What We've Found
Most organizations and people network with others at all the time. Starting and maintaining a networking database focuses and organizes people's efforts. If a project or organization wants to build a strong public involvement base, this is an effective way to do so. While setting up a database can require a substantial amount of time up front, after that, we find this practice easy on the budget- after all, it's simply people talking to people and then writing a few notes.
Just the Facts
A networking database is a depository of information based on people interacting and communicating with other organizations and people. It contains information such as:
- Person contacted (including relevant biographical information)
- Who made the contact
- Material distributed
- Reaction to/familiarity with topic
- Outcome pending issues and/or follow up actions needed
- Recommended names to contact
As records are completed in a networking database, it becomes possible to identify trends; to sort and find similar interests and resources; and to build a mailing list for surveys
, invitations to events and other communications. A formalized networking campaign can also strengthen public perception about a group or a project's mission generating positive feelings.
Within an organization or a project team, the networking database enables information to be shared. That means knowledge can be leveraged to better understand public opinion, strengthen outreach and develop new outreach opportunities. A networking database requires:
- Database Programs
- Database Training
- Strong verbal communication skills
- Commitment to doing it
How To Do It
1. Clearly define a networking campaign
Before creating a database or briefing people on what information to collect, the purpose of the networking needs to be understood. Is an organization looking to recruit new members, trying to identify funding sources or looking for specific technical information needed for a project? At this point it should also be decided what, if anything, will be done about follow up. If someone requested more information, copies of brochures
to place in their stores or further discussions, a system needs to be set up that will ensure that happens. This is vital for establishing credibility.2. Create lists and more lists
To jump-start the effort, pull together lists of people, organizations and programs that may be useful to your organization or project. These lists should be centrally stored so that they can be retrieved and easily used by many people in the organization.3. Create the database and appoint keepers
As contacts are made with those on the lists, enter the information into a database (see example fields listed above). Be sure the information is accurate and contains addresses, titles, telephone numbers and email addresses for each name.
It may also be useful to have a data field that states the kind of networking possibilities that each person or organization represents, e.g., funding, technical information or member. If standard categories are created and denoted with special codes, the database can be sorted by those codes when the need arises. This makes the database an even more powerful and useful tool.
Train two or three individuals in the use of the database system. Never rely upon just one person. It is also imperative to regularly make a backup copy: daily if there is a lot of information being entered; weekly or biweekly if there is less information.
4. Give members the tools
It is vital that everyone is constantly adding to, updating and refining the networking database. That means you need to give people a means to input information: give them an electronic copy of the database file to use on their home computers or printout the form with its fields for handwritten reports. Most likely both methods will be used depending upon people's access to computers. If necessary, set a schedule for members to turn in their contact information so that it all can be added to the central database.
One of the keys to a strong database is the constant addition of contacts. Remind people of the golden rule of networking: When you meet someone, ask for the names of any friends, family, associates, neighbors, classmates or other organizations that they know about that might also be interested in or in some way be beneficial to the mission of your organization or project.