NONPROFIT: Community Service, Networking are Not Mutually Exclusive Propositions

Column by Mike Pritchard


We all know the saying, "It's not who you know, it's what you know that will get you far in life." This is a great lesson to teach our kids, but the truth is, in business, oftentimes just the opposite is true. Of course the best way to meet other business people is by networking. However, for most us, networking is easier said than done. Attending luncheons and happy hour mixers can be intimidating. Perhaps that's why social media and smart phones are so popular because they boast the ability to network without actually having to extend ourselves.

As the vice president of business development at Goodwill Industries of Denver, I encourage you to branch out beyond LinkedIN and Facebook to really interact with other business people. If you're not up for traditional networking, try getting to know other professionals through community service. Think about it, it's a win-win -- you meet new business professionals who could help you grow your business or career all while doing something good for your community. Through community engagement, you can build your resume and your network all at the same time.

If you're a young person, perhaps you recently graduated from college or maybe you've been working for a few years and you're ready for the next step in your career, a great option for networking is to join a young professionals group. Most well-established charities have YP groups.

If you're looking for places to start I'd suggest checking out the Rocky Mountain MS Center's Young Professionals Network, or the United Way's Emerging Leaders Council, and while I'm at it, I'm of course going to give a plug to Goodwill's new NextGen group. All of these groups serve different charitable causes but they all have one thing in common, and that is young professionals who are interested in philanthropy and interested in meeting other people like themselves.

Another great way to network is to join your local chamber of commerce. Chambers like the Denver Metro Chamber and the Colorado Woman's Chamber have a variety of networking opportunities, whether you choose to join a committee or attend targeted networking events you will be surrounded with other hard-working pro's eager to get to know you.

If you're still not convinced that volunteering for a nonprofit can help advance your career, maybe hearing the story about how I got my current executive position at Goodwill will help. About five years ago, I was involved with Denver's Road Home, the 10-year program to end homelessness in our city. By working on the project, I not only felt like I was giving back to my community and making an impact by lending a hand to solve one of Denver's toughest social issues, I was building friendships and relationships with dozens of influence and business people and politicians.

After working on the Road Home for a few years, I left the Denver area to pursue a new opportunity. About two years ago I received a message on LinkedIN from Carrie Mesch who owns MESCH Commercial Real Estate and was one of my colleagues working on Denver's Road Home. Carrie reached out to me because she was serving on Goodwill's Board of Directors and there was an opening for a Vice President of Business Development. She and I had developed a good working relationship and had a strong mutual respect for one another as business people and philanthropists. Obviously, I ended up earning the position and its thanks in part to the connections I did while serving my community years prior.

In this tough economy we all need to chip-in and help fill the gaps where maybe government or business can't anymore. With a jobless rate of nearly 10 percent, we also need to help each other. So join a young professionals group, get involved in your local chamber, volunteer with a charity you feel passionate about -- and while you're at it, find me on LinkedIN and start networking with me. Who knows, maybe we'll be each other's connection to a better future.


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