. We often think primarily about the most tangible value types, like financial support and staff time. However, a powerful and influential partner in the community who can raise the profile of your work may be worth thousands of dollars in equivalent aid. Likewise, a committed partner willing to put in the leg work required to sustain a network is worth more than gold. The list of potential kinds of value is long and diverse, so always be on the lookout for the value you can leverage.

6. More diversity leads to more opportunities.

One of the most significant benefits of the network form is its ability to connect disparate groups in unlikely partnerships. Creating these boundary-crossing connections is a powerful way to access truly innovative and out-of-the-box thinking you can apply to your work. If you only network with people who think the same way and share the same spaces, you likely already know what they know. Look for the unlikely partners across many different sectors and areas of focus to strengthen your innovation and problem-solving.

7. Put in the investment needed to build trust.

Trust is the ultimate foundation of all community partnerships. Without it, you are unlikely to get the engagement and buy-in necessary to collaborate effectively. When networking with your partners, do not try to cut corners. Expect to put in the time required to build genuine, authentic relationships with the community. It takes time to demonstrate your reliability and a commitment to open communication and dialogue. Don’t expect dramatic results if you aren’t willing to fund your networking focus over the long run. 

Tips for Strategic Networking: Now You Know

Building effective community partnerships aren’t easy, but the right advice makes it a lot more manageable. These seven tips for strategic networking will help you build strong and more strategic networks that support your goals and objectives. To learn more about managing your network of community partners using data and network science, click here to read about our community partner relationship manager – the PARTNER CPRM.

Alex Derr

About the Author: Alex Derr, M.P.A.

Director of Marketing & Communications

Alex joined VNL in 2017, originally supporting our events. He now helps manages our communications and marketing strategy and content development work. Alex creates blogs, infographics, reports, and other content while managing our web and social media presence. He also runs our email marketing campaigns, tracks analytics, and conducts market research to drive our strategy. He supports our entire team with copywriting, graphic design and research, and helps with events, webinars, demos, and other online learning. When he isn’t at work Alex spends his time climbing 14ers (30 done, 28 to go!) and blogging on his own website, The Next Summit Blog.

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