This is a controversial topic. When you are volunteering, it should be from the heart and because you want to help your community. That said, I have met many wonderful people through my volunteer efforts over the years and some of them have become my clients.
Years ago when I was the president of Nevada Gifted and Talented, a non-profit that focused on the education of gifted children, I sat on the board with a wonderful woman who I got to know very well through all the projects we worked on together. Through all our time together she learned what my “real job” was and one day she told me that her son-in-law was interested in talking to me about hiring a salesperson and growing his business. She already trusted me and she knew that I did a good job with everything we worked on together, so she easily sold my talents to her son-in-law. I met with him and he was my client for 3 years. Did I volunteer for Nevada Gifted and Talented in order to get more business? No, but I did a great job, got to know the people I volunteered with and I did find the opportunity to let them know what I did for a living. I actually learned that part the hard way.
When I first moved to Reno, I joined the Reno Philharmonic Guild and helped them with a big new event called Pops on the River. I worked with wonderful people and had a lot of fun. One of the women I met was a decorator. I asked her to come to my house to help me with a few projects. We sat down at my dining room table to talk about my project and she looked at me and said, “What do you actually do for a living? Are you a professional fund raiser?” I started to laugh. After 3 years of working side by side with her on projects, I had never let her know what I did for a living. I wonder how many referrals I may have missed? Did I join the Philharmonic Guild to get referrals? No, but why not let the people who know, like and trust you know what you do so that they might possibly refer you to someone who needs your services? Wouldn’t you do the same for them?
I believe that you can meet qualified prospects from your volunteer work and here is how I recommend you do it.
1. Find something your are truly passionate about to volunteer for and commit to it.
2. Work hard for that organization and do a great job. Maybe even get on the board after you have been on a committee for a while.
3. Get to know the other volunteers by working with them, but also take the opportunity to ask them to coffee and get to know them one to one.
4. When the opportunity arises, don’t hesitate to tell them a bit about what you do for a living.
5. Get to know what they do for work well enough to refer business to them if the opportunity arises.
In my current volunteer work for the Nevada Discovery Museum, I have been lucky enough to do work for one of the other board members and have collaborated on work projects with several others. Did I volunteer for that board because I thought it would bring me business? No, it was because I am passionate about kids getting a great education. I worked hard, put my blood, sweat and tears into it and people notice.
Building a great network is a lifelong process. Volunteer to do something you love and the rest will follow. Keep working on it and if you need some help getting connected, I am here to help.