What We've Found
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
about every contact, conversation and referral for new contacts.
Use It If...
- You want to track perceptions, trends and effectiveness of a public outreach
- You want to know the resources in your community (e.g., who's an expert in
what field, who might help sponsor a festival in exchange for free publicity,
who might show an interest to volunteer for a committee, etc.).
Forget It If...
- You find the records are inaccurate or incomplete. This means people are not
motivated to keep the database or don't understand its importance.
- You don't have anyone who will maintain the records. It can be tedious
especially if members are providing handwritten reports and there is a lot of
Timing is Everything
networking database should be one of the first things to be organized; then it's
maintained throughout the life of a project or organization.